Archive for the 'Textile' Category

Object: Chi Wara Headdress

Figure 1    Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali, Africa from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali, Africa from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/2014/3/5
Chi Wara Headdress
Bamana
Africa, Mali
Materials: Wood, metal, fabric

This wooden African headdress was made by the Bamana people from Mali. It is 43.25″ tall, 12.25″ long, and 2.75″ wide. The headdress represents a stylized antelope with elongated curved horns and open mane. Red cloth and metal trim are attached to the face, and a dark brown patina covers the surface. There are four holes on the base of the headdress used for attaching the headdress to a raffia covered basket and the head of the wearer.

The word chi wara translates to “farming beast” and is an extension of the Bamana deity associated with creation. For the Bamana (also known as the Bambara) who live in the dry savanna of west central Mali, farming is held in high esteem as the noblest profession. Tyi wara, or chi wara (also tyi ouara) is a dance for a supernatural being that is half man and half antelope. Tyi wara is the one who taught Bamana people about agriculture. Tyi wara was the son of the first woman and tilled the soil even as a baby, transforming weeds into millet and corn. He helped man to be prosperous farmers, but man became wasteful and careless in their farming. So, Tyi wara left them and buried himself in the ground. The Bamana are agrarian, and they are dependent on the success of their harvest. Now the headdresses are worn to call on Tyi wara’s aid for a successful harvest, and the name chi wara has come to be associated with an exceptional farmer.

The headdresses are worn during performances that depict male and female antelopes that symbolize the relationship between man and woman and between the earth and the sun. Art in Africa consists primarily of wood sculpture, with the majority being less than 200 years old since wood deteriorates easily from exposure or destruction. The chi wara sculpture is a zoomorphic headdress made of wood carved into a stylized antelope whose head and horns are exaggerated while the body is minimalized. It is also comprised of metal and segments of cloth. The unique chi wara headdress comes in variations depending on time and place created. Masks are worn during agricultural ceremonies when there is need of water for the crops to grow.

References to the Bamana are seen as early as the 18th century, and Bamana is identified as an ethno-linguistic group of the Mande people of Mali. Islam has encroached on the traditional religions in many areas of Africa, but the chi wara headdresses are still in use today. Bamana age-based fraternities, called tons, structure much of community life. Overall, this Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali provides insight into an interesting cultural tradition and a fascinating group of people.

Take a look at this video to see a Chi Wara dance:

[Samantha Hayes]

References

Azeez, Olaomo A. 2011. Indigenous Art of West Africa in Wood Global Journal of Human Social Sciences 11(2) Global Journals Inc. USA

Bickford, Kathleen E. and Cherise Smith. 1997. Art of the Western Sudan. African Art at The Art Institute of Chicago 23(2): Pp. 104-119+196 The Art Institute of Chicago

Crowley, Daniel J. 1976. Images from the Ancestors African Arts 9(4):73-74 UCLA James S. Coleman, African Studies Center

Dombrowsky-Hahn, Klaudia. 2012. Motion Events in Bambara (Mande) Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 33(1): 37-65 De Gruyter

Goldwater, Robert. 1960. Bambara sculpture from the Western Sudan Museum of Primitive Art University Publishers : N.Y.

Hanna, Judith Lynne. 1973. African Dance: The Continuity of Change Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council 5: 165-174

Imperato, Pascal James. 1970. The Dance of the Tyi Wara African Arts 4(1) Pp. 8-13+71-80 UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center

Photo Quiz Answer!

Thanks to everyone who took the photo quiz last week! Now, what is this object?

Answer: A CRADLEBOARD!

This is a cradleboard from the 1930’s from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.  An infant would have been placed inside, strapped in, and then the mother would have secured the cradleboard to her back. The cradleboard has a wooden frame that is smoothed and polished with two vertical pieces pointed at the top ends. The actual carrier portion is made of a buckskin cover lined on the inside with printed cloth. The outside is covered with seed beads forming geometric-floral designs outlined in reds, blues, yellow, green, and white on a blue bead background. Each cradleboard was unique, with different intricate designs and patterns reflecting the family’s love of their child. Historically, for the Kiowa, women were primarily responsible for raising children, and this type of device allowed a woman to keep track of and care for her child even when busy doing other things.

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

 

Object: Head Flattener

E/1956/2/53
Head flattener (betaneti)
Shipibo Indians
South America: Peru
Unknown date
Materials: Wood, cotton padding, cloth, string

This object is a head flattener made by the Shipibo Indians of Peru. It consists of a long narrow cotton pad attached to a wooden board which is then attached by strings to another square cloth pad. It would have been used to elongate the shape of an infant’s head.

The practice of head flattening, also known as cranial deformation, has a long and interesting history in cultures all around the world. It is thought to be the oldest form of body modification, dating back at least 9,000 years. While cranial deformation can occur naturally or accidentally after birth, many cultures choose to deliberately shape an infant’s head, generally because it is a sign of beauty or status. Head flattening, which has not been proven to cause any damage to the brain, has occurred on every continent in the world at some point in time. Pressure is applied to a baby’s skull during their first several weeks of life when the bones of the skull have not yet fused together. It is accomplished by using a cradleboard or a special binding board such as the one in the Ethnology Collection. This process gradually shifts the bones of the skull, forming an elongated shape. The bones then fuse together in that shape.

Papua New Guinea, Africa, Central America, and Australia are only a few places where cranial deformation has occurred. North American tribes, including the Chinookan people of the Columbia River area in Oregon and Washington, used cradleboards to produce a wedge-shaped head in a child. This practice died out by the 1950’s, but it illustrates the prevalence of this practice. Even ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Greek nobles practiced head binding as a statement of beauty. In the Andean areas of Peru, cranial deformation was a common practice for both women and men between AD 1200 and 1450 (before the time of European contact with Central and South America). The head flattener from the Ethnology Collection possibly derives from this fascinating tradition.

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Necklace

E/1955/6/7
Necklace
Tasmaloun Bay area of Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides)
ca. 1944
Materials: Twine, seeds

This necklace was collected on the island of Espiritu Santo, in the island nation of Vanuatu in 1944. The beads of the necklace are made of “sea beans” and in some cultures are considered good luck charms. The term sea bean refers to any seed or fruit that is distributed by rivers or oceans. These seeds use natural currents to transport themselves great distances from their parent plant, where they hope to take root and grow. The seeds float because they are either less dense than water or, more often, have an inner air pocket that acts as a floatation device.

The museum catalog only describes these seeds as “sea beans” but we have attempted to narrow down the type of seed to two likely candidates based on shape, texture, and color. The first, and more likely possibility is the Matchbox bean (Entada phaseoloides) from Australia. Matchbox beans come from a flowering vine native to the Oceanic region. While most sources warn that these seeds are toxic, there is also evidence that they can be eaten as food when properly prepared. The second possibility, though from a geography standpoint it seems much less likely, is the Seaheart (Entada gigas) from Africa and South America. Seahearts, much like Matchbox beans also come from flowering vines and can be eaten if properly prepared though they are more often used for medicinal purposes.

Can you help us identify these seeds? Let us know what you know. Provide a comment to this weblog or via email to dcswan@ou.edu.

The following video highlights some of the contemporary culture on the island of Espiritu Santo.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Snowshoes

E/1944/1/176
Model Snowshoes
Unknown tribe
North America: Alaska
ca. 1944
Materials: Wood, sinew, leather, twine

Snowshoes have been used by humans around the world for thousands of years. Some of the oldest known snowshoes have been found in Central Asia and date back to approximately 4000-3000 BCE. There are many different types and shapes of snowshoes but all are designed for the same purpose. Historically, in North America there were five basic shapes, or types, of snowshoes: the spear (or lance), the leaf, the disc (or pear), the ellipse, and ovate. Each shape was influenced by local terrain and snowfall amounts. A snowshoe used in areas of light snow and dense forest was less desirable in open terrain with deep drifting snow. Likewise certain shapes were preferred for long distance travel.

All snowshoes, regardless of type or origin, are meant to help a person walk on top of deep snow without having ones feet sink below the surface. This makes walking easier and helps to minimize the amount of snow that accumulates on ones feet and legs, keeping the wearer drier. Snowshoes work by spreading out the weight of your foot over a larger area, in the opposite way a pair of high heels concentrate ones weight on a small point. By spreading the weight of the wearer out over a larger area, the snow’s surface can then support the weight of the wearer without collapsing. The density of the snow and the weight of the wear affect how large the snowshoes need to be in order to effectively distribute the weight.

Traditionally snowshoes, like the model shoes shown above, were made of a lightweight wooden frame that was laced together or covered with animal skins. Today snowshoes are still popular and have evolved into high tech outdoor equipment, utilizing the latest materials and technology.

The following video shows George Albert of Ruby, Alaska making and talking about traditional Alaskan snowshoes.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Mummified fish

C/1957/4/1-3
Mummified fish
Ancient Egyptian
Egypt
unknown date
Materials: Fish, cloth, resin, salt or natron

Ancient Egyptian culture is best known today for its mummies but, humans weren’t the only ones being mummified in Ancient Egypt. Animals were also commonly mummified. Animals were mummified for a variety of reasons, all connected to the Egyptian belief in an afterlife. The Ancient Egyptians viewed death as the beginning of a new life in the underworld, and much like an extended vacation, in order to enjoy this new life one would need to pack accordingly. Only those items properly persevered and stored within the tomb would be available to the deceased in the afterlife, this would include one’s own body and internal organs. Some animals were mummified because they were pets, and their owners wanted them to enjoy the afterlife with them. Any item or animal that one wanted to have in the afterlife had to be included in the tomb, so some animals were mummified to become food for deceased humans in the afterlife. Other animals were mummified because they were considered sacred to a particular deity. These animals were often associated with specific religious cults throughout Egypt, like the Apis Bulls at Memphis and the crocodiles at the Kom Ombo Temple.

The mummification of fish went on throughout much of Ancient Egyptian history but is thought to have reached its peak in the Ptolemaic period. The fish were mummified by removing their internal organs through a slit in the belly of the fish and then either soaked in brine or packed with salt or natron to dry out and preserve the fish. The fish would then be either packed in mud or covered in papyrus stalks and then wrapped in linen and covered in resin. This group of fish were unwrapped after they were discovered and only part of their original wrappings can be seen, on fish C/1957/4/1.

The following video shows a modern attempt at recreating fish mummification.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Ornament

E/1956/2/32
Feather ornament (or “tail”)
Machiguena
Peru
ca 1955
Materials: Feathers, cloth twine

This feather ornament is described in the Ethnology catalog as a “tail” that is meant to be attached to the back of a man’s robe, called a manchakintsi or cushma. The donor that collected with particular “tail” also donated the cushma it was meant to go with, E/1956/2/11, shown on the right. These objects were made by a member of the Machiguenga tribe of Peru. The Machiguenga are a part of the Arawakan linguistic family, a group of languages spoken throughout South and Central America. The Machiguenga live in the upper mountain rain forest of Southeastern Peru. The Machiguenga grow manioc, bananas, maize, sweet potatoes, peanuts and a variety of other crops in small agricultural plots cleared out of the forest. They supplement their diet by hunting, fishing and gathering other native foods from the forest. Feather ornaments, especially crowns and necklaces are popular amongst the Machiguenga.

Do you know any additional information on this type of ornament? Can you identify the type of feathers used? Let us know what you know. Provide a comment to this weblog or via email to dcswan@ou.edu. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]


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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