Sunday, November 4, 2012

Chamorro Sling - Acho' Atupat - A Tutorial #1

The Sling and Stone, Acho’ Atupat, was important to the ancient Chamorro people. Slings and stones were carefully crafted and sometimes passed from father to son or from mother to son through a brother or close relative.
We evolve through learning. Every time I make a new sling, something new is learned and now in the giving spirit of Guahan, I wish to pass some of that knowledge on.

Sling weapons from Guam are made from pandanus or coconut fiber. Being so far from home it’s nearly impossible to find pandanus or coconut fiber to make slings so I use jute or sisal. Out of these two plant fibers, jute is the easiest to work with and this tutorial will show you how to make a good Chamorro sling using jute available at many craft or hardware stores.

This is a simple pattern for a Chamorro sling and uses a six (6) ply, multi strand cord. This means there are six individual strands that are twisted together to make a single cord. In order to make this sling, it is best if you have five, six strand cords. Six strands that make up a single cord.

By using a thick strand cord like this you can cut down on the amount of time it takes to make a beautiful reproduction Chamorro sling. This tutorial is intended for a person who has basic braiding and crafting skills and depending on how fast you can braid, this sling can be made in about two hours from start to finish. Don’t lose heart if it takes longer. It took me more than a few hours to come up with this pattern. Additionally, if you don’t have the exact materials used in this tutorial, you can still make this sling work with any number of cords and strands available to you. You don't have to use jute. You can use cotton, poly and even craft yarn.


 You will need to know how to do a five strand flat braid ( however if you only know how to braid three strands you can still make this sling. Instead of using five strands you will use six and pair two cords together to make a three strand braid. Five strands and a five strand braid is the preferred method for making this sling.  
The only other tools you will need for this sling is a small knife, a few bamboo chop sticks, rubber bands and a couple clothes pins. If you have a large sewing needle that will help but it’s not critical to make this sling.

It’s called Acho’ Atupat (Sling and Stone). Sling stones were made from rock found on the island, mostly limestone, basalt and some marble. There is also evidence that sun or fire hardened clay was used for sling stones. I will add a tutorial on how to make clay slingstones later on. The sling and stone are a matched set but even if you do not have an authentic Chamorro sling stone, having ideal ammo is important to have on hand. In a pinch a small ball can work.  
From the left, a Chamorro sling stone artifact, a coral then clay reproduction stone; rocks from the landscaping found around town and even some cat toys (golf ball sized). These are all about the size of ammunition you will need to form your sling’s pouch as I will shown later on in this tutorial.

A COMPLETED SLING: A good Chamorro sling will have tapered finger and release cords; beginning thick at the pouch then thinner as the cord forms near the end. In order to achieve this affect, you will have to remove strands as you braid but let’s not get ahead of ourselves because you will learn how to achieve this.   
CUT AND SIZE YOUR MATERIALS: You will need five cords measuring 120 inches long. Remember to add another 120 inch cord if you are going to make a three strand braid for your finger and release cords.

SET UP: After cutting your cords to size, find the center of your 120 inch cords and clamp the cords together using the chop sticks and rubber bands as shown.  You do not have to have to cut down the chopstick for your clamps like those pictured here. I do because they're easier to work with.
The strands should be laid side-by-side. The center area between the clamps will become the pouch of your completed sling. The sling’s pouch will be four inches long to begin with but the final size and shape of the sling’s pouch will be adjusted later on.
THE BRAID: The sling will need to be secure while it’s being braided. A simple overhand loop attached onto a nail, hook or door knob are some ideas but anything that can be done to keep the sling secure while it’s being braided will be fine as long as it’s secure.
With your project secure, begin braiding five cords together for one side of your sling. If you are using six cords for a three cord braid, pair your cords together which will make three paired cords that will be braided together to complete your sling. The braid must be tight.

From the clamped cords, continue to make a tight braid about two inches long then clamp your cords using the clothes pins. Clamping the strands will help you keep your braid organized.
THINING THE CORDS: Now we will begin thinning out the individual cords in your braid to give your sling’s finger and release string a nice even taper. Cutting out strands from each of the cords, one at a time as you braid will give your sling’s cords a gradual taper essential for a sling with a clean release. 
For thinning out the cords of the braid, you must keep the cords organized at all times. Starting on the same side each time, grab one cord and untwist it to separate the cords. You will need to untwist about three inches of the cord to separate the individual strands that make up the cord. Next, holding onto five strands of the untwisted cord, pull one cord all the way out, separating it all the way from the other five strands that make up that cord.
Next cut the separated strand by scraping the edge of the knife against the strand for a gradual feathered cut. This is an important step. Each strand cut out from the cord must blend gradually with the remaining strands in the cord.
Next, take the feathered strand and lay it in between the other strands in the section of untwisted cord and twist the cord assembly back together, blending in the feathered end of the strand you just cut out. This will blend the strand back into the other strands in the cord. This step will be repeated for each of the five cords you will braid together to take this sling.



BLENDING STRANDS: After you have cut out a strand from each cord, you must twist the cord back together tightly. Once this step is completed for the first cord, move to the next cord in the braid, untwist the cord, separate out one strand, feather the separated strand with your knife’s edge then twist the feathered strand back into the cord and twist it tightly, then repeat for each of the remaining cords. Once one strand has been cut out of each cord, resume the braid for two to three inches then clamp the cords with the clothes pins and repeat the whole process again of cutting one strand out of each cord then continue to braid.  
If you’re using the six strand cord in the materials list of this tutorial, each cord has six individual strands. Continue to cut out single strands as you braid until only two strands remain for each cord. You should now have five, two strand cords that you will continue to braid together until you have completed the braid for one side of your sling.   
The bottom cord has six strands while the upper cord shows how a properly tapered and twisted cord will look after four of the six strands have been removed and the cord has been twisted back together.
THE POUCH: When you have one side of the sling completely braided then it’s time to begin on the pouch. By this time you should have a pile of single strands you have cut out as you braided the one side of your sling. Pick out the longest of these salvaged strands. This single strand will be used to finish and give final form to the sling’s pouch.  
This step will be easier if you have a large needle to weave these strands together but a crochet needle or a sharpened chop stick will work as well. Beginning about half an inch away from the end of your braid, wrap one strand in between each of the five cords that make up the pouch and continue to weave around this area and between the pouches five strands until the braid and cords that form the pouch are secure.
To complete this step, weave the loose ends back into the body of the braid. By running the end of the cord back through the strands of the braid you will adequately secure the ends. There is no need for glue or whipping to secure the ends of your cord.
When completed, the area where the braid forms the end of the pouch and braided sling string should look something like this:
FORMING THE POUCH: Even if you do not have an authentic Chamorro sling stone artifact or reproduction stone, adding curvature to your pouch is an important step to making this sling. The pouch of this sling must have a curved and recessed pocket to hold the stone.
Begin by folding the cords that form the pouch over your sling stone. Pull the cords that are clamped together and adjust the cords to evenly conform to the shape of the stone. The outer cords, those on the edge of the pouch will be shorter than those in the middle when the pouch is properly adjusted.
The photo below shows a side view of a properly adjusted pouch.
Before you begin braiding the second side of the sling it is important that you make sure that the pouch stays permanently set. I usually add a second clamp to make sure I don’t lose my adjustment when I begin braiding the second sling string.
Begin braiding the second leg of your sling using the same techniques previously used on the first string. Remove a single strand from each cord about every two or more inches until you have a nicely tapered string. Bind the area where the cords form the pouch, repeating the same steps for binding the end of the pouch.
FINGER AND RELEASE STRINGS: The final length of the completed braided strings may vary. Overall you should have two tapered braided strings of about the same length coming from the pouch. From these completed braided strings you will form the finger and release strings of your sling.
Sling length is a subject of much debate in the slinging world. If you do not have a preference, it’s better to go long then shorten it up. From the center of the completed pouch, measure 30 inches along one cord and fold the sling string. If your completed sling strings do not measure more than 30 inches, adjust as necessary to accommodate whatever finished length you have to work with.
After forming a loop, use one of the chop sticks to separate the cords in the braid. Pull the end of the braid through this hole to form your finger loop. Your finger loop should be large enough to fit over two fingers. This will assure that your finger loop is not too tight.
Repeat this action of opening the braid up to feed the end of your string through to complete the finger loop. Cut off the excess cord and separate all the fibers, making a frayed end. This will prevent your finger loop from coming loose unexpectedly. Your completed finger loop should look like this:
FINAL STEP – RELEASE KNOT: Once your finger loop is formed, you will need to complete the release string of your sling. A release knot is not required but preferred by most slingers. If you do not want a release knot, just tie the single strands of the release cord together. Your release string should be about three to four inches longer than your string with the finger loop. If you are going to use a release knot, the knot should be located at the same length as the end of your finger loop as shown below.
Your completed sling will probably have some small lose strands and fuzz. Use a towel or rag and rub the sling. This will lift the loose fiber up. You can leave the sling fuzzy or use a light flame, a candle or lighter to singe off this fuzz then rub again, repeat the singing process again if you desire.
Your completed Acho’ Atupat should look something like this. The pouch should cup the stone and the strings should have gradual even taper.  
I’ve tried to make this tutorial complete and easy to follow but if you have questions or need assistance, I am only an email away. Also, if you need the materials used to make this sling, including clay stones, let me know and I will be happy to send the materials to you.
If you are on Guam, stop by the Che’lu Shop in the Chamorro Village. There you will find a variety of slings, stones and many other beautiful hand crafted products.

Si Yu’us Ma’ase!

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