Object: Knife and Sheath

Figure 1    Crooked Knife and Sheath from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History
Figure 1 Knife and Sheath from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1959/7/26
Knife and Sheath
Inuit
North America
Materials: Iron, hide, wood

This particular object is a small curved iron knife approximately 8 3/4 inches in length and 1 1/4 inches in width at its widest point on the wooden handle and resides in the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. According to Museum records, this knife is believed to have come from the North American region and was used by the Inuit.

Figure 2   Map of the Inuit peoples, photo courtesy of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s National Inuit Organization.

Figure 2   Map of the Inuit peoples, photo courtesy of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s National Inuit Organization.

The term “Inuit” refers to native peoples of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions when specific tribal affiliation cannot be determined. Based on research, however, one can see the similarities that this knife shares with quite a few different, regional tribal locations. First, this knife shares a similar form, including a curved blade attached to a straight handle, with the Yupik people. This same knife style, however, was also emulated by a tribe much farther to the southeast, the Tahltan of British Columbia. Second, Native Alaskans made and continue to make many different types of knives. These curved blades are primarily employed in the carving of wood or bone in order to make tools, wearable items, or artwork. A curved, long blade would be much easier to use for carved items because of their ability to make precision cuts, rather than the Ulu knife, which is normally associated with the term “Alaskan knife.” Ulu knives are better suited to chopping and don’t have the carving power of a curved blade, such as the one in the Ethnology Collection would have.

Figure 2    "Inuit Ulu", Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Inuit_Ulu.JPG#/media/File:Inuit_Ulu.JPG
Figure 3 “Inuit Ulu”, Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Inuit_Ulu.JPG#/media/File:Inuit_Ulu.JPG

The knife in the Ethnology Collection also has a crooked sheath to go with the curved blade. The sheath is made out of leather, although it is unclear what animal hide was used to make the leather. Most similar blades either do not have their original sheath, or the sheath is made from another material such as wood or ivory.

While the specific identification of this knife is unknown, it is without a doubt from the Inuit peoples of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions of North America. It also illustrates an excellent example of how the form (the curved blade) of an object can directly relate to the function (precise carving).

[Connor Daggett]

 

Resources:

Museum of Inuit Art:

http://miamuseum.ca

British Museum, Arctic Peoples: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/cultures/the_americas/arctic_peoples.aspx

Canadian Museum of History, First Peoples:

http://www.historymuseum.ca/exhibitions/online-exhibitions/first-peoples

The Dennos Museum Center, Inuit Gallery:

http://www.dennosmuseum.org/exhibitions/inuit/ 

 

 

Object: Chi Wara Headdress

Figure 1    Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali, Africa from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali, Africa from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/2014/3/5
Chi Wara Headdress
Bamana
Africa, Mali
Materials: Wood, metal, fabric

This wooden African headdress was made by the Bamana people from Mali. It is 43.25″ tall, 12.25″ long, and 2.75″ wide. The headdress represents a stylized antelope with elongated curved horns and open mane. Red cloth and metal trim are attached to the face, and a dark brown patina covers the surface. There are four holes on the base of the headdress used for attaching the headdress to a raffia covered basket and the head of the wearer.

The word chi wara translates to “farming beast” and is an extension of the Bamana deity associated with creation. For the Bamana (also known as the Bambara) who live in the dry savanna of west central Mali, farming is held in high esteem as the noblest profession. Tyi wara, or chi wara (also tyi ouara) is a dance for a supernatural being that is half man and half antelope. Tyi wara is the one who taught Bamana people about agriculture. Tyi wara was the son of the first woman and tilled the soil even as a baby, transforming weeds into millet and corn. He helped man to be prosperous farmers, but man became wasteful and careless in their farming. So, Tyi wara left them and buried himself in the ground. The Bamana are agrarian, and they are dependent on the success of their harvest. Now the headdresses are worn to call on Tyi wara’s aid for a successful harvest, and the name chi wara has come to be associated with an exceptional farmer.

The headdresses are worn during performances that depict male and female antelopes that symbolize the relationship between man and woman and between the earth and the sun. Art in Africa consists primarily of wood sculpture, with the majority being less than 200 years old since wood deteriorates easily from exposure or destruction. The chi wara sculpture is a zoomorphic headdress made of wood carved into a stylized antelope whose head and horns are exaggerated while the body is minimalized. It is also comprised of metal and segments of cloth. The unique chi wara headdress comes in variations depending on time and place created. Masks are worn during agricultural ceremonies when there is need of water for the crops to grow.

References to the Bamana are seen as early as the 18th century, and Bamana is identified as an ethno-linguistic group of the Mande people of Mali. Islam has encroached on the traditional religions in many areas of Africa, but the chi wara headdresses are still in use today. Bamana age-based fraternities, called tons, structure much of community life. Overall, this Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali provides insight into an interesting cultural tradition and a fascinating group of people.

Take a look at this video to see a Chi Wara dance:

[Samantha Hayes]

References

Azeez, Olaomo A. 2011. Indigenous Art of West Africa in Wood Global Journal of Human Social Sciences 11(2) Global Journals Inc. USA

Bickford, Kathleen E. and Cherise Smith. 1997. Art of the Western Sudan. African Art at The Art Institute of Chicago 23(2): Pp. 104-119+196 The Art Institute of Chicago

Crowley, Daniel J. 1976. Images from the Ancestors African Arts 9(4):73-74 UCLA James S. Coleman, African Studies Center

Dombrowsky-Hahn, Klaudia. 2012. Motion Events in Bambara (Mande) Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 33(1): 37-65 De Gruyter

Goldwater, Robert. 1960. Bambara sculpture from the Western Sudan Museum of Primitive Art University Publishers : N.Y.

Hanna, Judith Lynne. 1973. African Dance: The Continuity of Change Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council 5: 165-174

Imperato, Pascal James. 1970. The Dance of the Tyi Wara African Arts 4(1) Pp. 8-13+71-80 UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center

Object: Statue of Vishnu Riding Garuda

Figure 1    Basalt statue of Vishnu riding Garuda from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Basalt statue of Vishnu riding Garuda from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/2003/14/1
Statue of Vishnu Riding Garuda
Indonesia
Unknown Date
Materials: Basalt, stone

Carved basalt statues of Vishnu riding Garuda are a prominent artistic and religious feature of southeastern Asia. These particular types of carved statues are often found in temples and shrines dedicated to Vishnu and his bird mount Garuda. The image of Vishnu and Garuda spread throughout Southeast Asia with the spread of Hinduism, and has even been adopted as the national emblem of Indonesia and Thailand. This statue from the Ethnology Collection is carved from basalt—a volcanic rock found naturally in plateau deposits and volcanic terrains—and is commonly used for carving statues, tools, and weapons. Carved basalt statues like this are incredibly heavy, which indicates that they aren’t intended to be moved around, but instead stationed at a temple or shrine for long periods of time. Statues of Vishnu and Garuda are often carved from basalt, granite, wood, and bronze, and are also featured in pillars and architecture. This particular statue was acquired in Indonesia, and measures about 5 feet in height.

Vishnu is one of the three iconic deities of the Hindu faith and is often depicted with his mount, Garuda. Garuda is often portrayed as half man, half bird, with his wings spreading out as he supports Vishnu. Stories and myths of Garuda date back more than 3,000 years, and his image can be found throughout Buddhism as well as Hinduism. The Hindu myth of Garuda tells that he became the mount of Vishnu when he attempted to steal the elixir of immortality from the gods to free his mother from the serpents who imprisoned her. Garuda resisted drinking the elixir himself and prevented the serpents from taking it. Vishnu was impressed by his strength and determination and made him king of all birds. After that point, Garuda became the mount of Vishnu and the enemy of all serpents. The image of Garuda is often used today for protection against snakes and snakebites, and he continues to be an important religious icon across Southeast Asia.

Take a look at this video of a sculptor carving a wooden statue of Vishnu riding Garuda:

[Adisson Bolles]

References Cited:

Behera, Prajna Paramita. “The Pillars of Homage to Lord Jagannatha” http://www.orissa.gov.in/e-magazine/Orissareview/jun2004/englishpdf/pillar.pdf

“Carved and painted figure of Vishnu riding Garuda” britishmuseum.org. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/asia/f/figure_of_vishnu_riding_garuda.aspx

Dietrich, R. V., “Basalt” Gemrocks: Ornamental and Curio Stones. Accessed February 12, 2015. http://stoneplus.cst.cmich.edu/basalt.htm

“Garuda Wisnu Kencana Statue” GWK Cultural Park. Accessed February 14, 2015. http://www.gwkbali.com/about/2/garuda-wisnu-kencana-statue

“Hindu deity Vishnu, 1100-1200” Asian Art Museum. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://education.asianart.org/explore-resources/artwork/hindu-deity-vishnu-1100%E2%80%931200

“Prambanan Temple Compounds” unesco.org. Accessed February 15, 2015. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/642/

“Opposites Attack” American Museum of Natural History. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/mythic-creatures/air-creatures-of-the-sky/opposites-attack

“Prambanan Temple Compounds” unesco.org. Accessed February 15, 2015. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/642/

Object: Roman Tombstone

Figure 1    Roman Tombstone with Latin Epitaph from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Roman Tombstone with Latin Epitaph from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

C/2000/1/1
Roman
Unknown Date
Materials: Stone

This ancient Roman stone is from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. It has an interesting epitaph, or inscription, in Latin, which roughly translates as “To the shades of the departed ( or ‘for/to the god Mercury’), Plutianici (Latin-ized Greek name) lived 23 years, 4 months and 3 days. L. Plutius (Latin-ized Greek name) Stephanus made this (stone) for his most sweet (dear) wife.” The inscription identifies it as a Roman tombstone or funerary monument erected by L. Plutius Stephanus for his wife Plutianici, who lived only 23 years, 4 months and 3 days.

Funerary monuments in Roman cemeteries were important symbols to the people of Rome because they served as a way to commemorate the deceased as well as a way to remember them for the years to come. According to Valerie Hope, “monuments were frequently designed to catch the eye of the passer-by: scale, decoration, words, and images all combined to provide a final snapshot of the deceased” (Hope 2007:141).

The tombstones were also a way to show social identity in Ancient Rome. In Hope’s research, she declares that erecting a tombstone inscribed in Latin is a “Roman act” because it symbolizes “the attainment of citizenship or at least a claim that such citizenship was deserved” (Hope 1997:119). These tombstones served as a form of identity for Roman citizens to show that they were a part of the empire and belonged to Roman society when they were alive.

On the epitaph found on the tombstones, the Manes, believed to be the spirits of the dead, were commemorated with the phrase Dis Manibus, which was shortened to DM. This commemoration was exclusive to tombstone inscriptions. The Manes were celebrated in February during Parentalia, a nine-day festival commemorating the ancestors. During this time, the ancestors were honored and appeased with food, offerings, and prayers to show piety towards them by their living descendants and family members (Yasin 2005:439).

After the commemoration of Dis Manibus on Roman tombstones, the first name of the deceased was displayed, then the exact age of the person in years, months, and days. The inscriptions on the stone also usually included the occupation of the deceased and concluded with the name of the person who erected the stone in their honor. All of the information presented in an epitaph showed the identity and social status of the person so that he or she could be remembered for the years to follow. Ultimately, just like tombstones today, the tombstones of Ancient Rome served as a physical monument that gave the living a glimpse into the life of the deceased.

[Sarah Noel Rodriguez]

Further Links:

Latin Inscriptions: http://www.ashmolean.org/ashwpress/latininscriptions/tag/latin-tombstones/

Latin Funerary Inscriptions: http://archaeologicalmuseum.jhu.edu/the-collection/object-stories/latin-funerary-inscriptions/

Roman Inscriptions: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/insc/hd_insc.htm

Sources:

Hope, Valerie M. 2007. Death in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.

Hope, Valerie M. 1997. Constructing Roman Identity: Funerary Monuments and Social Structure in the Roman World. Morality 2(2):103-121.

Meyer, Elizabeth A. 1990. Exploring the Epigraphic Habit in the Roman Empire: the Evidence of Epitaphs. The Journal of Roman Studies 80:74-96.

Yasin, Ann Marie. 2005. Funerary Monuments and Collective Identity: From Roman Family to Christian Community. The Art Bulletin 87(3):433-457.

Object: Maya Mask

Figure 1    Maya "Wolf" Mask from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Maya “Wolf” Mask from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1992/3/8
Mask
Cakchiquel (Kakchiquel) Maya
Chimaltenango: San Andrés Itzapa, Guatemala
Materials: Painted wood

This wooden face mask has been painted red, with green polka dots, black eyes, and black and white detail behind the ears. This particular mask shows a face with an open mouth displaying carved wooden teeth. The eyes of the mask have been made by carving holes and surrounding the eyes with black paint. The eyebrows are also painted black, and the ears are carved and painted just above the eyebrows. On the sides of the mask are wooden flaps painted black and white, a striking color difference from the mostly red background and spotted green on the rest of the mask. On the forehead of the mask, there is a small hole, probably for hanging the mask.

The mask is sized to fit on a human face. It is 8 ¾ inches long, 7 inches wide, and 4 ¼ inches thick. It was accessioned into the Sam Noble Museum’s Ethnology Collection with only a few scratches in the paint on the nose, forehead, and ears – overall, in good condition. When accessioned, it was determined that the animalistic features on the mask were meant to resemble a wolf. It seems like an unsuitable animal inspiration for the Chimaltenango region of Guatemala (where wolves are not native), possibly meaning that it takes its likeness from another predator.

Instead of a wolf, which does not live in the region this mask was made, the mask may actually be meant to resemble a jaguar. Jaguars have always had important significance to Maya culture, playing an integral role in the Maya creation story. Many successful Maya kings and leaders were known for having the same feline characteristics associated with the jaguar. The jaguar is often the symbol for life and fertility. It is also seen as existing outside of the human realm, giving it associations with the underworld. In the Chimaltenango region specifically, jaguars can be black or yellow with black spots. While the mask in the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Museum is red with green spots, the jaguar seems like a more likely option for inspiration than the wolf.

In order to understand why these seemingly odd paint choices might have been made, it is useful to look at the significance of these colors in Maya culture. Traditionally, red and black were popular in Maya cave art. Red pigment was originally made from the red clay dirt found in or near the caves themselves. In ancient times, Maya temples were painted in red and white colors. The red, white, and black paint on this contemporary mask follow along with this long-standing tradition.

Without speaking directly to the artist, of course, the intentions and inspirations behind this particular mask cannot be known for certain. However, it seems safe to say the original identification of the mask as “wolf-like” is most likely incorrect. Because this mask follows Maya tradition in paint colors, it seems more likely that the artist chose the more traditional jaguar native to the Chimaltenango region to inspire this mask.

[Caitlin Doepfner]

More sources:

Fischer, Edward F., and R. McKenna Brown. 1996. Maya Cultural Activism in Guatemala. Austin: University of Texas Press.

National Geographic. N.d. Jaquar: Panthera Onca. National Geographic. Accessed February 15, 2015.     http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/jaguar/

Lovgren, Stefan. 2004. Masks, Other Finds Suggest Early Maya Flourished. National Geographic. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/05/0504_040505_mayamasks.html

 

 

Object: Sarangi

E_1954_9_3

E/1954/9/3 a-b
Sarangi musical instrument
Hindu
Asia: India
Early 20th Century
Materials: wood, metal, leather, sinew

This sarangi is a 26-stringed musical instrument made of dark stained cedar wood with a long wide neck and a short wide body. It has a white leather sounding platform and metal and gut strings. It is meant to be played with the accompanying bow, and it traditionally was used in Hindu classical music. This instrument has multiple internal chambers, typically 3-4 hollow chambers that help perpetuate the sound.

Musical tradition is very important in India. Children can learn musical tradition from a young age, becoming an apprentice to a master player. These musicians are respected in the broad public community as well as the religious sector.

The sarangi has been in India for as long as musical traditions have been present in the region. The instrument has deep-rooted cultural and religious significance. For instance, the sarangi is valuable to the Indian tradition of meditation, as its sound induces human concentration and religious thought. Vocal harmonies are extremely important in Hindu prayer in some regions of India, and the sound produced by the sarangi complements the human voice during religious performances, creating a more complete sound of praise.

While it is possible to make a sarangi out of gourds, the stringed instrument is traditionally crafted from cedar wood. The sarangi is analogous to the Western violin, as it is also a stringed and bowed instrument. One of the biggest and most obvious differences between the sarangi and the Western violin are the numbers of strings. The Indian sarangi usually contains thirty five to thirty seven strings (even though the example from the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History only has 26 strings) while the Western Classical violin contains only four strings. This instrument can be played standing up, but traditionally, the sarangi is played while sitting down on the ground cross-legged.

To learn more about the sarangi, take a look at this interesting video:

[Brady Leach]

References:

The Indian Sarangi: Sound of Affect, Site of Contest, Regula Burckhart Qureshi Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 29 (1997), pp. 1-38

Napier, John. “The Distribution Of Authority In The Performance Of North Indian Vocal Music.” Ethnomusicology Forum 16.2 (2007): 271-301. Music Index.

 

Object: Aryballos

Figure 1    Arybollas with incised lion, bird and rosette pattern from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Aryballos with incised lion, bird and rosette pattern from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

C/1945/3/1
Aryballos with incised lion, bird and rosette
Greece: Corinth
Unknown Date, Late Corinthian
Materials: Terracotta

This jar, or aryballos, from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History measures 2 5/16” high with a circumference of 6 1/2”, the lip of the vessel is 1 1/4” wide while the handle is 1” L X 1/8” wide. The images on this vase include (from left to right) a lion, a bird (perhaps a goose or swan), and rosettes (flower shapes).

An aryballos is an oil jar used by Greek athletes during bathing. This type of jar could be carried on the wrist using a string looped through the small handle.[i] This usually spherically-shaped vessel originated in Corinth, Greece. However, other aryballoi jar shapes include oval, animal or even human-shaped vessels.[ii]

Corinth became the leading center for ceramic production in Greece during the Orientalizing period of the 7th century BCE. The term “Orientalizing” refers to the spread of Near Eastern or Egyptian themes to Greece during a time of intensive trade. The Near East and Egypt inspired both the shapes and designs of this type of pottery as well as the images painted on the vessels. Corinth experienced great success in the production of containers and through the invention of the black-figure firing technique. In this technique, incisions and color highlights were added to existing black silhouettes of figures.[iii]

Corinthian style vessels may be recognized by their yellow or beige-colored clay as well as by their decorations. Orientalizing period vessels, such as this aryballos, display floral decorations along with images of animals surrounding the body of the jar. Images of vegetation and animals spread from the Near East and Egypt, most likely through trade, and heavily influenced the themes of Greek vase decoration.[iv]

The aryballos from the Classics Collection, is an example of a Late Corinthian vessel style and most likely dates to around 600 BCE. The date may be assumed to be around this time because earlier vessels tended to be more precisely painted, sometimes with miniature figures. Because this aryballos does not appear as detailed, it was most likely created towards the end of the Corinthian period. Earlier Corinthian aryballos often featured one large figure, while animal images and small fillers like the rosettes are seen in later examples. [v] This aryballos therefore presents an interesting example of a Corinthian oil jar used by Greek athletes that was heavily influenced by Near Eastern and Egyptian design elements.

[Cacie Thomas]

Notes:

[i] Clark, Andrew J., and Maya Elston. 2002. Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Harvard Art Museum Aryballos Collection. http://www.harvardartmuseums.org/collections, accessed February 14, 2015.

[iv] Boardman, John. 1998. Early Greek Vase Painting: 11th-6th Centuries BC : A Handbook. New York City: Thames and Hudson.

[v] Boardman, John. 1974. Athenian Black Figure Vases. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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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