Edited by Patsy Wang-Iverson

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June 7, 2014 - 2:55am Hans Dybkjær

Thank you for making this fascinating part of the history straight. For some years (in talks since 2010) I have referred to Mayan ceremonial head decorations as one of the earliest examples of folded paper, along with the Egyptian papyrus and the usual guess that the Chinese must have done something with their paper, and I have tried amate paper for folding and knew about some of its history. But until now I didn't realize how old and widespread the Mayas' use of amate paper was, also for decorative paper folding. Really interesting.

About your distinction between bare "folded paper" and "paper folded for a decorative purpose", and the wish attach "origami" to the latter only. This means that the Mayan codices and the Egyptian papyrus are not "origami" even if they are "folded paper". I can agree with that. However, to restrict "origami" to "decorative folded paper" seems too narrow. Paper folded for purposes like a purse, a cup, or a space mirror certainly is paper folding, but they are not "decorative".

If we want such a distinction I might suggest "paper folded with a purpose beyond the practical issues of storage and handling". This would still rule out the maps and codices. Of course, the discussion remains if "folded paper" implies "paper folding" (I might agree to a distinction) and if "paper folding" and "origami" are synonyms. To me, the latter is true, even if it is difficult to make a proper definition.

E.g. Merriam Webster defines origami as "the Japanese art or process of folding squares of paper into representational shapes" which would rule out a) everything not Japanese, b) all of the Mayan paper folding as the examples are not "representational", merely "decorative" or "practical", and c) everything not square.

The British Origami Society's glossary sidesteps the issue by defining origami as "A Japanese word meaning 'folding paper'" :-) However, their constitution defines "Origami as the folding of paper of any regular shape to form two dimensional or three dimensional models of living creatures, inanimate objects and abstract forms". Whew.

I'm more in line with David Lister when he tries with with the succinct "the art and science of folding" which even omits the requirement of paper which makes sense since the origami society happily uses foil (metallic or plastic), leather, etc. This would also include your own airbags and space mirrors of other materials than paper; however, one might discuss if not these are only for the purpose of "practical storing and handling"...

In the end, the origami profiles of John Smith (http://www.britishorigami.info/academic/jonsmif.php) seems to be the most useful approach to defining origami. (I would add a materials dimension.)

Best regards,

March 21, 2021 - 2:17pm bugfolder

Just as there can be differences of opinion as to what qualifies as "origami", there can also be differences of opinion as to what qualifies as "paper". Nicholas Basbanes, in his book On Paper, takes the position that to qualify as paper, the sheets must be formed from a water slurry of cellulose fibers. By this measure, neither amate paper (a pounded mat of tree bark) nor papyrus (a pounded mat of marsh reeds) would qualify, as neither is formed from a slurry.