Object: Beaded Moccasins

Object: Pair of fully beaded Moccasins

Accession: E/1982/11/017

Name: Pair of fully beaded Moccasins

Location: North America, Plains USA

Date: Early 20th Century

Materials: Rawhide, seed beads

riderdunstonebrittany_124935_9643543_IMG_0522

Keywords: Lakota, Teton, Sioux, Moccasins, Calf-Hide, Rawhide, Beaded, Native American, Lazy-Stitch, Sinew

This artifact, a pair of Lakota Indian Moccasins, comes from the Plains USA. The moccasins are made of rawhide. Typically moccasins are made of some kind of calf, buffalo, antelope, or elk (1). The artifact has multiple geometric designs including crosses and triangular shapes. The pair is fully beaded containing seed beads in the colors green, red, blue, and white. The beads are assorted in a “lazy stitch” technique. These moccasins have worn soles indicating usage, possibly for ceremonial practices.

 

The Lakota Indians come from the Plains lands of Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota. The Lakotas, through beadwork culture, contain images and designs specific to the artist. The culture focuses on the individuality and imperfection of the beadwork at hand. Throughout time the usage of beadwork has changed. In the 1840s-1870s Lakota beadwork contained block images, simplistic triangle images and the beadwork they created were used in daily life. Typically the background contained a white base and kept to older block designs. Beading reached its height in the 1870s as the Lakotas were forced into reservations. As the decade continued more complex designs were introduced, such as geometric designs. In the 1940s-present the Lakotas began using multiple techniques, including the lazy-stitch, to introduce more intricate designs. As WWII ended veterans began coming back to the reservations and Powwows were used to celebrate their return. During this time beadwork became not only more complex but became great pride regalia for the Lakotas Indians. (2)

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In the artifact, the observant can identify the unsymmetrical pattern between the left and the right moccasin. This is a traditional value in Lakota beadwork. For the artist, it is not about making the pieces perfect but rather metaphorically showing the imperfection of a piece of craftwork. The Lakotas wanted to show how the imperfect is still beautiful. It was also believed that the irregularity was a “visual pun”, among the craft workers. (3) Usually, this imperfection would be seen as a mistake but in Lakota culture, this is a treasured value. Lakota Indians believed/believe that the imperfect is beautiful and the imperfect is just a fact of life.

The stitching in the moccasin is also a very prevalent tradition in Lakota culture. The “lazy-stitch” is a commonly used technique in beadwork among many Indian pieces. In identifying the difference, observers look at bead color, style, and how the piece is made. The Lakota Indians typically use white as the background with red, green, and blue as some of the main coloration. In the moccasins observed above, the observer can see these identifications present with the white background and red, blue, green coloration included. The piece also includes the lazy stitch technique throughout the beading. The stitch creates a sense of commonality and connection among the Lakota Indian beadwork. The technique has held up throughout Lakota Indian culture and shows the ability to replicate the technique. The coloration and stitching is a treasured past that holds significant value currently in Lakota culture.

 

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((Brittany Rider-Dunstone))-Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

References:

(1)Wallaert, Hélène
2006
Beads and a Vision: Waking Dreams and Induced Dreams as a Source of Knowledge for Beadwork Making. An Ethnographic Account from Sioux Country. Plains Anthropologist 51(197): 3–15c

(2)Dean, David

2002

Beading in the Native American Tradition. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press

(3) Green, Richard

1997

An Aspect of Irregularity in Teton Sioux Beadwork.  Whispering Wind 28(5) 9

Object: Wooden Mask

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Accession Number: E/2014/3/012

Object: Wooden Mask created in the 1970’s donated to the Sam Noble Museum in 2014.

Location: The continent of Africa in the country of Liberia from the tribe of Dan (Gio).

Date: 1970’s (Exact date unknown)

Materials: Wood, Camel Teeth, Clay

Mask, Africa, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Dan

 

Description of the Mask

This mask, which was donated to the museum in 2014 by the McGee foundation, comes from the country of Liberia from the Dan tribe. This mask is about 19 inches tall and 7 inches wide. A long forehead, prominent lips, and scarification all stand out to make this mask unique. Materials used to make this mask include wood, camel teeth, as well as clay for detailed decorations. Most ‘Bimbo’ masks were made out of metal and had some from livestock hair which makes this specific mask unique. This mask was made in the 1970’s with the exact date unknown. This mask was used in many traditional ceremonies by the people of Dan.

Who were the Dan?

This mask was created and used by the Dan tribe of Liberia. The people of Dan migrated to present day Liberia from Northern Africa in the 1800’s. The people of Dan are known for their warlike society. Power is very important to the people of Dan (4).  Most of the people belonging to this tribe were farmers. Hunters and owners of guns were usually seen as the most powerful to these people. Materials acquired to survive were mostly obtained through trade. Family is an important aspect of their culture as well as art. Dan people used art to express themselves (1).  Masks like these were very popular to uniquely identify a person behind it based on things such as economic class.

More, More, and More!

Like stated earlier, the people of Dan had a strong cultural emphasis on power. Their political system functioned similarly to that of a caste system. Families in the tribes were separated into quarters based on economic status in the tribe. Settlers and traders were the main two classes of the Dan people in the 1970’s. Hunters who owned guns were seen as very powerful in the society. Beneath chiefs and people in political power within the tribe, hunters were seen as necessary providers (4).  Food and other materials needed to survive could not be obtained without the confidence, courage, and strength of a hunter. Although people still feel that the country of Liberia’s political system as a whole is corrupt, many progress has been made in an effort to bring this social system to modern times.

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An example of a contemporary Gle Mask. Photo courtesy of Andrew Scott, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0.

During the 1970’s in Liberia, art was a big part of the culture in Africa. Art was used as a form of self-expression during war times in Liberia (1).  These Dan masks were made and worn only by males. Although it seems as though this would not be a complicated task, many steps were needed in order to even begin the carving process of the mask. Cleansing of the carver/performer and a journey into the woods to find a perfect piece of wood were some of the necessary steps needed to begin the ceremonial process. Once the ceremony that the mask is needed for is completed, it will no longer be used again. The mask that the man makes is seen as a sacred piece of art and is kept in his family from generation to generation (3).

Not only is this mask is well known for aesthetic reasons, but the Dan people had a strong religious connection to this mask. Although the people of this tribe did believe in a supreme god (their religious affiliation can be most closely associated to the Islamic or Christian religion), they did not think that human beings could reach them on their own. They put on ceremonies to awaken the ‘Du’ which they used to communicate with their god (3).  The mask was the center of these ceremonies accompanied by elaborate clothing items and headpieces (1). A lot of time, detail, and effort was put into creating this mask. Little things that were observed about this object such as holes in the sides so that it could be secured to a performers face confirms the authenticity of this mask (2).

((Kelly Jones))- Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

 

 

References

 

  • Duerden, Dennis

2000

The “Discovery” of the African Mask. Research in African Literatures 31(4): 29–47. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3821076

 

  • Leach, Melissa

2000

New shapes to shift: war, parks and the hunting person in modern West Africa. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 6(4): 577–595. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2661031, accessed February 20, 2018

  • Maxwell, David

2012

What Makes A Christian? Perspectives From Studies Of Pneumatic Christianity. Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute 82(03): 479–491

  • Putnam, Aric

2006

Modern Slaves: The Liberian Labor Crisis and the Politics of Race and Class. Rhetoric and Public Affairs 9: 235–256. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41940051, accessed February 20, 2018

 

Object: Bronze Incense Burner

Accession: E/1955/18/139

Name: Bronze Incense Burner

Location: Asia: Dynastic China

Date: Dynastic China

Materials: Bronze

Key Terms: Incense, Burner, Bronze, Dynastic China

This bronze incense burner from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History is a three-piece artifact dating back to Dynastic China. The base consists of an elephant with three attachments that sit on top of the back of the elephant; the top tier is missing, however, there are holes on the top attachment of the elephant where this piece would connect. The burner stands 24” high when assembled. It is made from bronze and each piece is hand painted in multi-color designs, including light blue, dark blue, teal, light green, dark green, purple, yellow and white. The incense burner was used to burn incense as remnants of this process are evident because you can hear the remaining fragments moving around inside the elephant as you lift the object. There is also proof of aging in the form of green discoloration on the insides of the attached tears as well as the top of the elephant, which is a result of the bronze oxidizing.

 

The period of the Shang and Zhou dynasties is generally known as the Bronze Age in China. During this time in China rituals that centered on incense burners like this one had an important social function, because these were so important for creating societal cohesion. Since these rituals were so valued most objects used were made from bronze, which represented the superior sectors of society, as bronze was highly valued. Therefore, the material used to create this burner leads us to its cultural significance, as bronze burners are the most precious. The rituals this burner was used in became increasingly religious over time and were used to communicate with gods, spirits, and deceased ancestors. [1, 3]

Shang_Dynasty_1600_BC_-_1046_BC

Map courtesy of Arab Hafez licensed by CC-BY

Although we cannot pinpoint the exact date this incense burner was created, I am led to believe that it was likely constructed sometime during the Bronze Age (Shang and Zhou dynasties). Research shows that excavated Han Dynasty tombs had depictions of incense burners and elephants, therefore, the significance of these symbols in this culture was created before the Han Dynasty. This incense burner was likely to have been constructed in the orange/yellow region of the map on the right because that is where bronze paraphernalia used for rituals was being created at the time of the Bronze Age. The remnants found in incense burners excavated from tombs also prove that China was engaged in the global economy through international trading at the time these burners were being used because some of the spices found in the remnants were not grown in China. [2]

 

These burners were historically used to burn incense and spices for religious purposes and are contemporarily used for the same reasons; however, the religious symbolism has evolved over time. Earliest documented scent culture emphasizes simplicity and the belief that complex aromas were inherently suspicious because of the extravagance the original purity of virtues is lost. The original simple scents and spices used were intentionally unpleasant to avoid the corruption the pleasant but complex scents were thought to bring. Over time a change occurred and the idea of antique simplicity died off. Today, diverse incense and spices are used in combination with different religious ceremonies or rituals. [3]

 

The authenticity of this bronze incense burner is affirmed in its physical structure and visual signs of aging. Feet elevate the burner above the table surface, which is a requirement of an authentic incense burner, as without them the object would not be able to function correctly. The green discoloration on the top of the elephant also exemplifies its age as bronze greens from oxidation. This burner was undoubtedly handmade as the intricate designs that appear throughout the artifact are hand painted. Although the process for molding these bronze burners may be derivative, I would assert that these designs are unique to this particular burner, and exemplify the maker’s creativity and originality. The time put in to paint this complex design on such valued material denotes the importance of this object. [4]

 

((Kayla Grudzielanek))- Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

Works Cited:

  1. Department of Asian Art. “Shang and Zhou Dynasties: The Bronze Age of China.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. 2004, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/shzh/hd_shzh.htm.
  2. Kim, Minku. “CLAIMS OF BUDDHIST RELICS IN THE EASTERN HAN TOMB MURALS AT HORINGER: Issues in the Historiography of the Introduction of Buddhism to China.” Ars Orientalis, 44, 2014, pp. 134-154., http://www.jstor.org/stable/43489801.
  3. Milburn, Olivia. “Aromas, Scents, and Spices: Olfactory Culture in China before the Arrival of Buddhism.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 136, no. 3, July 2016, pp. 441-464., http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7817/jameroriesoci.136.3.0441.
  4. Stone, Elizabeth Rosen. “A Buddhist Incense Burner from Gandhara.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, 39, 2004, pp. 69-99., http://www.jstor.org/stable/40034602.

Picture:

“Ancient Chinese Dynasties: Advancements and Achievements.” Ancient Chinese Dynasties: Advancements and Achievements – The Zhou Dynasty, anchientchinesedynasties.weebly.com/the-zhou-dynasty.html.

E/1955/18/139 in the Sam Noble Museum Ethnology Collection

 

Additional Reading:

Maguer, Sterenn Le. “Typology of Incense-Burners of the Islamic Period.” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, vol. 41, July 2010, pp. 173-185., http://www.jstor.org/stable/41622131.

 

Object: Porcelain Figure

Object: Porcelain Figure

Accession Number: E/1955/18/029

Object: 8 ⅝” porcelain statue of Kuan Yin, goddess of compassion

Location: China, Qing Dynasty

Date: 1736-1795

Materials: Porcelain

Keywords: China, porcelain, figure, statue

   

The woman in the figure is Kuan Yin, goddess of compassion and perseverance whose name literally means “She Who Hears the Cries of the World.” The statue was created during the Qing Dynasty in China anywhere from 1736-1795 [2]. It is only 8 ⅝ inches tall, and the coloring is an off-white shade of cream that is made of molded porcelain. The figure depicts her with a soft facial expression, flowers in her hair, and an extravagant dress with long, curly accents and intricate beading that connects a series of medallions. She is also barefoot and standing on a fish with very long whiskers. The artifact seems to have been used to display and honor the bodhisattva, Kuan Yin, and summon her powers of compassion, perseverance, focus, and inspiration into their daily lives.

During the 18th century China when the porcelain figure was made, the Chinese were trying to embrace a new dynasty under the Qing-long emperor. Qing was determined to separate himself from the previous rule and undertook many reconstruction projects to build Tibetan-style temples and wanted citizens to embrace a new capital city other than Beijing [3]. He even went as far as persecuting those who spoke against him [3]. He wanted to be a Buddhist ruler, and perhaps his extra push and his new way of ruling inspired people to delve deeper into their Buddhist practices and utilize idols like Kuan Yin. Her use in modern culture is present in the LGBTQ community in the United States where members find her qualities of compassion and perseverance just as incredible and inspiring as people did in the 1700s [1].

The story and transformation of Kuan Yin throughout the course of history helps express why she means so much to so many people. Kuan Yin is known as a bodhisattva. “The bodhisattva is often described as a kind of Buddha-to-be, one who postpones ultimate nirvana in order to work tirelessly to eliminate the suffering of all living beings,” [1]. Kuan Yin was believed to have originated in India during the Common Era as a male spirit named Avalokitesvara. The spirit’s presence in China became female around the 12th century. The transformation between genders can perhaps be attributed to the Chinese association between wisdom and femininity and compassion and masculinity as these are two qualities central to Kuan Yin’s existence [1]. Furthermore, the version of Kuan Yin that seems most relevant to the porcelain figure in the Sam Noble collections is that of “the Chinese princess Miao-shan, a common fisherwoman, a goddess springing from a clam, and thousand-armed and thousand-eyed deity whose multiple arms and eyes symbolize the infinite powers of her saving compassion,” [1]. The aspect of being a fisherwoman may explain why the creator of this statue displayed her standing on a fish with long whiskers.

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I also found another image of Kuan Yin where she is surrounded by the sea and confirms that this was a common view of her in Chinese culture.

fosterbrooke_85809_9610733_GuanYinPuSa58      [4]

The gender fluidity of Kuan Yin’s story as well as her essence of compassion, perseverance, and wisdom clearly explains why she is a modern day inspiration the LGBTQ community.

The discovery that statues of Kuan Yin are being used for the same purpose by a variety of different people expresses how significant Buddhism and other religions have been all around the world. Idols and statues like this one of the bodhisattva, Kuan Yin, reinforce the importance of divination and guidance across cultures and throughout the passage of time.

 

((Brooke Foster)) Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

Works Cited

[1] Bailey, Cathryn. 2009. “Embracing the Icon: The Feminist Potential of the Trans Bodhisattva,

Kuan Yin.” Hypatia. 24(3): 178-196.

[2] Ethnology. 1956. “Porcelain Statue.” Museum of the University of Oklahoma. E/55-56/18/29.

[3] Hay, Jonathan. 1999. “Culture, Ethnicity, and Empire in the Work of Two Eighteenth-Century

‘Eccentric’ Artists.”Anthropology and Aesthetics 35: 201-223.

[4] Raven, Shikoba. “I Am Creation.” My Kuan Yin, Shikoba Raven, 14 June 2011,

mykuanyin.blogspot.com/2011/06/i-am-creation.html.

Object: Incense Burner

Japanese Incense Burners

Accession Number: E/1955/1/007

Object: Two 4 ¾” incense burners

Location: Japan

Date: Unknown

Materials: Clay

Keywords: Japan, Incense, Authenticity, Tradition

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The objects that were researched are two 4 ¾” inches clay incense burners. They were collected by the museum in 1955 without a known age and were given to the donor by a missionary that went to Japan named Victor Searle. The incense burners have a conical base and a spherical top with a cylindrical opening on top of the sphere where one would put the incense sticks as well as caps to go on the top of each opening. The outside of the incense burners is simple in design and are unglazed, but each incense burner has two daisies made of clay and painted on the outside. They are unglazed on the outside but have a green glaze on the inside that gives the impression that it was not used at all due to its good condition. The overall condition of the incense burners is great with only minor cracks primarily on the daisies and a chip out of one of the lids. There is also a signature in Japanese characters at the base of each of the incense burners that is 深草焼. The characters are translated as Fukakusaki Yakinikuyaki.

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Japan is a country that is a country that is the majority atheist. Despite this, there are many shrines and other religious sites all throughout Japan. The two most prominent religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shintoism. The most well-known visually to those in the West are likely Shinto shrines, but in actuality, the largest religion in Japan is Buddhism[1]. This led my initial research into what incense burners might be used for in Buddhism. Due to the size of the incense burners, they definitely felt like they would be intended for personal use in the home. This would mean that the incense burners would likely be used at a Butsudan. Butsudan are shrines in the home intended for Buddhist ancestor worship, a practice meant to connect the living to their ancestors through offers and prayers[2].

Ryukyu_Butsudan

Example of a Butsudan. By “Tharos Tharos”  , via Wikimedia Commons

This seemed like the most likely possibility until its likely origin was researched further. The signature at the base of the incense burners seemed like it would be a signature of the artist who made them, but after searching online for the characters an article was found that discussed at Fukakusa kiln. The article discussed the history of the kiln and mentioned pottery being made there dating back to the 12th century[3]. It gave the impression of a traditional pottery kiln that was still continuing to make pottery even in the mass produced modern society that exists in Japan today. Once I explored the kiln’s website the conclusion changed.

https://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&hl=en&prev=search&rurl=translate.google.com&sl=ja&sp=nmt4&u=http://fukakusagama.com/room.html&xid=17259,15700023,15700105,15700124,15700149,15700168,15700173,15700201&usg=ALkJrhi6ztAvKEIq7En0n85PQbaMCo7CDw

 

 

That’s a link to the English translated version of the website so you can explore it yourself. The kiln has appeared to have become commercialized, but not so much that it loses its traditional appearance. The images on the site look like it has traditional pottery classes, but it also has clearly gone under some Western influence due to their addition of a “pizza making experience.” The current state of the incense burner’s original kiln combined with the fact that the incense burners had no apparent use it led to the conclusion that they were never intended for spiritual use. They most likely were simply souvenirs picked up by the American missionary on a mission to Japan. This brings the authenticity of the objects into question as traditional artisans might have crafted them, but they were not intended for a traditional use.

Despite the incense burners not having any intention to be used for traditional reasons I find that they are still authentic items. It can be looked at in a similar light to the “ugly jugs” of the South. Traditional artists in southern states had to adapt to the new society full of mass produced products to be able to survive. The Fukakusa kiln also had to adapt to the changing society of the post-war Japanese society. Huge influxes of Western culture and influence altered aspects of Japanese society and the Fukakusa kiln adapted to it. The addition of pizza baking in pottery kilns definitely does not sound like what would happen in traditional Japanese kilns, but in the society, they exist in now it is fitting. Remaining traditional always seems like a litmus test for remaining authentic to one’s culture or tradition, but as the world changes so do the pieces of the world and the Fukakusa kiln remains authentic as it progresses through a changing society. Though these incense burners may have only been intended for a Western traveler to buy while on a trip and that the kiln is now a tourist attraction with heavy Western influences the two burners exist as an example of a traditional art adapting to the change of time.

 

((Santos Espinoza)) Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

Works Cited

“Fukakusa Kiln.” fukakusagama. Accessed February 21, 2018. https://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&hl=en&prev=search&rurl=translate.google.com&sl=ja&sp=nmt4&u=http://fukakusagama.com/room.html&xid=17259,15700023,15700105,15700124,15700149,15700168,15700173,15700201&usg=ALkJrhi6ztAvKEIq7En0n85PQbaMCo7CDw.

“FUKAKUSAKI YAKINIKUYAKI.” turuta. Accessed February 15, 2018. https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=ja&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fturuta.jp%2Fstory%2Farchives%2F10631&edit-text=.

Kim, Hyunchul. “The Purification Process of Death: Mortuary Rites in a Japanese Rural Town.” Asian Ethnology 71, no. 2 (2012): 225-57. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23339392.

“世界各国の宗教.” Ttcn.ne. Accessed February 25, 2018. https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=ja&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww2.ttcn.ne.jp%2Fhonkawa%2F9460.html&edit-text=

 

[1] 世界各国の宗教

[2] Kim, 231.

[3] FUKAKUSAKI YAKINIKUYAKI

 

 

Object: Shadow Puppet

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Object: Shadow Puppet of Hindu Epic Character

Accession Number: E/2004/2/001

Object: Multicolored and metallic gold painted shadow puppet made of hide with 3 controlling rods.

Location: Java, Indonesia

Date: Pre-1980

Materials: Hide (possibly buffalo), possibly horn, string

Keywords: Shadow Puppet, Wayang, Shadow Theater, Southeast Asia

 

The “Shadow Puppet of Hindu Epic Character” in the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Museum exhibits many features that identify it as Javanese. These features include the joining of the feet at the base of the figure; the combination of a front-facing perspective of the shoulders with a profile view of the face, feet, and body; and the elongated neck and arms. In comparison to other images, Javanese shadow puppets share other features, including cupped hands, wrist and sometimes ankle bracelets, upper-arm adornments, complex head shapes, and elongated noses. [2]

[2][1]

Shadow Puppet in the Sam Noble Museum’s Ethnology Collection (left) and other Javanese shadow puppets with similar features

This shadow puppet is dated as pre-1980, and it is in good condition. The cutout figure is made of thin but sturdy hide, possibly buffalo hide as this is traditionally what shadow puppets of Java are made of. [2] The rods connected to the body and each hand are probably some type of horn because this is the material that was traditionally used. There are several small bands of elastic-like material attaching the main rod to the hide body, and bright blue joints at the shoulders and elbows that may be made of plastic. The rods that control the hands are connected to the hands with a string that is still very clean. Metallic gold paint is used most extensively compared to the multitude of other colors and covers the neck, chest, arms, and legs. The other colors include red, pink, dark blue, light blue, white, dark green, yellow, and light purple. The face is painted black with red and gold details.

Pictures showing more detail of the head, face, and torso of the puppet, taken at the Sam Noble Museum

The origin of shadow puppetry, which is practiced in distinct ways throughout Europe and Asia, is unclear, however, theories include precedents to Indonesian shadow puppetry from ancient Greece and nomadic tribes. For example, Plato described plays in ancient Greece in which figures were used to cast shadows on cave walls, probably as part of religious ceremonies. Nomadic peoples of Central Asia may have used shadow puppets made of leather as part of religious rites and ceremonies as well, using firelight to cast shadows onto the tent walls that they used as screens. The use of these puppets may have been continued among the nomadic peoples because of the ease with which the small figures could be packed up to use in ceremonies in their next location. Shadow puppetry may have been brought to Java, an island in Indonesia, by Buddhist missionaries accompanying Indian kings that invaded the island in the 6th century. Despite being introduced by an outside culture, shadow puppetry rapidly became a sophisticated and complex art form in Java that was distinct from other cultures’ puppetry traditions. [1]

Traditional Javanese shadow puppet (or wayang kulit) performances would take place over a course of up to 41 days and told epic stories that communicated philosophical and moral values of Javanese culture. The master shadow puppeteer, or dalang, would start each performance with an incantation. The solo puppeteer would be accompanied by an extensive musical ensemble that helped set the tone for each scene. The ensemble also played specific tunes to announce the entrance of new characters in the play. [1]

bellaspen_106967_9644658_blog post image 7A shadow puppet master, or dalang, mid-performance (http://beta.indonesia.travel/en/post/the-riveting-wayang-kulit-shadow-puppet-shows-of-java-and-bali)

In Javanese culture, the shadow puppet exhibits multifunctionality by serving as a theatrically functional tool of Javanese shadow puppetry while also serving as a store of philosophical and religious values. The “theatrical functionality of figures” is vitally important to the continuation of the shadow puppetry tradition in Java. [1] The assembly of Javanese shadow puppets includes movable joints and controlling rods because the main component of any shadow puppet’s value is its functionality. The shadow puppet in the Sam Noble Museum’s collection exemplifies ease of mobility with operating joints and coordination rods. The puppets are viewed as tools for the trade-like tradition of shadow puppet performance. As with any other traditional trade or art form, masters of shadow puppetry mentor young Javanese citizens who are their apprentices and aim to carry on the art form for the next generation. [2] In this way, the tradition and knowledge are passed down from one generation to the next with individual variation, as is indicative of folk culture. In addition to being functional tools, puppets serve as meaningful works of art. Shadow puppets were traditionally considered sacred objects, or pusaka, in Java. [2] Although the puppets are elaborately and intricately constructed and decorated, as exemplified by the Museum’s painted shadow puppet, the puppets also store cultural values that are most clearly communicated through every performance in which the puppets are used.

Shadow puppetry in Javanese culture is used to emphasize moral and philosophical values. One tradition that relates to this function is that Javanese shadow puppet plays begin with the evil characters on the left side of the screen of the play, and noble characters on the right. [1] Another traditional custom is the use of a 2D screen for performances to separate the audience from the play and emphasize the other-worldliness of the events and characters depicted in the show, although 3D screens are among the adaptations included in some modern performances. [2] Today, shadow puppetry is used to communicate the cultural importance and value of global topics such as deforestation and climate change. This is just one example of how new stories are emerging in Javanese shadow puppet repertoire that use many traditional elements and themes but addresses modern-day concerns [3].

 

This is a short video that summarizes the Javanese practice of wayang kulit, and includes clips of actual shadow puppet performances:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfydro4X2t0

 

 

Works Cited:

[1] Chen, Fan Pen. 2003. “Shadow Theaters of the World.” Asian Folklore Studies 62

(1): 25-64. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1179080.

 

[2] Cohen, Matthew Isaac. 2007. “Contemporary ‘Wayang’ in Global Contexts.” Asian

Theater Journal 24 (2): 338-369. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27568418.

 

[3] Diamond, Catherine. 2014. “Whither Rama in the Clear-Cut Forest:

Ecodramaturgy in Southeast Asia.” Asian Theater Journal 31 (2): 574-593.

URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43187442.

 

Additional Reading:

Cohen, Matthew Isaac. 2014. “Introduction: Global Encounters in Southeast Asian

Performing Arts.” Asian Theater Journal 31 (2): 353-368. URL:

http://www.jstor.org/stable/43187430.

 

((Aspen Bell)) Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

Object: Bronze Food Bowl

E_1963_4_8Accession Number:           E/1963/4/008

Object:                                      This is a cast bronze food bowl with a lid. It has two handles and an inscription inside. It is in very good condition for being roughly 2500 years old.

Location:                                 This object comes from the Chou dynasty of ancient China.

Date:                                          Exact date unknown, but roughly 800 B.C.E

Material:                                  Cast Bronze

Keywords

Chou Dynasty, Zhou Dynasty, Bronze, Food Bowl

Object Background

This item is notable for its intricate patterns, inscription on the inner surface, and animal motifs. The intricate patterns point to the fact that the food bowls served more than a utilitarian purpose. These objects were used in a ceremonial or ritual context, so their designs had to be aesthetically pleasing. An inscription on the inner surface of the bowl is common amongst Chinese bronzes. The inscription could signify who made the bowl, who it was for, or the purpose of the bowl [1] [2]. Last, the animal motifs are commonly seen amongst other bronze objects. The taotie symbol is one that is animalistic but does not look like any one particular animal. It has feline and bovine characteristics and was a universally understood symbol at the time even though its meaning has been lost [3]. Last, a ram is seen on the handles of the bowl. Rams were often used to symbolize good luck and happiness [4].  So, this bronze food bowl could have been used in a ritual as a form of celebration of a god or deceased ancestor.

Cultural Background

The Chou (Zhou) Dynasty ruled from 1122 B.C.E – 256 B.C.E and was the longest ruling of the ancient Chinese dynasties. In addition to its long tenure, this dynasty is notable for its intricate bronze figurines, food containers, and other similar items [5]. Primarily used by wealthy and noble people as a ceremonial object, these bronze objects also served other purposes. Bronze bowls, in particular, were important for their aesthetics and their multifunctionality.

Discussion

While it is difficult to know the specific purpose of this bronze food bowl due to the large possibility of uses, it is very similar to other collected artifacts from ancient China. This helps to understand how it could have been used. It is very likely that this bronze food bowl saw use due to the fact that a white line, similar to a water line, is visible near the bottom of the interior surface. This could imply that food or drink sat stagnant in the bowl for a very long period of time. Based on this assumption, the aesthetics and symbols of the bowl, and the possible functions, it is probable that this bowl held a sacrificial offering. This offering was likely used in a ceremonial manner in which one was asking for happiness and good luck either for themselves, a god, or a deceased relative. The various symbols throughout the bowl are tied to Chinese religion, and these bowls were commonplace in rituals.

Furthermore, this bronze food bowl helps demonstrate the overall culture of ancient China. Since these bowls were used for sacrifices or rituals, it tells about the religion. For example, this shows that the religion of early China was somewhat similar to that of the Mayans with the use of sacrificial offerings. It also parallels that of ancient Egypt with the use of burial objects to provide food or other things to ancestors during the afterlife. Moreover, these objects show how a largely agrarian culture behaved and their everyday life was intertwined with their religion.

Last, it is important to note that many of these bronze vessels were reserved for nobility or the wealthy. Bronze was very expensive and valuable so it could not be purchased by all people. These items demonstrate that, as is expected, the upper class had a different way of life than the peasants. They were able to be in touch with their ancestors and provide for their deceased relatives even through the afterlife. The bronze bowls can serve many purposes in ancient China, but they were primarily used by the rich in a ceremonial context.

 

Works Cited

[1] Lippe, Aschwin. 1950. “A Gift of Chinese Bronzes.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 9(4): 97-107.

[2] Magurn, Blanche. 1945. “A Collection of Chinese Bronzes.” Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum 10(3): 87-92.

[3] Ho, Wai-Kam. 1964. “Shang and Chou Bronzes.” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 51(7): 175-187.

[4] Von Erdberg, Eleanor, and Wen C. Fong. 1978. “Chinese Bronzes: From the Collection of Chester Dale and Dolly Carter”. Artibus Asiae. Supplementum 35: 152-153

[5] Walker, Paul. Unknown. “Bronze Food Bowl.” Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

Works Referenced

Bagley, Robert. 2006. “Ornament, Representation, and Imaginary Animals in Bronze Age China.” Arts Asiatiques 61: 17-29.

Hay, John. 1999. “Questions of Influence in Chinese Art History.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics (25): 240-262.

Sterckx, Roel. 2013. “Food, Sacrifice, and Sagehood in Early China.” Asian Ethnology 72(2): 336-339.

Xu, Jay. 2006. “Food Vessel (Fangding).” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 32(1): 28-29.

 

((Austin Bashaw)) Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project


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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