Yam Mask by the Abelam People of Papua New Guinea

 

E_1972_4_3

Figure 1. Abelam Yam Mask, E/1974/04/003, Sam Noble Collection. Photo Courtesy of Sam Noble Museum of Natural History.

E/1972/04/003

Helmet Mask/ Yam Mask

Abelam

East Sepik, Papua New Guinea

Cane Reed, Natural Pigments

To say that yams play a large part of life for the Abelam people of Papua New Guinea would be an understatement. Yams play an integral part of connecting the Abelam people to their environment, community neighbors, and cultural celebrations. Not only does this crop serve as a food staple, the Abelam people observe a dedicated six month growing period for the tuber, with some yams measuring in at a whopping ten feet long!

yam-festival-at-kalabu-village

Figure 2: Abelam Community. Photo Credit Unknown.

 

yamlineb

Figure 3. A Yam mask using a modern halloween mask.    Photo courtesy: Art-pacific.com

Tending to their yam gardens and growing the largest tuber possible is the sole focus of the men during the growing season. The growing season for yams typically begins in August and ends in February. For the months that mark the growing season, all warfare and fighting is stopped. Hunting and the butchering of animals is stopped, and even sexual activity is suspended until the end of the growing season. This is because the Abelam believe that their giant yams are aware beings that “have a sort of extrasensory perception.” Richard Scaglion, an ethnologist who worked closely with the tribe in the 1970s described the Abelams view of yams saying:

“They (the yams) can “feel” things. They appreciate tranquility and can perceive social discord. Various other things deemed as “hot” activities upset their serenity. Yams can “sense” an act of sexual intercourse because it is “hot.” Fighting is “hot.” The killing and butchering of animals is also “hot” so there is a taboo against these activities while yams are growing.” (1)

The six months dedicated to the growing of yams allows the men of the tribe to pause from their rivalries and pour their energies into growing the largest yam possible. The man who grows the largest yam is seen has having the most power. Each man traditionally gifts his prized yam to his rival, who is expected to deliver an even bigger yam the next year or face humiliation.

yammaskb

Figure 4. Yams on display. Photo courtesy of art-pacific.com

Each community takes their turn displaying their yams proudly, a process which can take months of festivities. Each community demonstrates the fruits of their harvest, taking the largest yams and laying them vertically in long rows so that they can be viewed. Once the yams are ready for display they are decorated with a variety of colorful embellishments. These may include palms leaves, oranges, feathers, and shell money. However, the most important ornamentation is the yam mask itself, which is believed to imbue the yams with the spiritual power and knowledge of Abelam ancestors.

An Abelam “yam mask” ties together the importance of yams to Abelam cosmology and ancestry. Masks like the one seen in Figure 1 are created by the men of the tribe. This is done by stripping the pliable fibers from cane shoots. After carefully weaving the basket-like mask, natural paints and dyes are applied to the surface.  These days its possible to find variations from the traditional ornamentations. Moderns versions of the yam mask can include a variety of decorations. Labels repurposed from mackerel tins, as well as red and yellow cellophane “twisty ties” are now seen with some frequency in the decoration of yam masks.  Some even include store bought halloween masks, as seen in figure 3. Once the mask is completed, it is reused through many yam harvest celebrations.

yamlined

Figure 5. Yams on display. Photo courtesy of art-pacific.com

At the completion of the harvest festival, the masks are removed from their displays and hung in the eaves of their Abelam homes. Overtime, the burning hearths and fires within these dwellings darken the masks with soot. At the end of the growth season the men of the community remove these masks, carefully wash them and touch up the paint, returning the masks to their previous vibrancy.

This cyclical practice of re-using the masks in many ways mirrors the cyclical quality of the Abelam way of life. Through their devout focus on the growth and harvest cycle of the yams, they have also found a way to live in balance with their neighboring communities and the limited resources around them. By abstaining from sexual activity they control their population growth and guarantee new mothers a break from continuous pregnancies. By refraining from hunting and the butchering of animals they allow the wild pig populations around them to rebound and grow. By laying down weapons, they allow angers to cool. The best yams are allowed to sprout and are replanted, rooting not only next years crops, but each generation through a lineage of yam planting.

(Christina J. Naruszewicz)

 

1. Richard Scaglion. Abelam: Giant Yam and Cycles of Sex, Warfare and Ritual.  (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993), 11.

References:

  • Arte Magical. “Yam Masks and Baba Masks: Ritual Masks from Papua New-Guinea”,  http://www.artemagical.nl/masks
  • Carolyn Leigh and Ron Perry. “Abelam Yam Masks and Tops” http://www.art-pacific.com/artifiacts/nuguinea/yanmasko.html
  • Scaglion, Richard. Abelam: Giant Yams and Cycles of Sex, Warfare and Ritual. In Portraits of Culture: Ethnographic Originals. M. Ember and C. R. Ember (eds.), pp. 3-24. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1993

 

Japanese Koguma Helmet

E_1955_17_006

Figure 1. Example of Koguma headgear worn by the imperial troops during the Japanese Civil War, or Boshin War. Image courtesy of the Sam Noble Museum of Oklahoma Natural History, Ethnology Department. 2017. Photo by Christina Naruszewicz.

Accession #- E/1955/17/006

Helmet/Head Gear

Japanese 1860s- (Approximately 1868-1869)

Materials: Lacquered Paper, Copper Fasteners, Fabric Lining, Horse Hair

This striking head-gear survives from an important period in Japanese history. These helmets are often referred to as “Bear Wigs” due to their wild and disheveled appearance. Worn in battle during the Japanese Civil War, or Boshin War (1868-1869), this style of head-gear identified the officers of the Japanese imperial troops. In addition to identifying officers on the battlefield, these types of “Bear Wigs” also represented different regions or clans depending on the color of the horse hair used.  Officers hailing from the southern region of Tosa Jinshotai, wore the Shaguma  helmet. The Shaguma helmet utilized dyes to create a vibrant and terrifying red wig. Officers from Choshu wore the Haguma helmet  which varied from white or cream. Finally, officers from Satsuma wore the Koguma  helmet, typically made from dark or black horse hair. Can you guess which region the helmet is from in figure 1.?

BoshinCampaignMap

Figure 2. Map of troop movement during the height of the Boshin War. Notice that the regions of “Choshu”, “Tosa”, and “Satsuma” are listed. These Samurai domains fought to return power to the Emperor, by joining the Imperial troops.  Image courtesy of http://www.newowrldencyclopedia.org/entry/Boshin_War

To understand the driving forces behind the Japanese Civil War, one must go back at least a decade. Beginning in 1853, American Commodore Matthew Perry arrived with his “Black Fleet” at Edo bay. Over the course of the next decade, more foreigners arrived, slowly eroding centuries of Japanese isolationism. However, not all of Japan was happy with the handling of foreign missionaries and traders. This was especially true for factions of young samurai and nobles in Japan from the regions of Tosa, Choshu, and Satsuma. These samurai felt that the reigning military Shogunate allowed the new foreign arrivals too much authority in making trade agreements.

A fissure between the two authoritative powers in Japan developed. On one side sat the political military power of the Samurai. This formed the Shogunate, or system of government headed by generals. Seated at the head of this political system was the Shogun, an reigning individual who, for centuries, controlled feudal Japan with absolute authority. On the other side of this military state, sat the imperial power of the Emperor. At this point in Japanese history the emperor was largely reduced to a ceremonial or religious figure. Although the Shogun ruled Japan entirely, it was still only through the acknowledgment or blessing of the emperor that this power was bestowed. Yet, the Boshin War would upheave this centuries-old power structure.

kawakami-gensai

Figure 3. Image of unknown imperial officer posing in uniform with “Bear Wig” helmet.

Rebellious samurai turned their backs on the Shogun, eager to return the emperor to complete rule. Supporters believed the teenaged Emperor Meji would restore Japan to isolationism, casting out the barbaric foreigners. Despite greater numbers and military skill, the shogun struggled against the relatively more modern weapons of the imperialist troops. Seeing the writing on the wall, the Tokugawa Shogunate abdicated his power to the emperor. This gesture would end the feudal Shogun’s power in Japan forever. When the war was fully resolved and the imperialists declared victory, the Emperor Meji ushered in the self-named, Meji Era. Interestingly, the imperial court did not pursue the removal of foreign agendas in Japan. On the contrary, Emperor Meji pushed Japan further towards globalization, seeking to modernize his country so that it could compete on an international level. Emperor Meji wrote into law the first compulsory education for both and girls, and met many heads of foreign state as equals.

 

 

Can you find the imperialist officers in this wood block print of battle?

Where does the color of their “Bear Wigs” tell us they are from?

BoshinWarBattle

Figure 4. “Battle of Ueno”,  Kawanabe Kyosai, 1874. Wood Cut. Image courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

[[Christina J. Naruszewicz]]

bibliography /Suggested Readings

  • Gonick, Gloria. Matsuri! Japanese Festival Arts. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2003. 
  • “Boshin War”, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Boshin_War
  • Keene, Donald. Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2005.
  • “Perry In Japan”, http://library.brown.edu/cds/perry/people_Perry.html

Object: Seminole Dolls

E/1953/6/079, E/1953/6/078, E/1953/6/080
Dolls
Seminole
United States, North America
Pre-1950 (approximately 1930’s)
Materials: Palmetto Fiber, cotton patchwork, beads

People all over the world produce dolls for a number of different reasons. They are created for religious significance, as toys, collector pieces, or to celebrate part of their culture. The Seminole tribe is no exception to this and creates dolls for the children within their society. These dolls were originally designed to fall apart as the child grew up. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Seminole began to mass-produce and market their palmetto fiber dolls to tourists.

Like all Americans, the Seminole were adversely affected by the Great Depression and were in desperate need of a new economic outlet. At this time, Seminole villages were often administered by non-tribal members and were opened as a sort of “human zoo” where tourists could come and watch the Seminole doing daily work in their native environment.[i] These villages would leave the visitor with a sense of “knowing” what it meant to be Seminole. However, they were provided a show of habitat, mythology, and adaptation that was created to reinforce the “unconquered” or “wild” image of the Florida Seminole.[ii] This idea of remaining unconquered was an important aspect of Seminole culture, as they stood against the government’s attempts to remove them from their land.

The Seminole believe the dolls they make for sale are important “because they represent Seminole women at a turning point in their tribal history.”[iii] This was a time in which vast change was occurring for many Native American tribes, and for the Seminole they were trying to reclaim their sense of self in the face of attempts to either assimilate or remove them. Each Seminole woman was “responsible for her own enterprises and kept the profits from her handiwork or distributed them as she wanted… These women set their own prices and kept their profits.“[iv] This allowed the women to have a sense of freedom and control over their crafts. So, while they were being placed on display for tourists and creating items for sale, they still had a say over the prices and income that they could make off of these items.

The Seminole have sold these dolls to tourists since the early 1900s, and they are still available today. The bodies were initially made of wood until around the 1930s when the practice of using palmetto fibers, a natural material found in South Florida, took over. The body of the female dolls is created using a wood or cardboard circular base in order for the doll to be able to stand up. The fibers are wrapped around the base and formed into a cylinder shape with the head being created with a cinched neck. The features of the face are either sewn in or painted on. The dolls can range in size with some being over a foot tall and others being only a few inches in height. Most of the dolls that are created are female, however the Seminole began making male dolls in the 1940s due to popular demand. They are less common as the arms and legs are more difficult to make.[v]

The female dolls were decorated in small dresses with a cape around the shoulders and with beads for earrings and necklaces. Young Seminole women were fond of wearing several beaded necklaces as both a symbol of beauty and status. However, as the women aged, they would give way to comfort and wear fewer pieces of jewelry, gifting them to others over the years. While the clothing used for the dolls were originally small scraps from clothing that the actual Seminole people wore, “shortly before 1920, a new decorative technique was developed by Seminole women – the now famous patchwork.”[vi] This patchwork was quickly adopted as a means to further embellish the already colorful clothing. As more Seminole woman came to own sewing machines, they were able to create more intricate and detailed patterns in order to decorate the dolls. The variety in design is present in every Seminole doll; no two have quite the same design or pattern, which affords each their sense of uniqueness.

The typical hairstyle used for the dolls consists of a hair board or bonnet style. This unique hairstyle emerged in the 1930s and is created by a “fitted crown of cloth-covered cardboard or other flat material giving their hair a definitely pronounced shape.”[vii] This led to many of the dolls seeming to be wearing black bonnets, when in actuality it is a distinctive hairstyle to the Seminole women of the time.

A lot can be learned about the changing nature of dress, tourism, and women’s roles in Seminole society by studying museum objects such as these dolls from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

[Kathryn Smith]

To learn more about Seminole patchwork, take a look at this great video from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Museum:

References:

[i] Nathaniel Sandler and Kevin Arrow. “The Curious Vault 005: Seminole Dolls.” The Curious Vault: Inside the Collection of the Miami Science Museum. March 21, 2013. http://www.miamisci.org/blog/the-curious-vault-005-seminole-dolls/

[ii] Layla Renee Archer. “Seminole Dolls, Seminole Life: An

Exploration of Tourism and Culture.” Florida State University Libraries. 2005. Pg. 37 http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/islandora/object/fsu:168351/datastream/PDF/view

[iii] Archer. “Seminole Dolls”. 2005. pg. 41

[iv] Archer. “Seminole Dolls”. 2005.Pg 27.

[v] Sandler and Arrow. “The Curious Vault”. March 21, 2013.

[vi] David M. Blackard and Patsy West. “Seminole Clothing”. Culture: Who We Are. Accessed April 12, 2016. http://www.semtribe.com/Culture/SeminoleClothing.aspx.

[vii] Patsy West. “Hairstyle”. Culture: Who We Are. Accessed April 14, 2016. http://www.semtribe.com/Culture/Hairstyle.aspx

Object: Huaorani Blowgun, Quiver with Darts, and Kapok-filled Gourd

 

Blowgun

Figure 1: Huaorani blowgun. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

E_1968_5_002small

Figure 2: Huaorani quiver with darts, kapok gourd (the kapok fluff is visible in the plastic bag above the quiver) and piranha jaw. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

E/1968/5/001, E/1968/5/002
Blowgun, Darts & Quiver
Huaorani
Ecuador, South America
Unknown Date
Materials: Wood with attached plant material (blowgun); wood basket containing plant material with attached metal beads, animal bone, and fur threads (quiver & darts)

Hailing from the Amazonian Region of Ecuador, the Huaorani (also commonly known as the Waorani, Waodani, and Waos) people are historically marked by their independent nature. [1] Although Western influence has crept into some aspects of Huaorani life, such as through the introduction of shotguns for hunting purposes, some Huaorani continue to make use of traditional hunting weaponry – namely, blowguns that can reach up to 11 feet in length. A full-length blowgun, complete with quiver and darts, is located in the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. In the past, these weapons held a more prominent position in Huaorani culture. In its prime, the blowgun was a remarkable influence in Huaorani kinship and social customs, and left a legacy that remains evident to this day.

BlowgunDetail

Figure 3: Closeup of the end of a Huaorani blowgun. Notice that the blowgun is built from two sections of palm wood that have been reattached. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

The physical construction of these blowguns & their accessories sheds light on the immense skill possessed by these Huaorani craftsmen. Blowpipes are made from a split palm wood rod; the two halves are grooved, then reattached with beeswax and encased in vine bark. The Huaorani smooth out the opening created by the two grooves by placing sand inside the grooves and smoothing vertically with a slim, sturdy fishing lance. [1] Darts are created from the whittled stems of palm leaves and stored in a bamboo quiver. The Huaroani often apply curare, a potent neurotoxin, to these darts. [3] Other components of the Huaorani blowgun kit include a hollowed-out gourd filled with kapok (the fluff surrounding the seeds of Ceiba Petandra) [2] and a section of a piranha’s jaw, often attached to the rope connecting the gourd to the quiver.

When hunting with these blowguns, a wad of kapok is wrapped around the lower end of the dart. When the dart is inserted into the blowgun, air passing through the pipe will not pass around the sides of the dart but will build up behind the kapok wad, pushing the dart out of the blowgun at a high speed. [2] The Huaorani then use the sharp teeth on the piranha mandible to cut a deep notch on the front end of the dart. This ensures that the poisoned tip of the dart will break off in the intended target [3] and lead to its demise; the curare poison can kill an organism after just 2-3 minutes of exposure. [4] When firing the blowgun, the Huaorani build a tremendous amount of air pressure in their mouths and release it in one rapid exhalation into the blowgun, causing the dart to fly out at a high speed and with lethal accuracy. As the volume of the blowgun is less than a tenth than that of the human lung, the most important factor in firing a blowgun lies in the control of air expenditure exerted by Huaorani hunters, who are able to strike small targets (i.e., hummingbirds) upwards of 120 feet away. [3]

Take a look at the following videos for demonstration on the use of blowguns:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQCs6b2ClmkA Waorani (Huaorani) man demonstrating wrapping kapok around the darts & using the blowgun.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-cU490W9PE: Amazonian native, naturalist, and guide Juan Kunchikuy demonstrating the technique of modifying & firing darts at targets placed on the head of a New York Times reporter.

 

In Huaorani society, the significance of the blowgun encompassed many areas of their lives and culture. Prior to the introduction of shotguns in the 1970s, blowguns were viewed as symbolic tools used to monitor the social closeness between a variety of entities. One example lies in the close bond between the Huaorani and arboreal prey such as monkeys. The Huaorani hold a great deal of respect for these primates (esp. wooly monkeys) owing to their similarity in social structure and territoriality, going so far as to spare certain individuals while hunting and to share food sources with them. [1] When hunting monkeys, the Huaorani used the blowgun to down prey they feel a close social connection to, allowing the hunters to remove the spatial distance and social distance between them by using these primates for sustenance. [1]

In modern Huaorani culture, the blowgun no longer receives widespread use; its significance as a regulator of social proximity has also declined. However, its place in the Ethnology Collection at Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History ensures that its legacy and historical significance will always remain evident and relevant.

[Daniel Quintela]

[1] Descola, Philippe, and Gísli Pálsson. “Chapter 8: Blowpipes and Spears.” Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives. N.p.: Psychology, 1996. 145-65. Google Books. Google. Web. <https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=kj4yve-Za8IC&oi=fnd&pg=PA145&dq=huaorani+blowpipe&ots=axZCivQKG8&sig=cgzfBTi_gRAjgou7YKVO02dS-uk#v=onepage&q=huaorani%20blowpipe&f=false>.  

[2]Smith, Nigel. “Oenocarpus Bataua.” Palms and People in the Amazon. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 401-12. Geobotany Studies. Springer Link. Springer International Publishing AG. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <http://download.springer.com/static/pdf/505/chp%253A10.1007%252F978-3-319-05509-1_50.pdf?originUrl=http%3A%2F%2Flink.springer.com%2Fchapter%2F10.1007%2F978-3-319-05509 1_50&token2=exp=1461182745~acl=%2Fstatic%2Fpdf%2F505%2Fchp%25253A10.1007%25252F978-3-319-05509-1_50.pdf%3ForiginUrl%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Flink.springer.com%252Fchapter%252F10.1007%252F978-3-319-05509-1_50*~hmac=caec4e8034004f90f686b3b44006eca9ccda4efeeff60aec2af86ff698194bb6>.  

[3] Talbot, Steve. In the Belly of the Beast: Technology, Nature and the Human Prospect. Ghent, NY: Nature Institute, 2004. The Nature Institute. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <http://natureinstitute.org/pub/persp/3/beast.pdf>.

[4] TheNewYorkTimes. “Kristof in the Crosshairs: A Blowgun Showdown in the Amazon | The New York Times.” YouTube. Google, 07 May 2008. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-cU490W9PE>.

Object: Witchcraft Papers

Figures 1 and 2: Handcrafted Otomí paper made from the inner bark of the mulberry tree and the fig tree, respectively. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1967/16/001, E/1967/16/002
Witchcraft Papers
Otomí
San Pablito, Sierra de Puebla, Mexico
Unknown date: Likely produced before March 1963
Materials: Inner bark of fig & mulberry trees

When entering the small town of San Pablito, inhabited primarily by the Otomí people of Sierra de Puebla, Mexico, a distinctive clapping sound can be heard from a good distance away – the sound of Otomí women handcrafting paper. The samples stored in the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History were crafted from the inner bark of fig and mulberry trees. Otomí women boil the inner bark in ash water, place the boiled fibers on a wooden board, hammer them into thin sheets, and leave them out to dry until they can be peeled off and used. [1] These samples in the Ethnology Collection only represent the earliest stages in the lifespan of one of these Otomí papers, however. The Otomí have a well-established tradition of crafting these papers into intricate dolls and effigies for a variety of purposes, ranging from sacrificial offerings to gods, to devices of sorcery and witchcraft.

 

Although they vary greatly in terms of design and purpose, Otomí dolls crafted from this paper are generally either “good” invocations or employed in various practices of black magic. These two types of dolls are readily distinguishable by their physical appearance, the figures or deities they represent, and their use in various circumstances by the Otomí.

The first type of doll, crafted from the inner bark of the fig tree, is marked by its light hue and used to primarily invoke protection and favor from the spirits. The Otomí believe that a wide variety of spirits control the natural world and every conceivable aspect of life. To win the favor of these spirits, the Otomí engage in a variety of ceremonies often culminating in the offering of paper dolls representing these deities. To placate the Spirit of the Rain (known as the Siren among the Otomí) and ensure proper weather for their crops, the Otomí embark on a pilgrimage to a lagoon where the Siren resides and engage in two days of feasting and celebrating. This ceremony culminates with the Otomí making an offering of foodstuffs, candles, cigarettes, and white paper dolls sprinkled with blood by throwing them into the waters or burying them on the shores of the lagoon. [1] Other figures commonly represented using this form of paper are Pajarito de Estrella (Little Star Bird) and Pajarito de Dos Cabezas (Little Bird with Two Heads.) These dolls represent intermediary figures, spirits that act as messengers between the Otomí and the spirit world. [2] Perhaps the Otomí constructed these figures to serve as offerings to these messengers, ensuring the continued communication between the Otomí and the many spirits they strive to please through their ceremonies.

Additionally, the Otomí craft these light paper dolls to procure protection and aid in a variety of life challenges. A man going to trial for a crime may carry a light doll with its lips sewn shut to prevent the judge from declaring a sentence for him. In other scenarios, a medicine man will craft two light dolls with their arms around each other for a woman whose husband has left her. In what is known as a love ceremony, the medicine man will pass the dolls through the fumes of burning incense and exhale into the dolls’ mouths before giving them to the woman. He will then tell her to follow a variety of instructions, such as to burn a candle before the dolls every day and to take them to bed with her at night in order to ensure that her husband will return to her. [1] The Otomí also buried their dead with these white paper dolls to protect them for whatever lay beyond death. [1] Interestingly, a large number of these light dolls were animal-headed effigies, constructed only for women who had died in abortion; it remains unclear as to why so many of these dolls were made, although it can be speculated that they were buried with and used to provide spiritual protection for these deceased women. [2]

The other variety of Otomí paper doll, constructed from brown paper made from the inner bark of the mulberry tree, primarily sees use in a variety of practices related to witchcraft and sorcery. In particular, the Otomí believe that illnesses are caused by a curse being cast on them, causing an evil spirit to take possession of their bodies; medicine men craft these brown paper dolls in order to cure the ill and cast a curse on the person believed to have originally inflicted the illness. [1] The brown dolls used for curing illness may take on the form of an evil spirit (i.e., the person afflicted by the curse) with the spirit of another evil person attached (representing the person who cast the curse.) [2] When casting a curse or hex, the Otomí bury a brown paper doll pierced by a thorn of Vachellia Cornigera (commonly known as Bullhorn Acacia or Bull’s Horn Acacia), alongside an object from the intended target, such as a lock of hair or a photograph. As such, many Otomí prefer not to have photos taken of them, as they provide the photographer with the ability to inflict a curse. [1]

Even though the two pieces of handcrafted Otomí paper in the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History seem like simple objects, they can actually tell us a great deal about the Otomí people and their beliefs.

[Daniel Quintela]

 Works Cited:

[1] Christensen, Bodil. “Bark Paper and Witchcraft in Indian Mexico.” Economic Botany 17.4 (1963): 361-67. Springer Link. Springer International Publishing. Web. 11 Apr. 2016. <http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02860145?LI=true>.

[2] National Museum of the American Indian, n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2016. <http://www.nmai.si.edu/searchcollections/results.aspx?catids=0&areaid=12®id=43&culid=373&src=1-1&page=1>. Otomí collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Object: Ibeji doll

Figure 1 Ibeji Doll from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Ibeji Doll from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1970/4/1
Ibeji Doll
Yoruba
Nigeria, Niger Delta Region, Africa
Unknown Date
Materials: Painted Wood

Figure 2 Map of West Africa

Figure 2 Map of West Africa

The Ibeji doll tradition comes from the indigenous religion of the Yoruba. The Yoruba live in parts of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. They speak their own language and practice their indigenous religion alongside Islam and Christianity. The Yoruba have the highest twin birth rate in the world. An estimated 45 out of every 1,000 births are twins compared to the United States where every 29 out of 1,000 births result in twins[1]. The high ratio of twin births have developed into a cultural aesthetic for the Yoruba, that of Ase, or strength[2].

The Ibeji doll is always one half of a pair. These dolls represent the image of a twin who has passed. The large percentage of twins in the Yoruba population has evolved into a type of twin worship in the indigenous religion[3]. Many of these indigenous groups reside in the Oyo and Oshogbo regions of Nigeria, along the coastline, although there are small dispersals throughout their territory[4].

An Ibeji is created after one or both twins in a family die. It is crafted by a Babalawo, a spiritual guide in the community[5]. The doll is crafted from the best wood that the family can obtain along with paint in either red or black and a varnish for preservation. The doll is then created to resemble the individual that has passed as they would have appeared in adulthood[6]. There are two dolls created, one for each twin, even if only one of the twins has passed. The dolls are then decorated with beadwork or cowrie shells before being placed in a position of honor. These dolls are treated like a living human, given food and water daily, to bring luck to their family.

Additional Texts:

Religion:

Ibeji as Religious Object

Other Images of Ibeji Dolls:

Wolfz-Gallery African Arts Ibeji Collection

Other Yoruba Dolls:

Yoruba Doll

Smithsonian Yoruba Doll

[Caitlyn Colvert]

 

[1] D.D.O. Ovebola, “Traditional Medicine and Its Practitioners Among the Yoruba of Nigeria: A Classification,” Sociology, Sex, Medical 14(1980): 24.

[2] Rowland Abiodun, “Understanding Yoruba Art and Aesthetics: The Concept of Ase,” African Arts (1994), 68-70.

[3] Marcus Louis Harvey, “Engaging the Orisa: An Exploration of the Yoruba Concepts of Ibeji and Olokun as Theoretical Principles in Black Theology,” Black Theology: An International Journal 6, no. 1(2008): 64.

[4] Emily C. McIlroy, “One Half Living for Two: Cross-Cultural Paradigms of Twinship and Twin Loss,” Omega 64, no.1(2012): 5-6.

[5] J.D.Y. Peel, “The Pastor and the “Babalawo”: The Interaction of Religions in Nineteenth-Century Yorubaland,” Africa: Journal of International African Institute 60, no. 3(1990): 345.

[6] Elisha Renne, “Twinship in an Ekiti Yoruba Town,” Ethnology 40, no. 1(2001): 67.

References Cited:

Abiodun, Rowland.

1994 Understanding Yoruba Art and Aesthetics: The Concept of Ase. African Arts. 27(3): 68-78, 102-103.

Harvey, Marcus Louis.

2008 Engaging the Orisa: An Exploration of the Yoruba Concepts of Ibeji and Olokun as Theoretical Principles in  Black Theology. Black Theology: An International Journal. 6(1): 61-82.

McIlroy, Emily C.

2012 One Half Living for Two: Cross-Cultural Paradigms of Twinship and Twin Loss. Omega. 64(1): 1-13.

Ovebola, D.D.O.

1980 Traditional Medicine and Its Practitioners Among the Yoruba of Nigeria: A Classification. Sociology, Sex, Medical. 14: 23-29.

Peel, J.D.Y.

1990 The Pastor and the “Babalawo”: The Interaction of Religions in Nineteenth-Century Yorubaland. Africa: Journal of International African Institute. 60(3): 338-369

Renne, Elisha.

2001 Twinship in an Ekiti Yoruba Town. Ethnology. 40(1): 63-78.

 

Object: Quiver, Bow, and Arrows

Figure 1 Comanche arrows from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Comanche arrows from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 2 Comanche Quiver from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 2 Comanche Quiver from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 3 Comanche bow from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 3 Comanche bow from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1930/1/52
E/1930/1/53
E/1930/1/54
Quiver, Bow, and Arrows
Comanche
North America: Southern Plains
Date: 1930
Materials: Wood, feathers, sinew, leather

These objects are common tools when it comes to studying Native Americans. Each tribe has their own way of making bows and arrows and different styles for use. These objects were used by the Comanche people. The bow is 42” long. The arrows are between approximately 22”-26” in length.

There are many things the Comanche are well-known for: one being horsemanship and another being the ability to successfully use the bow while riding on horseback. The size of the bow and arrows are short, making them very maneuverable while riding. Being able to aim easily from side to side while riding was crucial to survival for the Comanche. Not only is the length of the bow important, but the strength of it is also important. The wood used typically is Osage Orange or Bo Dark wood. Sinew is a very strong cordage obtained from the tendons of bison. Sinew is used for many different resources among plains Native Americans. The Comanche used it for many different reasons, and in this case it was tied together to form the string of the bow.

The quiver is used to carry the bow and arrows together, each having a special spot inside the quiver. The quiver is made primarily from bison or cow hide. The quiver can be decorated in a number of ways with beadwork and fringe. One resource implemented in the quiver is called the ‘boss man.’ This is an object with a round circular base that fits in the bottom of the quiver. The base is attached to a handle used to easily pull out the arrows that rest within the quiver.

Figure 4 Comanche Bow demonstration at the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center

Figure 4 Comanche Bow demonstration at the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center

The arrows in this collection are short in length to match the bow. The arrows measure between 22”-26” in length. This is very similar to other Comanche arrows studied. The arrow points were typically made from flint, but the Comanche adopted steel points after contact with new European settlers. The wood of the arrows is made from the straightest wood possible, dog wood. The fletching on the back end of the arrows is the Comanche style of Red Tail Hawk feathers. The tough material of sinew is used to tie on the arrow fletching.

To learn more about Comanche bows, arrows, and quivers, take a look at the below videos produced by the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center:

[Jared Wahkinney]

References

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJkGM-GNRPI.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sez4GNIOaNY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlVaE1j6efY

 


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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