Archive for the 'Asian Tribes/Cultures/Countries' Category

Musha Ningyo: Japanese Warrior Dolls

The Sam Noble Ethnology collection has a set of Japanese Musha Ningyo (warrior) dolls that were created for Gogatsu, or “Boys’ Day” held annually on May 5th. Girls have Hina Matsuri, the Doll Festival, held on March 3rd. Unlike Hina Matsuri, a doll display is not required for Gogatsu. The most important festive item is a banner or windsock in the shape of a carp attached from a pole near the home (Figure 1). Traditionally, one fish is raised for each boy child, however since 1948, the Gogatsu holiday was rededicated by the Japanese government to include all children (Kodomo no hi). Ever since, families hoist a carp banner for each child. The carp symbolizes strength for its determination to swim upstream. Even though dolls are not required for Gogatsu, many dolls have been purchased and displayed for the occasion. The most popular are soldiers and infamous generals, legendary rules, and boy heroes. Tigers, representing Japan’s relationship with Korea, and a white horse, symbolizing the Emperor, are also common. A doll that represents an armed soldier or lord is a Musha ningyo. The five dolls described below are a mix of famous boy heroes, generals, and legendary rulers.

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Figure 1. Carp windsocks, courtesy of BBC Two YouTube video: Children’s Day Festival-Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands

 

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Figure 2. Kintaro Doll

Kintaro (Golden Boy) is a popular young hero who is displayed during Gogatsu to inspire boys to have courage and bravery. He is known as the Japanese “Hercules” for his incredible strength. Kintaro was known to uproot trees to create bridges over torrential mountain streams. Kintaro was the son of an officer of the imperial guards who fell into disgrace and took his own life. His mother, Yaegiri, described as a beautiful courtesan, escaped to Mount Ashigara. Some accounts say that she raised Kintaro, while others suggest that she abandoned the infant and he was nursed by mountain witches, yama-uba. Kintaro’s first companions were the wild animals of the forest. There are stories of Kintaro racing against the animals and he is often depicted as either riding a bear, welding an ax, or judging a wrestling match between the animals. Most depictions of Kintaro have the character welding an ax, but this doll holds a rope (Figure 2). Unlike the other dolls, Kintaro’s skin has a reddish tone, indicating the character’s relationship with the natural elements. When he became an adult, Kintaro was approached by Raiko’s (legendary heroic leader) retainer, Watanabe no Tsuna. Tsuna recruited Kintaro to be one of the Four Guardian Kings, protectors of Raiko. Kintaro’s name was changed to Sakata no Kintoki and as one of the Four Guardian Kings, they are credited with exterminating all the monsters, ogres, and demons in Japan.

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Figure 3. Momotaro, front side.

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Figure 4. Momotaro, back side. 

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Momotaro Doll

Asia: Japan

Wood, Textile, Porcelain, Hair/Fur, Other Metal

Momotaro is another highly popular boy hero. A childless old elderly couple found a the boy in a large peach. They name him Momotaro (Peach Boy). He becomes a valiant youth, and befriends a monkey, a dog, and a pheasant. Together, they traveled to Devil’s Island (Onigashimu) to slay the demons and bring home treasures. Here is a version of the story, written in 1908 by Y.T. Ozaki: Momotaro, or The Story of the Son of a Peach. Momotaro’s legend became an emblem of modern Japanese nationality in the late 19th and 20th centuries. According to Dr. Klaus Antoni, professor from the University of Tuebingen, Momotaro’s legend was used as war propaganda for young school pupils. Devil’s Island is alluded to be Hawaii and the devils to be the American soldiers. There were also two animated films Momotaro’s Sea Eagles in 1943 and Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors in 1945 (Figure 5), which was also the first full-length Japanese animation film. Both were directed by Mitsuyo Seo, who was ordered by the Japanese Naval Ministry to make these propaganda films. Both films are available on YouTube. Click on the film titles above to watch the films.

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Figure 5. Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, photo courtesy of Crunchyroll. 

After WWII, Momotaro’s status as war propaganda diminished and the legendary character remains as a popular model for courage and bravery. This Momotaro doll (Figure 3) holds a standard in his left hand with Japanese Hirigana characters for Nihon ichi, meaning “Japan #1.” There is a peach on the end of the standard, and a symbol of a peach on the back of his vest (Figure 4). He wears a bright orange samurai outfit and a Kabuto helmet. Underneath his helmet, Momotaro’s hairstyle is a chonmage (topknot), often associated with the Edo period. Unlike Kintaro, this Momotaro doll has pale white skin, indicating youth and purity.

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Figure 6. Minamoto no Yoshisune Doll

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Minamoto no Yoshisune Doll

Asia: Japan

Paper, Textile, Porcelain, Hair/Fur

Like the Momotaro doll, the Yoshitsune doll is wearing a bright orange samurai outfit and has a similar Kabuto helmet (Figure 6). However, Yoshitsune is wearing more armor and is holding a tassel in his left hand. Minamoto no Yoshisune was a great young general of the late 12th century. When Yoshisune’s father, Minamoto Yoshitomo, was killed in the Heiji Distrubance (1159), Yoshisune was raised in a Buddhist monastery. According to a popular legend, he encountered Benkei, a warrior monk on a bridge.  They crossed swords. Benkei was defeated by Yoshisune and became his retainer (Figure 7). When Yoshisune was 15, he left the monastery to join his older brother, Minamoto no Yoritomo. Yoshisune became a general quickly due to his talent of military leadership in the Genki and Heike wars between the Minamoto and Taira clans. Thus, he became popular in the Emperor’s court. Yoritomo became jealous of Yoshitsune’s popularity and branded Yoshisune as a traitor. Yoshitsune tried to raise a rebellion against his brother. When he failed, he wandered Japan for several years as a fugitive before his forced suicide. Yoritomo brought Japan under his control and became the first Shogun.

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Figure 7. Yoshisune and Benkei Japanese Print, courtesy of the Honolulu Museum of Art

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Figure 8. Jimmu Tenno Doll

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Jimmu Tenno Doll

Asia: Japan

Porcelain, Textile, Hair/Fur, Wood, Plastic

Jimmu Tenno is known as the first emperor of Japan (Figure 9). He is the grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Not much is told of this quasi-historical figure. As told in the Kojiki, “Records of Ancient Matters,” the oldest accounts of the myths surrounding the origins of Japan, one of Jimmu’s retainers dreamt of a magic sword, sent by Amaterasu, to give to Jimmu. The retainer woke up, located the sword, and presented it to Jimmu. Jimmu used the blade to pacify the central Land of the Reed Plain (Yamato), built a palace there, and married a local princess of divine ancestry.

The Jimmu Tenno doll wears two of the Sacred Treasures of Japan around his neck: The Divine Mirror and the Yasakani no Magatama jewels (Figure 8). The sword on his back might be the third treasure, the Kusanagi sword. These treasures are signs of his divine ancestry. This doll is noticeably more realistic than the others. Also, instead of samurai armor, he is wearing brocaded clothing in an ancient Chinese style, another indication of his legendary status. The bird next to Jimmu’s foot, a kite, was originally on his hand.

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Figure 9. Jimmu Tenno Japanese Print, courtesy of Toshidama Galley. 

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Figure 10. Toyomi Hideyoshi and Kato Kiyomasa Dolls. 

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Toyomi Hideyoshi Doll

Asia: Japan

Wood, Textile, Porcelain, Hair/Fur, Metal, Paper

Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590-98 was a general of peasant birth, not of samurai descent (Figure 11). He completed the 16th century unification of Japan after more than two centuries of feudal warfare. He prohibited the use of swords by farmers, merchants, and monks and introduced the shi-nō-kō-shō which froze class distinctions by separating warriors, farmers, artisans, and tradesmen. Each class lived in different areas of a town or village. The purpose was to promote order in a feudal society. Since he was originally a peasant, Hideyoshi was illiterate and considered uncultured. He secretly educated himself, wrote poetry, and learned the intricate rituals of the tea ceremony. He fought in numerous battles, and invaded Korea twice, until his death at the age of 62, but he did not ever proclaim himself as Shogun.

The Hideyoshi doll (sitting on the horse) has a helmet with a metal sunburst fanning out from the back (Figure 9). Much like the Jimmu Tenno doll, Hideyoshi and the second man, who is probably Kato Kiyomasa, Hideyoshi’s general, look realistic, including flesh-tone skin rather than the distinctive white pale completion of Momotaro and Yoshisune.  Kato Kiyomasa is from the same town and not from samurai descent. He was a formidable fighter and leader, and aided in the invasion of Korea. The prints of Kiyomasa show him with a long, thick beard, and wearing a distinctive silver conical helmet with antlers (Figure 12).

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Figure 11. Toyomi Hideyoshi Japanese Print, courtesy of thinklink. 

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Figure 12. Kato Kiyomasa, Hideyoshi’s general Japanese Print, courtesy of The British Museum 

(Caitlin Severs)

References/Further Readings

Antoni, Klaus. 1991. “Momotaro (The Peach Boy) and the Spirit of Japan: Concerning the Function of a Fairy Tale in Japanese Nationalism of the Early Showa Age.” Asian Folklore Studies. 50.1: 155-188.

Barbanson, Adrienne. 1961. Fables in Ivory: Japanese Netsuke and Their Legends. Tuttle: North Clarendon, Vermont. Pg. 76.

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Minamoto-Yoshitsune

Kigawa, Michiyo. “Kodomo no hi: Children’s Day Celebration,”

http://aboutjapan.japansociety.org/kodomo_no_hi_childrens_day_celebration#sthash.71W2Z76N.dpbs.

Kuwata, Tadachika. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Toyotomi-Hideyoshi.

Shoaf, Judy. 2015. “Gogatsu or ‘Boys’ Day’: Hero Dolls,” https://people.clas.ufl.edu/jshoaf/japanese-dolls/gogatsu/.

Shoaf, Judy. 2015. “The Uses of Japanese Dolls,” https://people.clas.ufl.edu/jshoaf/japanese-dolls/doll-uses/.

Willis, Roy G. Ed. 1993. World Mythology. Henry Holt and Company: New York. Pg. 121-122.

 

 

 

Japanese Koguma Helmet

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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.?

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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.

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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?

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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: Buddha and Halo

Figure 1 Statue of Buddha with Halo from Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Statue of Buddha with Halo from Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

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Buddha and Halo statue
Asia: India/Nepal
Brass

This Buddha statue with flaming halo is roughly 29 ¾” tall, 18” wide, and 8 ½” deep. It features a Buddha figure on a lotus flower pedestal, with a halo of flames and Hindu deities surrounding him.

Buddhism is a widely practiced religion based on the teachings of Siddartha Gautama, an ancient prince who is believed to have given up all his worldly possessions and achieved the highest spiritual freedom: enlightenment. Different traditions of Buddhism have different beliefs about Buddha. Some believe he was an actual prince, others believe he was a reincarnation of a Hindu god, while still others believe there was no man at all, but simply the development and spread of an ideological belief system.

The hand symbols of any Buddha statue are significant in understanding the meaning of the statue’s presence. The hand positions are called “mudras” or “mark of identity” in Sanskrit. They are used in both Hinduism and Buddhism as a kind of language to evoke certain ideas or principals. This particular statue has the right hand in the position of charity and generosity, while the left hand appears to be in the position of wisdom.

The lotus throne that the Buddha is sitting on is a common theme in Asian religions, representing the path to enlightenment. The lotus flower is firmly grounded in the earth, yet is able to grow above the murky water of earthly suffering to enlightenment. The Buddha is commonly depicted with a lotus flower, or some kind of lotus reference, as seen here with his pedestal.

The Buddha is surrounded by Hindu deities in this statue, which helps contextualize the way Buddhism was received and adapted into cultures as it spread throughout Asia. Buddhism’s basic tenets speak to the basic tenets of many ancient and modern religions. To be a good Buddhist is to be morally right in knowledge, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. These tenets are then further identified in each regional interpretation of Buddhism. In this Buddha statue, we see that the ideas of reincarnation and a pantheon of gods are incorporated into the Buddhist framework of Indian and Nepalese beliefs.

To learn more about Buddhism, take a look at this BBC documentary:

[Anna Nowka]

Other Resources:

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/budd/hd_budd.htm

http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/beliefs/purpose.htm

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/study/history_buddhism/general_histories/spread_buddhism_asia.html

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/approaching_buddhism/teachers/lineage_masters/who_was_shakyamuni_buddha/transcript.html

http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/lotus.htm

Harvey, Peter. 2013. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press: New York.

Object: Sarangi

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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: Bronze Foo Dog

 

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Foo Dog/Lion Statue
Asia
Unknown Date
Materials: Bronze

This is a bronze Foo Dog statue from Asia. It is 18” in height, 30.5” in width, and 10.5” in diameter. It has a detachable tail. Its mouth is open and there is a globe located under its right paw.

 Lion-Dog or Foo Dog statues can be found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia and are made of everything from porcelain to bronze. Historically, lions have represented wisdom, royalty, pride, and protection in many cultures around the world. These Lion-dog or Foo Dog statues are highly symbolic in Buddhism. Lions are viewed as iconographic figures in Buddhism because they protect “cosmic law and order,” serving as guardians for monasteries and shrines. One ancient story involves Buddha taming a wild lion. This tame lion would follow at Buddha’s heels like a “faithful dog.” Additionally, Buddha’s teachings are often referred to as the “Lion’s Roar” because of their power and strength.

Foo Dogs also feature prominently in ancient Chinese culture. During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE- 220CE) people began placing two lion statues in front of an image of Buddha. However, it was not until the beginning of the Heian period (794-1185 CE) that Lion-dog statues began to appear outside of temples and shrines. These statues were meant to honor the Buddha and protect the inhabitants of the site.

Since the Han Dynasty, Lion-dog statues are usually found in pairs: one female and one male. This bronze Foo Dog is also part of a pair. It is considered a male because of the globe located under its paw, which signifies protection of its territory and home. An open mouth on a male Foo Dog usually indicates an ending. On the other hand, for Female Foo Dogs, an open mouth symbolizes beginnings. Female Foo Dogs also have a cub under their left paw symbolizing strength and protective maternal instincts.

Foo Dog statues can still be found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia today, many still guarding homes, temples, and palaces. They appear in various shapes, sizes, and colors, and continue to symbolize protection. It is not uncommon to find Foo Dogs or other guardian statues outside of homes all around the world.

[Bryanna Evans]

References:

http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-BH/bh117490.htm

http://www.sfweekly.com/exhibitionist/2013/05/31/recent-acquisitions-the-asian-art-museum-now-guarded-by-bronze-lions

http://rohsska.se/en/om-rohsska-museet/historik/1261/

http://art.thewalters.org/browse/community/19/

http://www6.miami.edu/lowe/collection_art_of_asia.html

Object: Thai Sword

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

 

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Thailand
Materials: Metal, Wood

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

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

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

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

Work Cited

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

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

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

Blog post based off of research from:

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

[Jessica Long and Dakota Stevens]

 

Object: Manuscript Box

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Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
ca. 19th Century
Materials: Bronze, Gold Gilding, Precious Stones, Persian Turquoise, Wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Cited

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

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

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

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

[Elly Roberts]


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

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