Object: Thai Sword

E-75-1-13

Figure 1: Siamese Sword from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

 

E/75/1/13
Thailand
Materials: Metal, Wood

This sword is more then likely an example of a Thai daab which have circular cross-sectioned hilts, single edged blades and no cross guards. The blade is 13 inches long with a cutting edge that leaves the handle in a straight line curving upward near the tip. The spine of the blade curves upward until the halfway point where it turns abruptly and continues in a straight line to the tip. On both sides of the blade is a series of designs made of half circles. One side of the blade has a symbol that looks similar to a thin arrow head near the forte, the stronger part of the blade from the hilt to the middle. The wooden handle is 11 inches long and has two metal ferrules, which serve to strengthen the wood, at either end.

Thailand once known as Siam experienced a time of relative peace during the Bronze Age unlike the surrounding areas of Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam and Southern China. This is suggested by the by the lack of weapons found in grave sites in Thailand from this period. During the Iron Age, however, a different story begins to emerge. Archeological research suggests that a hierarchical social system began to develop during this time period. The appearance of Iron sparked a series of complex changes on the social, political and economic levels of society. Early mining and casting of metals like copper and bronze in Thailand was characterized by independent specialists with a level of expertise operating on a small-scale and producing at a seasonal rate.

Some of these independent specialists, the best ones, worked under the patronage of kings who began to appear as the society became more hierarchal. The blacksmiths would often purchase iron that had been mined and smelted locally from bazars until the middle of the 19th century when European iron and steel began to replace the local sources. The traditional forges used in Thailand consisted of a cylindrical bamboo bellows, a small anvil, and a trough of water used for quenching the hot metal. The swords that these blacksmiths created were made for several reasons. One was that during the Iron Age Siam was often engaged in war with neighboring states, so creating weaponry was essential to their survival. A second reason for creating weaponry was for ceremonial use and as gifts to kings. These swords were never used in combat, but were beautifully decorated with precious metals and gems.

The exact purpose that this sword was created for is unknown, though it is possible it was produced for cultural tourism. Cultural tourism focuses on the specific culture of an area and works to promote it to outsiders who come to visit. In Thailand this is centered around the Chao/Khao or hill tribes. Tourists are encouraged to seek out authentic experiences and to visit the different groups to learn their distinct ways of life. This form of tourism creates jobs, tax revenues, promotes economic diversity and can help improve the overall quality of life of those who live in the areas frequented by tourists. It can also cause people to shift their ways of life from more traditional methods as tourists want souvenirs that are not normally produced. An example of this is the contemporary blacksmiths often nowadays create dinnerware that the tourists can take home and use, whereas a sword for battle is not in high demand. Check out this cool video to see an example of Thai martial arts using swords.

Work Cited

Greaves, I.A., Bowditch, M.I., & Winston, A.Y. (n.d.). The Swords of Continental Southeast Asia. Macao Museum of Art: History of Steel in Eastern Asia. http://www.arscives.com/historysteel/continentalsea.article.htm.

Johnson, A.A. (2007). Authenticity, Tourism, and Self-Discovery in Thailand: Self-Creation and the Discerning Gaze of Trekkers and Old Hands. SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia. 22(2):153-178.

O’Reilly, D.J.W. (2000). From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in Thailand: Applying the Hierarchical Approach. Asian Prspectives. 39(1/2):1-19.

Blog post based off of research from:

Long, J. (2014). From Siam to Oklahoma: An Examination and Investigation of Five Siamese Swords Curated by the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Unpublished Term paper. Oklahoma State University.

[Jessica Long and Dakota Stevens]

 

Object: Ear Plugs

E/1956/2/21
Ear Plugs
Orejon
South America: Peru
Unknown Date
Painted wood and shell

These earplugs come from the Orejon culture of northern Peru. They are round discs of a lightweight wood, each heavily coated in a white pigment. Engraved black shells are set into the center of each plug and depict three concentric circles. Each plug is 4.5” in diameter and 0.75” thick.

The Orejon people (nowadays known as the Witotoans and the Bora), have a patrilineal social structure where kinship is traced through the men of a family. The Witotoan peoples primarily practice subsistence agriculture, growing manioc, pineapple, plantains, bananas, yams, papayas, mangos, peanuts, cacao, and other crops that thrive in the tropical South American environment.

Ear piercing is a very common form of body adornment popular in cultures all over the world, and the Witotoan people are no exception. For the Witotoan people, ear piercing is a practice restricted to men. Generally, boys get their ears pierced between 10 and 15 years old. A thin awl is used to pierce the ears, and small wooden pins are inserted into the holes. The boy is then responsible for carving the earlobe hole pins (each slightly wider in diameter than the last). These earlobe hole pins are periodically replaced with the next size larger in order to slowly grow the size of the holes.

The Witotoan people have cultural similarities to the Canela people, who live in nearby Brazil. The Canela believe that boys with open ears are more receptive to the knowledge revealed to them by their elders. In the words of Raimundo Roberto, a Canela man: “Our elders thought that an ear decoration made young men beautiful, and that those who received them would become even more handsome to young women.…He wouldn’t act foolishly, nor talk badly to anyone, because he knew that the women were always watching him. So, a man’s earring indicates that he is a tribesman of the highest caliber. That’s why I think earrings were a very serious matter for our elders.”

This type of ear piercing and use of earplugs is less common today among the Canela and the Witotoan peoples as it has been increasingly perceived by the non-native population as “ugly” or “subversive.” However, body adornment remains popular in many different cultures all over the world, including our own.

[Stephanie L. Allen] 

Object: Harpoon Head

E/48/2/23
Punuk, Alaska, United States of America
Materials: Ivory

This ivory harpoon head comes from the tusk of a walrus, and was made by people of the Punuk Culture, a part of the Thule tradition. It was used for whaling, which is what the Punuk culture is known for. To the Punuk people and its descendants the making of the harpoon and harpoon head was a ceremony in itself. A walrus was only killed for its ivory, and it was as close to a sacred animal as possible to the Punuk people. There were ceremonies to prepare the ivory, after which it was carved very intricately. The carver added his personal mark in order to see which harpooner was the one that had the killing thrust.

The whales which were hunted by the Punuk people were bowhead whales, and the hunt involved the entire family. They assembled in a boat owned by the family and rode along the shoreline waiting for the whales to surface along the ice . When a whale surfaced, they went in for the kill. Cultural and religious beliefs support the use of every single part of the whale. After it has been processed, it goes out to all members of the family.

Many of the indigenous people living within the Arctic Circle practiced whaling, but it was not until the Punuk culture that it became the focus of their society. Some whalebone gravesites show that a particular family could have killed as many as 30 whales in a particular season with a tendency to go for the infant whales.

The modern descendants of the Punuk people still practice whaling using methods similar to those of their ancestors. While it may not be the main source of food anymore due to recent whaling laws, it remains an important part of the cultural lives of the indigenous people of the Arctic Circle.Here is an interesting video that show what happens during a whale hunt.

Work Cited

Alaskan Artifacts.
N.D.  A Brief Overview of the Arctics Cultural Periods. http://www.alaskanartifacts.com/Arctic_Cultural_Periods.html

Fitzhugh, William W. ed J Prusinski
2004 Old Bering Sea Harpoon. Arctic Studies Center.http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/features/croads/ekven10.html

Hurst Gallery.
1998  Punuk 600-1200 AD. http://www.hurstgallery.com/HG/exhibit/past/artic/punuk.html

[Manuel Marin]

Object: Marble bust of Alexander the Great

C/2002/1/1
Greece
Modern Cast of 3rd. Century Original
Materials: Marble, Metal, Wood

This marble bust Alexander III of Macedonia, otherwise known as Alexander the Great, is a modern copy of the original bust that was created in the town of Pella, the capital of ancient Macedon. Alexander the Great was a famous conqueror of the ancient world. By the end of his life, his empire spread from Greece all the way east to India. At age 16, Alexander was already leading troops for an army led by his father, Philip II. After his father was assassinated, he was proclaimed king by the army and led them to victory after victory. Among the many features that set Alexander apart from other military leaders of the time was his preference to actually ride out in front of his men when they charged into battle.

Little is now known about Alexander’s physical appearance, but most agree that he was of average height, for a Greek of that time, and had brownish hair (not blonde) as figure 2 illustrates. One thing that cannot be questioned was his intelligence. As a boy he was educated by one of the most brilliant minds of the time, the Greek scholar Aristotle, who instructed him in a variety of subjects ranging from philosophy to the arts. Alexander won almost every battle he fought, not so much with brute force, but with cunning and brilliant military strategies. He would use the geography of the land to pin his enemies against a cliff or river. After years of campaigning he was planning to continue, but fearing mutiny from his army he decided to turn back for home. On this journey he received a fatal wound and then became very sick. He died in Babylon in 323 BC.

The legacy of Alexander continues even today. People everywhere know of him and his accomplishments. Some say that he was a great man while others claim him to be a devil. Since his death, military leaders have tried to imitate his actions. There have been many movies and books written about him. Below you will find a documentary on Alexander.

 

Work Cited

Bio.
2013  Aristotle Biography – Facts, Birthday, Life Story. http://www.biography.com/people/aristotle-9188415

History of Macedonia
2013  Alexander the Great of Macedon Biography: King of Macedonia and Conqueror of the Persian Empire. http://www.historyofmacedonia.org/AncientMacedonia/AlexandertheGreat.html

[Rob Million]

Object: Feather Headdress

E/48/8/15
United States of America
1930′-1940s
Materials: Feathers, Leather, Dye, Glass Beads

This feather headdress was worn by one time University of Oklahoma mascot Little Red, who was mascot up until the early 1970s. He was a Native American and would wear tradition tribal dress and an iconic headdress known as a war bonnet. Little Red would perform on the sidelines at football and basketball games, and he would preform war dances when the team would score a touch down.

Little Red became controversial in the minds of many in the 1960s. The ethics of using a Native American as a sports team mascot became a subject of much debate at the University and in the greater Native American community. On the surface, the discussion appeared like it was between Indians and non-Indians, but the truth of the matter was it was far more complicated than that. This debate was centered in the Native community eventually bringing many Native families into odds with each other. Families and friends couldn’t agree on whether or not Little Red was an acceptable depiction of their culture. In the end, Little Red became the first Native American mascot to be removed from a college setting.

In the late 1960s, many groups began to petition for the removal of Little Red. The National Indian Youth Council, claimed that, “Little Red serves as a symbol of the physical oppression and cultural degradation that American Indians had faced in the past.” For all of those fighting against Little Red, there seemed to be just as devoted a crowd fighting for him.

Randy Palmer, in particular, was noted as being particularly invested in saving Little Red. The Daily Oklahoma reported that Palmer went so far as to run on field at the OU – Wisconsin game in September of the 1970 season, and preformed in the capacity of Little Red to an ecstatic crowd even though the mascot had already been banned. The controversy over Little Red is still relevant today. With discussions and disputes over mascots and team names in college and professional athletics taking center stage, it is important to remember all of the cases that have come before. It is important to remember Little Red. If you would like to learn more about some of the debate surrounding the topic of Indian mascots, watch the video below from a panel discussion at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian:

Work Cited

DeSpain, Matthew S.
2013  Little Red Died for Your Sins: Playing Indian at the University of Oklahoma and the Rise and Fall of Little Red. Native Matters The Journal of Native American Studies. http://66.147.244.221/~nativema/2013/04/11/50/

[Abbey Take]

Object: Hopi Jar

E/58/25/8
Hopi, Arizona, United States of America
ca. 1900
Materials: Clay, Mineral Pigment

This Hopi wide mouth, square shouldered jar is produced in the Nampeyo  style. Fish, rain, feathers, and other geometric designs are depicted on the outside surface. It has a red bottom, thick red rim band, and red horizontal dividing lines that are often seen in late 1800s Hopi pottery.

The Anasazi, possibly though as yet not definitively proven, were the ancestors of the Hopi people. They began making pottery around A.D. 700 due to successful agricultural practices, ending the need for a nomadic life. They lived in an area of the American Southwest known as the “Four Corners” region. Modern Hopi lands encompass a much smaller area of northeastern Arizona that sit in the middle of the Navajo Nation. Twelve villages are located in three regions called First Mesa, Second Mesa, and Third Mesa. The villagers of the Hopi town of Walpi still live a traditional lifestyle without electricity or running water.

Hopi potter Iris Nampeyo (1860 – 1942) revived the ancient style of Sikyatki pottery through potshard studies conducted with her husband, Lesou. Sikyatki was a large, ancient Hopi village abandoned around A.D. 1500. The wide red and black lines found on the jar in this blog, based on Nampeyo’s revitalization of ancient motifs, tell a dramatic story of the challenges of desert living and Hopi beliefs. Water is the most precious commodity in this area, so water creatures are believed to possess great power. Many symbols are used to represent various  forms of rain, and therefore water, in Hopi pottery. The framed stair pattern in the lower half of this jar symbolizes rain.

Members of the Hopi villages in northeastern Arizona have created beautiful pottery for generations using clay dug from tribal lands. Hopi potters begin with a base then employ a symmetrical hand-coiling method to build the walls of the vessel. A gourd scraper is used to smooth the sides. The traditional designs are applied with yucca fiber brushes using mineral pigments. Items believed to be important for survival, like water, food, prey, and spirituality, are the most common symbols found on Southwestern pottery. To learn a bit more about Hopi pottery check out this video.

Work Cited

Cole, Sally J.
1994   Roots of Anasazi and Pueblo Imagery in Basketmaker II Rock Art and Material Culture. Kiva 60(2): 289-311.

Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Chip.
2003   Signs in Place: Native American Perspectives of the Past in the San Pedro Valley of Southeastern Arizona. Kiva 69(1): 5-29.

Frank, Ross H.
1991   The Changing Pueblo Indian Pottery Tradition- The Underside of Economic Development in Late Colonial New Mexico, 1750-1820. Journal of the Southwest 33(3): 282-321.

Honea, Kenneth.
1973   The Technology of Eastern Puebloan Pottery on the Llano Estacado. Plains Anthropologist 18(59): 73-88.

Jett, Stephen C., and Peter B. Moyle.
1986   The Exotic Origins of Fishes Depicted on Prehistoric Mimbres Pottery from New Mexico. American Antiquity 51(4): 688-720.

Smith, Alexa M.
2000   Zoomorphic Iconography on Preclassic Hohokam Red-on-Buff Pottery: A Whole Vessel Study from the Gila River Basin. Kiva 66(2): 223-247.

Zaslow, Bert.
1986   Symmetry and Contemporary Hopi Art. Kiva 51(4): 233-253.

[Astrud Reed]

Object: Manuscript Box

E/1955/18/252
Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
ca. 19th Century
Materials: Bronze, Gold Gilding, Precious Stones, Persian Turquoise, Wood

Manuscript boxes like this one were used throughout Southeast Asia by both Hindus and Buddhists to store important religious texts. Their design varies with respect to materials and form. They all show intricate and ornate design work.

The top of this particular box shows the goddess Durga slaying Mahishasura (the buffalo demon), the theme of a famous Hindu story. No man, not even a god, could kill Mahishasura. The trinity of gods created Durga and gave her their weapons to defeat him. The battle of Durga is important in Hindu mythology and ancient art, and it is still told today.

Manuscripts featuring the story of Durga are considered amulets. They are valuable items that can protect their owners from some evil influences. This box is nailed shut, keeping its mysterious contents both safe and secret.

The Kathmandu Valley, where this box was made, has been an important site of cultural exchange since around 300 B.C. Located in Nepal, between India and Tibet, it contains a blend of both Hindu and Buddhist religions. An ancient trade route connected Asia, from Iran in the west, to China in the east. It linked cities in Pakistan, India, Burma and Thailand, and had a crucial stop in the Kathmandu Valley.

Artifacts from this area often reflect the diverse people that have passed through it. This box displays a Hindu goddess, but it contains inlaid turquoise from the Middle East and precious gems that are likely from Burma. It also draws on Burmese design, where manuscript boxes with feet were more common.

The spiral patterns and handcrafted details of this box are unique. They were created by the native people of Nepal, called the Newar. This box’s material, design and overall shape reflect the diversity of cultures, peoples, religions and materials that have existed in or passed through the Kathmandu Valley, from the 8th century to today. Watch the movie below to see a movie version of Durga slaying Mahishasura.

Work Cited

Jwajalapa.com
“The Newar Synthesis”. Accessed 1 October 2013, last modified 23 September 2008.  http://www.jwajalapa.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48&Itemid=61

Ratanapruck, Prista.
2007 Kinship and Religious Practices as Institutionalization of Trade Networks: Manangi Trade Communities in South and Southeast Asia. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 50(2/3): 325-346.

Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India
2013 Mythology of Durga Puja. SJFI: India. Retrieved from http://www.durga-puja.org/mythology.html

UNESCO World Heritage Association
“Kathmandu Valley—UNESCO”. Accessed 1 October 2013, last modified 2013. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/121/

[Elly Roberts]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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