Archive for the 'Plants' Category

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: ‘Uli ‘Uli (Gourd Rattle)

E/1944/1/170
Hawaii, United States of America
Materials: Gourd, Feathers, Plant Material

An‘Uli ‘Uli is made from either a hollowed and dried gourd, or from a coconut shell and features colorful feathers on the handle.  Gourd rattles like these are made by people who used them for Hula ceremonies and performances.  The Hula is a highly regarded part of Hawai’ian culture and life; Hula creates continuity for history and tradition.  After American colonization of the Hawai’ian islands, leadership positions began to resemble kings’ courts of Europe, and Hulas were a way to showcase prestige.  Kings and Queens, such as King Kamehameha and Queen Liliuokalani, would hire groups from Halau Hulas, or Hula Schools, from surrounding communities to perform for the courts.

A mele, or chant, is a very important part of the Hula tradition, but an equally significant part is the movements of the body and hand gestures during the song.  Each hand gesture and hip sway contributes meaning to the song and helps in the process of transmitting a story.  Some mele’s are about the reign of kings and queens throughout time, some are about cultural history. Topics include how Hawai’ians came to occupy the islands and gods and goddess, such as Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes.

There are several other implements used to enhance the sound of a mele, including the Ili ‘Ili, the Puili, and the Kala’au. In the past, these implements were all found or made by hand by the person who would be performing with it. Today there is a market for these types of items as souvenirs for tourists, or for amateur and journeyman level performances.

A modern revival of the Hula tradition began in the 1960s.  This renaissance of Hawai’ian culture has helped tourism commerce.  A festival celebrating the Hula tradition called Merrie Monarch Festival is held each year in Hilo, Hawai’i.  The Merrie Monarch Festival was a way to bring Hawai’ians together, and also served as a way to promote tourism.  Today, Halau Hula groups travel from as far as Japan and California to compete and to share.  There have been many successful attempts at creating continuity of the Hawai’ian culture beyond the islands, as we hear in this NPR interview. Here is a link to the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum’s Ethnology Database, which is located in Honolulu, HI. It has a broad and expanding collection of all things Hawai’ian and Hula related.Check out this video which exemplifies the use of the ‘uli ‘uli in a ‘Wahine Kahiko’ or Womens’ Traditional Style Hula:

Work Cited

Architect of the Capital.
2014  Explore Capital Hill: Kamehameha i. http://www.aoc.gov/capitol-hill/national-statuary-hall-collection/kamehameha-i

My Hero.
2010  Women Heros: Liliuokalani. http://www.myhero.com/go/hero.asp?hero=Liliuokalani_dnhs_US_2010

National Public Radio
2003  All Things Considered. http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=1386115&m=1386116

[Emily McKenzi]

Object: Ritual Mask

E/1967/23/2
Ritual Mask
Columbia, South America
Unknown
Bark Cloth, Paint, Tar

This mask is made of a bark cloth bag, which fits over the head of the wearer and is tied at the top. The bag comes to a point, which hangs over the top of the head. From this point of the tie, there are tassels of straw that hang down. The face portion of the mask has an oval disk of hardened tar, from which there are two tar covered pieces of wood protruding. The black tar is decorated with linear and geometric designs in white and yellow pigments.

This mask comes from the Yucuna Indians of Columbia. They inhabit the Miriti-Parana and lower Caqueta regions of the Amazon River on lands called resguardos. These lands are similar to reservations in the United States in that they are constitutionally approved by the government. Thanks to these resguardos, the Yucunas have been able to maintain many of their traditional ways and live with their worldview intact. This worldview emphasizes the interconnectedness of the environment with all living things. This interconnectedness is seen in the belief that balance must be maintained between humans, animals, and plants. If too much energy exists in any one of these categories, it would disrupt the natural flow of life. To aid in maintaining the balance, the tribe uses shamans (religious leaders) to help guide the group in properly distributing their resources and keep a healthy balance.

The mask depicted here is used in tribal dances by men. The mask is most likely used to celebrate the harvest of palm fruit, but it is only used once before being discarded. The dance is a way the Yucuna can celebrate their interconnectedness with nature and keeps nature in balance. Palm fruits come in a wide variety and are found in tropical regions all over the world. Some examples of the edible varieties of these fruits are coconuts and Acai berries. For many indigenous peoples around the world, palm fruits provide essential food for survival and even today are seen as an important part of their lives. Like the fruit, there are other parts of the palm tree, which provide for people. Leaves can be used as parts of traditional clothing and for housing, and they can also be used to store food by wrapping it up in the leaves. The bark and trunks of some palm trees are used for bark cloth clothing, such as what was used in this mask, in addition to making canoes.

Sources:

Fabius, Carine

2012  Jagua, A Journey into Body Art from the Amazon. Los Angeles: Kouraj Press.

Stein, Geoff

2011  Edible Palms: An Introduction to Palm Fruits. http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/3242/#b

[Dakota Stevens]

Object: Fish Trap

E/2005/3/12
Fish Trap
Sumatra, Indonesia
Unknown Date
Materials: Bamboo

This object is a cylindrical-shaped woven bamboo fish trap. It is about 10.5 inches high by 20 inches long by 8 inches wide while the lid is 4.5 inches in diameter. The side of the basket has a hole that measures 7.5 inches in length and 1.75 inches in width. The hole is designed to allow fish to enter the trap, but does not allow the fish to exit. The top of the fish trap has a hole where the fish are dumped out by the fisherman. There is a round lid situated over the hole to prevent the fish from escaping while in the trap.

This fish trap was purchased from street peddlers on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia between 1968-1978 at a camp near the city of Pekanbaru. Indonesia is an archipelago consisting of around 17,500 islands in between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.   Today, Indonesia represents a crossroads of culture and trade with more than 300 distinct ethnic groups and more than 700 languages still spoken.

Fish traps are woven from bamboo and rattan and are set in the water about five meters (16.4 feet) deep. Fishermen often attach their traps to lines and buoys that float on the surface of the water so they can know where they left the traps. The lines (or ropes) make it easy to haul the traps to the surface of the water once they are full of fish. Sometimes, however, the fishermen simply rely on their memory to know where they set the traps, and then they swim down to retrieve them. Usually, a trap is left in the water for a few days to ensure their success at catching fish.

The fish are taken out of the trap through a special hole. In the case of the trap from the Ethnology Collection, the hole is at the top. This isn’t always the case. It depends on the style of the trap.

The fishing industry is vital to many of the cultural groups of Indonesia and the surrounding region and has been for centuries. A fish trap is called a “bubu” in Bahasa, one of the most common Malay and Indonesian languages. Fish traps come in many different shapes and sizes, but they all serve the same purpose: to catch fish and keep them from escaping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a look at this interesting video on how to make a similar type of bamboo fish trap:

 

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Navajo Wedding Basket

E/2009/7/3
Culture: Navajo
Location: Navajo Nation/Monument Valley; Bluff, UT
Date: 2009
Materials: Sumac twiggs

This object is a traditional style ceremonial basket made by Navajo artist Peggy Rock Black. The basket is shaped like a shallow bowl and has a very interesting black, red, and white design. The design woven into the basket is formed by a central star in white, outlined by black, surrounded by a “C” shaped band of red, which then has a band of black triangles bordering its outside edge. There is a small vertical band of white cutting through the entire design along one edge, extending from one point of the central star all the way to the rim.

This basket is an excellent example of a coil basket. There are three main types of basket weaving techniques used by native cultures of North America, including the Navajo. These include coiling, plaiting, and twining:

  1. Coiling: Coiling is a method of basket weaving where grasses or rushes are tied together to form a “bundle.” This bundle coils outward from the center of the basket and is used to make a spiral-shaped basket. Each coil of the spiral is lashed or sewn together using a “splint.”

  2. Plaiting: Plaiting is a method of basket weaving where thin rectangular pieces of bark or other plant material is woven together to form a checker-board pattern. This is the simplest type of weaving. The “warp” (the base) and “weft” (the pieces woven into the base) are interwoven at right angles in an over/under pattern.

  3. Twining: Twining is a method of basket weaving similar to plaiting. It also uses a “warp” and a “weft”. The only difference is that the weft is made up of two different pieces that are intertwined around each warp piece.

Navajo Wedding baskets are aptly named. They are usually given as gifts during weddings or other ceremonies. There are many different interpretations of these baskets, but they may be viewed as a way to map a person’s life. You start at the very center of the basket and progress along the coils, which always wrap around the center from left to right. The first several coils, forming the central star design, represent birth and childhood. The black triangles illustrate darkness, struggle, and pain that a person may face throughout their life. These experiences are always things that can be overcome. Individuals learn from these experiences and use them to become stronger. The red band represents marriage and creation, the start of a family. Because everyone still faces sadness and struggles throughout their life, there is another band of black triangles. The white represents enlightenment and wisdom, which can only be discovered over time and be learning from life experiences. The white line from the center of the basket to the rim is there to remind people that no matter how sad life can get, or how many obstacles they must overcome, there is always a path to happiness. As you reach the end of the coils that form the basket, you reach the end of the person’s life.

This is a fascinating object that not only represents the beliefs and worldview of the Navajo people in the designs woven into the basket but also in the very way in which the basket was created, an unbroken coil that represents a person’s entire life, from birth until death.

If you would like to learn more about Navajo basket weaving, take a look at this interview with modern Navajo basket weaver, Betty Rock Johnson:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Maguey Bag

E/1941/1/30
Kogi (Kagaba) Indians
South America: Colombia
Early 20th Century
Materials: Maguey plant fiber

This fine mesh maguey fiber bag from Colombia is decorated with 6 brown bands, each approximately 1/2″ wide. The undecorated carrying strap allows for the bag to be worn over a shoulder.

The Kogi (also known as the Kagaba) Indians who created this bag live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region at the northern tip of Colombia, in the mountains bordering the Caribbean Sea. The Sierra Nevada boasts a wide variety of ecosystems, allowing for the Kogi to be largely self-sufficient. The Kogi primarily practice slash-and-burn agriculture and raise domesticated animals such as oxen, pigs, and sheep. Bags such as this one are used to carry everything from food to children, and they are usually woven from the maguey (also known as agave) plant. The strong, durable Maquey  fibers are used across Central and South America by many indigenous cultures, including the Maya, for nets, bags, clothes, hammocks, and many other useful items.

The Kogi, descendents of the Tairona civilization, see themselves as the “Elder Brothers” of humanity. Anyone not living in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which they consider to be the heart of the world, is considered a “Younger Brother.” The Kogi believe that it is their responsibility to protect nature against the ecological damage wrought by modern society and “Younger Brother.” Maintaining a balance in nature is vital to the survival of the world, according to the Kogi.

Up until 1990, Kogi priests, called Mammas, worked hard to maintain a policy of isolation from the rest of the world in order to protect their cultural ideals. In the past 20 years, however, this policy has been undermined by a variety of factors including encroachment by large-scale banana plantations, marijuana and cocaine manufacturers, and paramilitary revolutionary forces. Today, the Kogi struggle to maintain their traditional way of life while also engaging in a wide-scale South American indigenous resurgence movement.

Take a look at the following National Geographic video documenting the daily life and beliefs of the Kogi people. If you look closely, you can even see several instances of people using a carrying bag very similar to the one above:

[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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