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Accueil > Archives > Ancients projets de recherche > Anthropologie des mathématiques > Version anglaise > Our project > String games in PNG

String games in PNG

Research Methodology

I would like to meet people practicing string figures in the Trobriand Islands. The first stage would be to compile and up-date our knowledge of the figures that are practiced. Gunter and Barbara Senft were mostly interested in the existing link between string game and local culture. Therefore, they decided to record the songs (called vinas-vinas) which often go with the realisation of these figures. Unfortunately, they did not try to note the steps which lead to the final designs. Some of those string figures were apparently known, and were recorded by some ethnographers, in other areas in PNG. I began my research by using their publications, but I cannot be absolutely sure of the methods used by the Trobianders. Therefore, I need to spend time with practitioners to learn from them each of the Trobriand’s string figures. During those meetings I would have the opportunity to note the specific vocabulary involved for the transmission of a string figure. This will enable me to conceptualize the object “string figure” respecting the practicing Trobriander‘s point of view.

Because the knowledge of the Trobriander’s language (Kilivila) would enable me to make a connection between the algorithms ( Ninikulas) and the songs (Vina-vinas) that are generally sung at the same time, I will also attempt to learn the Kilivila.

Because of all the information, I want to record and study around string activities, I would like to film and record people practicing string figures. I hope to do this over four missions.

I also wish to visit the nearby Islands in Milne Bay to verify if string figures still exist there. If it was the case, it would open a wonderful opportunity for a comparative study : are the figures the same ? If not, can we highlight the differences ? One of my aims is to up-date the D’entrecasteaux Islands corpus of string figures collected by Dr Jenness in 1920.

I do not conceive this field work alone, but hope for a true exchange and collaboration not only with string activity practitioners but also with PNG academics.

Assessment of the implications for PNG

I wish to establish a collaboration with departments of both mathematics and anthropology of the University of PNG, and also with the MAPS (Melanesian and Pacific Studies). I have already contacted these departments and plan to meet the relevant persons of those institutions at the beginning of my first visit to PNG. I believe that they can provide me with essential knowledge and help, and hope that such exchanges can materialize in further institutional exchanges.

Travel and Research Schedules

If possible, I would like to get an entry Research/ Academic visa for a three-years period.

First mission : From the 11 th of June 2005 to the 27 th of August

Arriving PNG, Port Moresby, on the 11 th of June. I want to stay a few days in the Capital to contact the Institutions I plan to collaborate with.

Then, flying to the Trobiand islands. I will stay in the archipelago until the 10 th of August.

From the 10 th to the 25 th of August I want to visit the nearby Islands, in particular D’entrecasteaux Islands.

From the 25 th to my return I plan to report on my field work to the Institutions of UPNG.

Second mision : from the 15 th of June 2006 to the 30 th of August 2006.

Third mission : from the 1 st December 2006 to the 28 th of February 2007.

Fourth mission : from the 15 th of June 2007 to the 30 th of August 2007.

As I mentioned above the aim of this ethnographic project is to reveal mathematical ideas hidden in string activity. A String figure is an algorithmetic object. Hence, the creation of such an object should be considered as a mathematical activity. I thus believe that Tobrianders have developed from time immemorial impressive mathematical skills. These mathematical achievements need to be recognized as such by the international community, and it is my earnest hope that this project can help to do so.

For all of these reasons, I hope you will give me the opportunity to work in PNG, and I would be extremely grateful if you could approve my request.

Yours sincerely

Eric Vandendriessche


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