to the BOS home page
why join? membership, magazine, library, local meetings, conventions, mailing list, members area, copyright
tips, techniques, diagrams, folders, data, events, site search, videos, education
paper, books, CDs, Merchandise
theory/essays/mathematics, glossary, the Lister list
fun models, puzzles & jokes
origami images
get in touch, find volunteers & commercial folders

bos50 information

to the Lister List index

The Pajarita

The brief exchange of messages during the past few days leads me to think that there would be room for a longer, considered article about the Pajarita. However this will take time, which I do not have at present. I thought, however, that a few notes, however ill-organised and undigested) would not be out of place.

First the word, "Pajarita". My Spanish Dictionary is only a "compact" one and therefore, not particularly reliable. It doesn't give "pajarita", but it does give "pajaro", meaning "a bird". The feminine of this is Pajara and the Spaniards express the diminutive of anything by adding the suffix "-ito" for a male and "-ita" for a female (as with Senora - Senorita). So, in Spanish, a pajarita is a little female or hen bird. Pajarito would be the word for a small male bird. The words "pajaro" and "pajara" are ultimately derived from the Latin, "passer", meaning a sparrow and the ubiquitous House Sparrow retains the scientific name of "Passer domesticus". According to Vicente Palacios, the Latin "Passer" evolved into the vernacular Spanish "pajara" via the intermediate stages: passera, passara and paxara. The Spanish "J" and "X" are both sounded in the back of the throat and, one still occasionally comes across the antiquated spelling "paxara" although this is not now a spelling authorised by the Royal Spanish Academy. The Academy's writ, however, does not extend to the independent Spanish-speaking nations of Central and South America.

The Spanish word for "parrot" is either "Loro" or "Papagayo", but never "Pajarita". I wonder if there has been some confusion because both Pajarita and Papagayo begin with the letter P.

The term "pajarita" was applied to living birds in Spanish before it came to be applied to the familiar paper pajarita. More than any other race, the Spanish have acquired an affection for the paper bird and there are countless references to it in Spain. Today it forms the symbol of the Asociacion Espanola de Papiroflexia (AEDP) and a statue has been erected to the Pajarita in Huelva in Spain. While "Papiroflexia" is the approved "official" term for paperfolding in Spain and "origami" is gaining ground, the popular expression is "folding pajaritas" so that the word "pajarita" is applied not only to the familiar paper bird, but also indiscriminately to paperfolds in general.

Before Miguel Unamuno, the poet and philosopher began to create animals and birds derived from the bird base in the early years of the 20th Century, he started his investigations into paperfolding by folding and refolding the Pajarita, discovering several variant forms which he designated as male, female and hermaphrodite. But this was only his joke! In his ironic treatise, "Apuntes para un Tratado de Cocotologia", Unamuno purported to derive the pajarita from the Chinese tangram. However, while the 45 degree angles of the pajarita are certainly reminiscent of the tangram, there is no other evidencefor the suggestion. As Vicente Palacios points out, among the hundreds of tangram patterns in Joost Elffer's book "Tangram" (1976), the Pajarita is not included. So it was probably just another instance of the playfulness playfulness, which characterises Unamuno's "Tratado".

We do not know when the paper pajarita was first folded. As with everything else in paperfolding history, its origins are lost in the mists of time. Vicente Palacios of Barcelona has spent many hours investigating the history of paperfolding in Spain and many of his discoveries are recounted in his to books, "Papirogami" (1972) and "Creacion en Papiroflexia" (1979) (English translations of both have been made available), which any serious enquirer should certainly consult. I do not necessarily reach the same conclusions as Vicente, but his research has been invaluable.

The paper pajarita falls into the class of traditional folds based on what we now know as the "Windmill base". Robert Harbin gave the series the generic name of "Mulitform". They all derive from the principle of "blintzing" the paper by folding the four corners to the middle. This can be done once, twice or three times, with and without turning over the paper between successive foldings, This simple technique of folding is equally known in Japan. Some of the other familiar forms in the series are the salt cellar, the double boat or catamaran, the windmill, the boat with a sail and what has been called "the trick boat". While really too complex to count as a "multiform" fold the Chinese Junk is formed by a more extensive manipulation of the catamaran.

Vicente Palacios has suggested that there may be some connection between the Windmill base and the Astrological Square, because the crease pattern of the windmill base is the same as that of the Astrological Square, which commonly formed the basic pattern of horoscopes from the 12th century to the 18th century. It is suggested that the pattern was introduced by the scholar Gerardo Cremone at Toledo in the 12th Century. The connection between the astrological square and the windmill base has not been proved, although there are arguments for thinking that there may well be something in the hypothesis. If the theory it is true, it is likely that the pattern of the astrological square derived from the windmill base and not vice versa.

Folded paper Baptismal Certificates were commonly used in central Europe in the 17th and 18th Centuries and bore particulars of the child's birth and date of baptism together with various pious verses. They were actually folded in a double blintz or windmill pattern. Alternatively, they might be folded from a square folded into nine smaller squares in the manner of the puzzle purse. While there is no evidence to show that folded baptismal certificates were derived from the square horoscopes it is suggested that the baptismal certificates were a Christianised version of them and that the horoscopes, too, were originally folded. However, no folded horoscope has yet been found.

The Pajarita is one particular fold in Robert Harbin's "Multiform" series (see Paper Magic p. 37 et seq.), but it is different from the others because it has a diagonal crease across the centre square of the crease pattern. Although it is by any standards a simple model, I personally find it a very confusing model to fold, especially if I have not folded it recently.

Vicente Palacios has sent much effort and time in trying to trace the earliest record in Spain or anywhere else of the pajarita, but in any objective view, his search has met with little success. He has traced many references t the word "pajarita", but they have not been in the context of folding. He has also traced references to paper birds, but they have not been references to specifically folded birds and some of the records he mentions are clearly of birds formed by cutting. So, for instance, Dr. Leandreo Fernandz de Moratin wrote in 1793 about the pastimes of Venice and spoke of a street entertainier who "Places on the ground a litter of papers and cuts clumsily with scissors. In a jiffy, he makes a Pajara". It may have been a pajara of some sort, but there is no evidence that it was the familiar folded "pajarita".

Vicente Palacios writes much about the "Pajara Pinta", meaning "painted bird" or "motley fowl", which was prominent in Spanish folk traditions. This was also the name of was a game of forfeits which is apparently first mentioned in the Spanish "Dictionariao de Autoridades" of 1737, although Spanish books of the 16th Century refer to games of forfeits in general terms.

An earlier use of the word "Pajara" has been traced back to 1525 with a mention of a dancer known as "La Pajara". The word was used in a perjorative sense and Vicente Palacios recites a verse on the Motley Bird:

Eyes that kill, no doubt
will be black like sloes;
for the blue and the green
smell like the Motley Bird".

As for the game of forfeits itself, this is described in the first Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy dated 1737. Everyone sits in a circle and each chooses a particular colour. The organiser of the game names a colour and asks "where does the "paxaro pinto" peck? The person having that colour has to reply immediately and pass on the request to another colour. If anyone does not reply promptly, he or she has to pay a forfeit.

Clearly, the game of Pajara Pinta does not have anything to do with birds folded from paper and it is not until well into the 19th Century that unambiguous references to pajaritas folded from paper are found in books, as for instance in the book "Juegos de los Ninos" of1847. It seems likely, however, that paper pajaritas were being folded in Spain long before that. But exactly when, we cannot pinpoint

The continuing prominence of the pajara is demonstrated by the fact that in 1888 a comic opera was produced with the title in Spain of "El Pajaro Pinto". Vicente Palacios does not give the plot, but it does contain an imaginary character, "La Pajara".

Even if we accept that there was a long tradition for folding pajaritas in Spain, despite the lateness of literary evidence, it has to be pointed out that Spain had no monopoly of the paper bird. The Deutsches National Museum in Nuremberg has a collection of mounted and foot soldiers folded from paper, which date from about 1820.They are not pajaritas, but they are folded from the multiform or windmill-fold technique..

In Germany the Pajarita came to be known as the "Papierdrache" ("Paper dragon" ). In England it was known as a hobby-horse, perhaps because it is somewhat reminiscent of the sticks with horses heads attached (often with a wheel at the lower end) which young children of gentler times placed between their legs and pretended to ride. The folded paper bird was known as "asfur" in Arabic. According the Akira Yoshizawa in the Kodensha Encyclopedia of Japan is called "anu" in Japanese. The diverse names show the wide distribution of the little paper bird. Dr Vicente Solorzano of Argentina mistakenly suggested in his book, "Papirolas 3" that the Japanese term was "Dzuro", but he was clearly mistaking the term "Tsuru", which is the Japanese name for the paper crane.

In France the pajarita was known as a "cocotte", a word meaning a hen or chicken. (It is a female form of "coq" meaning a rooster.) Not long ago there was an enquiry in origami-L about a French painting showing a Pajarita and I drew attention to a painting, "The Merrymakers" by Carolus Duran of Paris, 1870, now in the Detroit Institute of Arts. It shows three woman sitting round a table entertaining a small child with aa live ird and a paper Pajarita.

Because of the French context, this paper bird in Duran's painting should be called a cocotte rather than a pajaraita. It is interesting that when Unamuno came to write his mock treatise on the Pajarita, "Apuntes para un Tratado de Cocotologia" he used the word Cocote, spelt in that way, rather than "pajarita" despite the fact that he was Spanish (Actually he was Basque). It can only be conjectured why he did this. Perhaps he was using the French word as an ironical dig at people who use pretentious terminology. So, he invested the science of studying paper birds with the pretentious name of "Cocotologia"!

In French, the related word, coquette is also the name given to a flirtatious woman (or worse) and the same word has passed into English with derivatives such as coquetry and coquettish. It will be recalled that in Spanish the word "pajara" also acquired pejorative connotations as in the "Pajara Pinta". But what is most interesting is that when he was translating "El Creacion en Papiroflexia" into English, Brian Bishop took the opportunity of looking up the word "Hobby-horse" in the Oxford English Dictionary. To his surprise he found that an early meaning of the word dating from 1557 was "a lustful person, a loose woman, a prostitute"! But we must be careful. The term hobby-horse had many meanings in English (basically it was a type of horse) and the children's hobby-horse probably acquired that name for reasons which had no connection with its application to loose women.

Following the example of Miguel Unamuno, the Pajarita has spawned numerous variant forms in Spain, which Vicente Palacios gathers together in his book "La Crecion en Papiroflexia" (Editorial Miguel Salvatella, Barcelona, 1979). Unamuno's own male, female and hermaphrodite variants are shown on page 24, while pages 25 to 38 show; numerous pajaritas created by more recent folders.

Much remains to be done to connect the story together. As always I shall be very grateful for additional information and correction of my misconceptions and errors.

David Lister

All contents are © BOS and/or individual contributors. The BOS is a registered charity (293039). Site copyright & disclaimer. Site design courtesy of 12testing. No part of this website may be reproduced in any form (including e-books) without specific permission.