Published June 7, 2013
beadwork , container , Kiowa , leather , North American Tribes/Cultures , Oklahoma , Photo Quiz , Textile , Tool , US states , woodwork
Tags: baby, beadwork, cradleboard, Kiowa, transportation
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]
Tasmaloun Bay area of Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following video highlights some of the contemporary culture on the island of Espiritu Santo.
[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]
North America: Alaska
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]
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]
Feather ornament (or “tail”)
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 email@example.com. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]