A String Story told across the world

A popular string story involves the figure of the stolen yams. The hand is held in a horizontal position and the string is wound about the fingers in such a way so that when the leftover string hanging at the bottom is pulled, the whole string figure slips off the hand without any knots. This trick is seen in all corners of the globe including Africans, American Indians, and Eskimos. This version of the story is from the Torres Strait. The yam patch farmer has been working hard all day and has fallen asleep in his patch. A thief comes by and avoiding the farmer, starts to steal the yams, putting them away into bags, neatly lined up one after the other. The farmer wakes up and feels that something has gone wrong so he starts looking around. The farmer sees his yams crammed into the bundles, tied up tightly. Quick! Before the farmer can react, the thief takes off running, grabbing the bags of yams along the way! (Helfman, 1965).

This is the final form of the stolen yams figure. All that is needed is to pull down the string at the bottom which will complete the story.

In the handbook String Stories (Holbrook, 2002), the same stolen yams figure is used to tell a different story involving a family of mice. The story is copyright by Storytellers International in 1993, written by Norma J. Livo. As you loop the string around each finger, the storyteller tells of the characteristics of each member of the family of mice including the father mouse, mother mouse, and so on. Then when all four fingers have been looped in a specified way, the story continues about the family of mice coming upon a block of cheese. But right then, the cat jumps out at them and the family scurries away to their hole, squeaking all the way. String stories mentions a couple other stories with different characters, again using this same string trick.


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