Archive for the 'woodwork' 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: Ibeji doll

Figure 1 Ibeji Doll from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Ibeji Doll from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1970/4/1
Ibeji Doll
Yoruba
Nigeria, Niger Delta Region, Africa
Unknown Date
Materials: Painted Wood

Figure 2 Map of West Africa

Figure 2 Map of West Africa

The Ibeji doll tradition comes from the indigenous religion of the Yoruba. The Yoruba live in parts of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. They speak their own language and practice their indigenous religion alongside Islam and Christianity. The Yoruba have the highest twin birth rate in the world. An estimated 45 out of every 1,000 births are twins compared to the United States where every 29 out of 1,000 births result in twins[1]. The high ratio of twin births have developed into a cultural aesthetic for the Yoruba, that of Ase, or strength[2].

The Ibeji doll is always one half of a pair. These dolls represent the image of a twin who has passed. The large percentage of twins in the Yoruba population has evolved into a type of twin worship in the indigenous religion[3]. Many of these indigenous groups reside in the Oyo and Oshogbo regions of Nigeria, along the coastline, although there are small dispersals throughout their territory[4].

An Ibeji is created after one or both twins in a family die. It is crafted by a Babalawo, a spiritual guide in the community[5]. The doll is crafted from the best wood that the family can obtain along with paint in either red or black and a varnish for preservation. The doll is then created to resemble the individual that has passed as they would have appeared in adulthood[6]. There are two dolls created, one for each twin, even if only one of the twins has passed. The dolls are then decorated with beadwork or cowrie shells before being placed in a position of honor. These dolls are treated like a living human, given food and water daily, to bring luck to their family.

Additional Texts:

Religion:

Ibeji as Religious Object

Other Images of Ibeji Dolls:

Wolfz-Gallery African Arts Ibeji Collection

Other Yoruba Dolls:

Yoruba Doll

Smithsonian Yoruba Doll

[Caitlyn Colvert]

 

[1] D.D.O. Ovebola, “Traditional Medicine and Its Practitioners Among the Yoruba of Nigeria: A Classification,” Sociology, Sex, Medical 14(1980): 24.

[2] Rowland Abiodun, “Understanding Yoruba Art and Aesthetics: The Concept of Ase,” African Arts (1994), 68-70.

[3] Marcus Louis Harvey, “Engaging the Orisa: An Exploration of the Yoruba Concepts of Ibeji and Olokun as Theoretical Principles in Black Theology,” Black Theology: An International Journal 6, no. 1(2008): 64.

[4] Emily C. McIlroy, “One Half Living for Two: Cross-Cultural Paradigms of Twinship and Twin Loss,” Omega 64, no.1(2012): 5-6.

[5] J.D.Y. Peel, “The Pastor and the “Babalawo”: The Interaction of Religions in Nineteenth-Century Yorubaland,” Africa: Journal of International African Institute 60, no. 3(1990): 345.

[6] Elisha Renne, “Twinship in an Ekiti Yoruba Town,” Ethnology 40, no. 1(2001): 67.

References Cited:

Abiodun, Rowland.

1994 Understanding Yoruba Art and Aesthetics: The Concept of Ase. African Arts. 27(3): 68-78, 102-103.

Harvey, Marcus Louis.

2008 Engaging the Orisa: An Exploration of the Yoruba Concepts of Ibeji and Olokun as Theoretical Principles in  Black Theology. Black Theology: An International Journal. 6(1): 61-82.

McIlroy, Emily C.

2012 One Half Living for Two: Cross-Cultural Paradigms of Twinship and Twin Loss. Omega. 64(1): 1-13.

Ovebola, D.D.O.

1980 Traditional Medicine and Its Practitioners Among the Yoruba of Nigeria: A Classification. Sociology, Sex, Medical. 14: 23-29.

Peel, J.D.Y.

1990 The Pastor and the “Babalawo”: The Interaction of Religions in Nineteenth-Century Yorubaland. Africa: Journal of International African Institute. 60(3): 338-369

Renne, Elisha.

2001 Twinship in an Ekiti Yoruba Town. Ethnology. 40(1): 63-78.

 

Object: Quiver, Bow, and Arrows

Figure 1 Comanche arrows from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Comanche arrows from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 2 Comanche Quiver from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 2 Comanche Quiver from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 3 Comanche bow from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 3 Comanche bow from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1930/1/52
E/1930/1/53
E/1930/1/54
Quiver, Bow, and Arrows
Comanche
North America: Southern Plains
Date: 1930
Materials: Wood, feathers, sinew, leather

These objects are common tools when it comes to studying Native Americans. Each tribe has their own way of making bows and arrows and different styles for use. These objects were used by the Comanche people. The bow is 42” long. The arrows are between approximately 22”-26” in length.

There are many things the Comanche are well-known for: one being horsemanship and another being the ability to successfully use the bow while riding on horseback. The size of the bow and arrows are short, making them very maneuverable while riding. Being able to aim easily from side to side while riding was crucial to survival for the Comanche. Not only is the length of the bow important, but the strength of it is also important. The wood used typically is Osage Orange or Bo Dark wood. Sinew is a very strong cordage obtained from the tendons of bison. Sinew is used for many different resources among plains Native Americans. The Comanche used it for many different reasons, and in this case it was tied together to form the string of the bow.

The quiver is used to carry the bow and arrows together, each having a special spot inside the quiver. The quiver is made primarily from bison or cow hide. The quiver can be decorated in a number of ways with beadwork and fringe. One resource implemented in the quiver is called the ‘boss man.’ This is an object with a round circular base that fits in the bottom of the quiver. The base is attached to a handle used to easily pull out the arrows that rest within the quiver.

Figure 4 Comanche Bow demonstration at the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center

Figure 4 Comanche Bow demonstration at the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center

The arrows in this collection are short in length to match the bow. The arrows measure between 22”-26” in length. This is very similar to other Comanche arrows studied. The arrow points were typically made from flint, but the Comanche adopted steel points after contact with new European settlers. The wood of the arrows is made from the straightest wood possible, dog wood. The fletching on the back end of the arrows is the Comanche style of Red Tail Hawk feathers. The tough material of sinew is used to tie on the arrow fletching.

To learn more about Comanche bows, arrows, and quivers, take a look at the below videos produced by the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center:

[Jared Wahkinney]

References

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJkGM-GNRPI.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sez4GNIOaNY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlVaE1j6efY

 

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

Object: Maya Mask

Figure 1    Maya "Wolf" Mask from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Maya “Wolf” Mask from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1992/3/8
Mask
Cakchiquel (Kakchiquel) Maya
Chimaltenango: San Andrés Itzapa, Guatemala
Materials: Painted wood

This wooden face mask has been painted red, with green polka dots, black eyes, and black and white detail behind the ears. This particular mask shows a face with an open mouth displaying carved wooden teeth. The eyes of the mask have been made by carving holes and surrounding the eyes with black paint. The eyebrows are also painted black, and the ears are carved and painted just above the eyebrows. On the sides of the mask are wooden flaps painted black and white, a striking color difference from the mostly red background and spotted green on the rest of the mask. On the forehead of the mask, there is a small hole, probably for hanging the mask.

The mask is sized to fit on a human face. It is 8 ¾ inches long, 7 inches wide, and 4 ¼ inches thick. It was accessioned into the Sam Noble Museum’s Ethnology Collection with only a few scratches in the paint on the nose, forehead, and ears – overall, in good condition. When accessioned, it was determined that the animalistic features on the mask were meant to resemble a wolf. It seems like an unsuitable animal inspiration for the Chimaltenango region of Guatemala (where wolves are not native), possibly meaning that it takes its likeness from another predator.

Instead of a wolf, which does not live in the region this mask was made, the mask may actually be meant to resemble a jaguar. Jaguars have always had important significance to Maya culture, playing an integral role in the Maya creation story. Many successful Maya kings and leaders were known for having the same feline characteristics associated with the jaguar. The jaguar is often the symbol for life and fertility. It is also seen as existing outside of the human realm, giving it associations with the underworld. In the Chimaltenango region specifically, jaguars can be black or yellow with black spots. While the mask in the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Museum is red with green spots, the jaguar seems like a more likely option for inspiration than the wolf.

In order to understand why these seemingly odd paint choices might have been made, it is useful to look at the significance of these colors in Maya culture. Traditionally, red and black were popular in Maya cave art. Red pigment was originally made from the red clay dirt found in or near the caves themselves. In ancient times, Maya temples were painted in red and white colors. The red, white, and black paint on this contemporary mask follow along with this long-standing tradition.

Without speaking directly to the artist, of course, the intentions and inspirations behind this particular mask cannot be known for certain. However, it seems safe to say the original identification of the mask as “wolf-like” is most likely incorrect. Because this mask follows Maya tradition in paint colors, it seems more likely that the artist chose the more traditional jaguar native to the Chimaltenango region to inspire this mask.

[Caitlin Doepfner]

More sources:

Fischer, Edward F., and R. McKenna Brown. 1996. Maya Cultural Activism in Guatemala. Austin: University of Texas Press.

National Geographic. N.d. Jaquar: Panthera Onca. National Geographic. Accessed February 15, 2015.     http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/jaguar/

Lovgren, Stefan. 2004. Masks, Other Finds Suggest Early Maya Flourished. National Geographic. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/05/0504_040505_mayamasks.html

 

 

Object: Sarangi

E_1954_9_3

E/1954/9/3 a-b
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: Tomahawk Pipe

 

Figure 1    Tomahawk pipe from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Tomahawk pipe from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1973/7/15
Tomahawk Pipe
Cheyenne
North America: Plains
c. 1880’s
Materials: Wood and iron alloy

This tomahawk pipe from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History has a wooden handle and a head made from an iron alloy. The pipe shaft is 22 5/16” long, 1 3/8” wide, and 15/16” high. The axe head is 9 1/8” long, 3 9/16” wide, and 1 1/4” high. The shaft is incised with both small pinpoint impressions and larger dark spots likely created with a heated tool. The small hole with the bit of string looped through it would have contained a leather strap at one time. This tomahawk pipe has a very interesting history and is an excellent example of how a seemingly simple item can tell a story about the people who collect and donate objects to museums.

When a thoughtful woman named Frances Surr from California donated twenty-two cherished family heirlooms, including this tomahawk pipe, to the Stovall Museum (now named the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History) in the early 1970s, she did so without any apparent personal connection to the University of Oklahoma or to the state itself.[1] So, why did she send her treasured items halfway across the country to reside in a museum she had never previously visited? For her the answer was simple: Place.

Figure 2    Darlington Agency, 1878. Courtesy, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma.

Figure 2 Darlington Agency, 1878. Courtesy, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma.

Surr’s father, Dr. Vernon W. Stiles, had collected the tomahawk pipe as a young pharmacist plying his trade at the Darlington Agency on the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian Reservation between September 1883 and September 1885. The agency, established in 1870, sat on the northern bank of the Canadian River’s northern fork, just opposite a bustling U.S. Army outpost named Fort Reno (now El Reno, OK). Stiles worked for Hemphill & Woy, a pair of traders, and he interacted with Native Americans on a daily basis.[5] So, when Surr contemplated an appropriate new home for her presumably Cheyenne artifacts, she felt an obligation to “send the things back to their source.”[6] In this sense, “source” meant place of origin. For Frances Surr, a meaningful connection existed between her items and the history of the Cheyenne people, the history of her father, and the history of lives lived in Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma).

What then can this tomahawk pipe tell us about life in and around the Darlington Agency during the late nineteenth century? What did it mean for the various people who possessed it? Did it function as an actual axe, as a pipe, as both, or did its owners give it an altogether different purpose?

While Vernon Stiles probably procured the tomahawk pipe in Oklahoma, its original place of creation is less certain. Considering that Stiles worked on the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation, museum officials originally assumed that the artifacts in the collection must be Cheyenne. The Cheyenne, however, sustained exchange networks across a wide expanse of the Great Plains from Montana to Texas. They traded goods and ideas with people from various Native American groups such as: the Osage, Ponca, Plains Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes.[7] Indeed, the Cheyenne often proved to be “highly effective middlemen” when it came to trading. [8]

Figure 3    Map of Indian Territory, 1866-1889.

Figure 3 Map of Indian Territory, 1866-1889.

Within those trade networks, similar tomahawk pipes were a common ceremonial gift across the continent during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The earliest examples appeared in the first half of the eighteenth century, and scholars generally agree that the first tomahawk pipes drew influence from both Native American and European technologies.[9] People typically used tomahawk pipes for ceremonial and display purposes, but there is some historical evidence of their use as functional tools.[10] Native peoples and European Americans exchanged tomahawk pipes to symbolically seal treaties and to acquire other goods. For instance, in 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s Corps of Discovery brought 50 tomahawk pipes along on their famed journey of exploration and diplomacy.[11] Since the Cheyenne also used the reciprocal exchange of gifts to show respect for allies and to solidify agreements, this particular tomahawk pipe might very well have originated with a different group of people altogether.[12] Still, even if the Cheyenne did not produce the artifact, it is of a type that they would have found familiar. In fact, in 1996, a team of Cheyenne experts in consultation with Museum staff determined that the “[pipe] was not made by a Cheyenne.”[13] Yet, they permitted it to “be on display with Cheyenne [red pipe stone] pipes because of [its] trade metal.”[14]

Stiles lived at Darlington during a time of flux for the Native American inhabitants of the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation. Many Cheyenne did not readily adapt to farming after being forcibly removed to Indian Territory from their ancestral homelands in Minnesota. Instead, the local agent, John D. Miles, established the Cheyenne-Arapaho Transportation Company which employed willing men as teamsters (wagon drivers) who freighted goods to Kansas railheads in Arkansas City and Wichita.[15] The Chisolm Trail, a great cattle-moving corridor between Texas and Kansas passed through the reservation, and many Cheyenne made a living from the cattle industry.[16]

As a clerk for Hemphill and Woy, Stiles had direct contact with prominent Cheyenne tribal members. Frances Surr attributed three of the artifacts in the collection, including the tomahawk pipe, to Chief Wolf Robe, as related to her by her father. One of the other artifacts, a war club, contains the initials W.R. etched into its handle. Without direct documentary evidence to prove an exchange took place between Stiles and Wolf Robe, we cannot say for certain that the items in question belonged to the Cheyenne chief. However, the two men almost certainly knew each given that Stiles held a conspicuous position at Darlington. Furthermore, the three items (the tomahawk pipe, the war club, and a headdress) would all be items a chief like Wolf Robe could have possessed. Wolf Robe frequently engaged in diplomatic encounters, and even traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet President Benjamin Harrison, who gifted the Cheyenne leader with a peace medal.[19] A chief accustomed to such diplomatic encounters could have easily received a tomahawk pipe like the one in the Stiles collection.

Figure 4    Chief Wolf Robe wearing the peace medal given to him by Benjamin Harrison. Wolf Robe holds a ceremonial pipe often called a calumet or “peace pipe”.  Courtesy of Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Library.

Figure 4 Chief Wolf Robe wearing the peace medal given to him by Benjamin Harrison. Wolf Robe holds a ceremonial pipe often called a calumet or “peace pipe”. Courtesy of Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Library.

Ultimately, regardless of the tomahawk pipe’s potential connections to Wolf Robe, the artifact itself offers fascinating insights into the complex nature of trade and reciprocal giving by people who lived in Indian Territory and throughout the Southern Plains. It also speaks to the social and economic transitions that occurred in the Southern Plains during the 1880’s. When Frances Surr felt the need to return the tomahawk pipe and other items to Oklahoma, she did so because she knew that they had much to say about life in Indian Territory in the late 19th century. Additionally, Darlington Agency’s place within Indian Territory shaped its history. Its proximity to railheads in Kansas, its position relative to other Native American lands, and its location on the Chisolm Trail all combined to frame life for the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and European Americans who lived there. Darlington Agency and Indian Territory shaped Vernon Stiles too, and he passed the memories of that place down to his children. The University of Oklahoma: a place that Frances Surr had never been, and yet the place that seemed most appropriate to deposit the material expressions of her precious memories of her father.

[Bryan Nies]

Notes:

[1] According to the Kansas Historical Society, the word tomahawk “is a combination of tribal and English words. Algonquin and [Powatan] Renape peoples called their lightweight axes ‘tamahak,’ ‘tamahakan,’ or ‘tamahagan.’ European Americans pronounced these words as ‘tomahawk.’” See: Kansas Historical Society, “Cool Things – Pipe Tomahawk,” Kansapedia (September 2008, Modified December 2014) https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/cool-things-pipe-tomahawk/10379 (accessed 20 March 2015).

[2] Letter from Frances Surr to Dr. Bell of the Stovall Museum, dated 5 November 1973.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Letter dated 7 September 1885, signed Hemphill & Woy. Held in the tomahawk pipe’s accession file.

[6] Letter from Frances Surr to Dr. Bell of the Stovall Museum, dated 5 November 1973.

[7] David LaVere, Contrary Neighbors: Southern Plains and Removed Indians in Indian Territory (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000), 222; K.N. Llewellyn and E. Adamson Hoebel, The Cheyenne Way: Conflict and Case Law in Primitive Jurisprudence (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941), vii; See also, Donald J. Berthrong, The Cheyenne and Arapaho Ordeal: Reservation and Agency Life in the Indian Territory, 1875-1907 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976).

[8] Pekka Hämäläinen, “The Western Comanche Trade Center: Rethinking the Plains Indian Trade System,” The Western Historical Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 4 (Winter, 1998): 506-507.

[9] Kansas Historical Society, “Cool Things – Pipe Tomahawk,” Kansapedia (September 2008, Modified December 2014) https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/cool-things-pipe-tomahawk/10379 (accessed 20 March 2015).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Loretta Fowler, Tribal Sovereignty and the Historical Imagination: Cheyenne-Arapaho Politics (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 4.

[13] NAGPRA findings 9/23/1996-9/25/1996, reported in Jethro Gaede, “A Time of Transition: Darlington Indian Agency and the Vernon W. Stiles Collection, 1883-1885 (Unpublished report compiled and held in artifact accession file, 2005-2006), 30.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Stan Hoig, Fort Reno and the Indian Territory Frontier (Fayetteville, AR: The University of Arkansas Press, 2000), 55-56; Stan Hoig, The Cheyenne: Indians of North America (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006), 86.

[16] Hoig, Fort Reno and the Indian Territory Frontier, 128-134.

[17] Ibid., 104-105, 139.

[18] Letter dated 7 September 1885, signed Hemphill & Woy. Held in the tomahawk pipe’s accession file.

[19] Francis Paul Prucha, Indian Peace Medals in American History (Bluffton, SC: Rivilo Books, 1994), 67-68; Stan Hoig, The Peace Chiefs of the Cheyennes (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980), 81.

 

Works Consulted:

1. Berthrong, Donald J. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Ordeal: Reservation and Agency Life in the Indian Territory, 1875-1907. Norman:University of Oklahoma Press, 1976.

2. Fowler, Loretta. Tribal Sovereignty and the Historical Imagination: Cheyenne-Arapaho Politics. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

3. Gaede, Jethro. “A Time of Transition: Darlington Indian Agency and the Vernon W. Stiles Collection, 1883-1885. (Unpublished report compiled and held in artifact accession file, 2005-2006).

4. Hämäläinen, Pekka. “The Western Comanche Trade Center: Rethinking the Plains Indian Trade System.” The Western Historical Quarterly 29, no. 4 (Winter 1998): 506-507.

5. Hoig, Stan. The Cheyenne: Indians of North America. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006.

6. ——. Fort Reno and the Indian Territory Frontier. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2000.

7. ——. The Peace Chiefs of the Cheyennes. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980.

8. Kansas Historical Society, “Cool Things – Pipe Tomahawk,” Kansapedia (September 2008, Modified December 2014) https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/cool-things-pipe-tomahawk/10379 (accessed 20 March 2015).

9. LaVere, David. Contrary Neighbors: Southern Plains and Removed Indians in Indian Territory. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.

10. Llewellyn, K.N. and E. Adamson Hoebel. The Cheyenne Way: Conflict and Case Law in Primitive Jurisprudence. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941.

11. Prucha, Francis Paul. Indian Peace Medals in American History. Bluffton, SC: Rivilo Books, 1994.

12. Surr-Stiles Collection. Accession No. E/1973/7/15, Ethnology Collection, Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, Norman, OK.


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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