Archive for the 'gold' Category

Object: Manuscript Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Cited

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

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

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

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

[Elly Roberts]

Object: Brass Weight

E/1957/26/19
Weight for measuring gold
Ashanti (or Asante)
Africa: Guinea Coast: Ghana
Ca. 15th-19th Century
Materials: Cast Brass

This African object is a weight made out of brass that was used for weighing gold dust. It is very small, only 1.5” long by 0.75” wide, and it was cast, or molded, to look like the body of a beetle.

The “Gold Coast,” located on the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, has long been known for the large quantities of gold found there. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in this area in the 1400’s, but they were soon followed by the British, Dutch and other European explorers. The British seized the area in 1867, forming the British colony known as the “Gold Coast.” Between the 15th and 19th century, gold dust served as the primary currency for the West African country of Ghana, particularly for the Ashanti (also known as the Asante) people. Most households had their own set of weights and scales so that they could conduct their own transactions. These interesting little weights were made in a variety of shapes and sizes including  geometric shapes, animals, plants, and even common household items such as a stool or a hammer.

These tiny weights were made in a really interesting way. They were first formed out of beeswax. This beeswax was then covered in clay, which was allowed to dry and harden. It was then placed into a fire, where the beeswax melted out, leaving a hollow form in the clay. Then, molten brass was poured into this clay mold, and, as it cooled and hardened, it took on the shape of the original beeswax form. The clay was then broken away so that the solid brass weight emerged completely finished. This method, known as the “lost-wax” method has been used for centuries in many cultures around the world. This particular beetle weight from the Ethnology Collection, however, was created using an unusual adaptation of this method. Instead of creating a shape out of beeswax and then covering it in clay, a real live beetle was covered in clay. Once the clay dried and hardened, the dead beetle was burned out of the mold, leaving an impression of the insect in the clay. It was then filled with molten brass and allowed to harden just like the lost-wax method.

Because everyone had a different set of weights, both parties always had to check the value of the gold dust with their own weights so they could be sure they were getting a fair deal. These weights therefore needed to be small and portable so they could be easily carried around. Anyone who found gold dust could keep it, but large nuggets, or pieces, had to be surrendered, or handed over, to the royal court. This gold was then exported to Europe and became the basis for British currency. It was not until 1957 that the Ashanti people finally regained their independence and formed the Republic of Ghana. It was around this same time that gold dust was replaced by the coins and paper money in use today.

Take a look at this interesting video showing contemporary Asante artists working in the lost-wax casting method:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]


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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