Archive for the 'ritual item' Category

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: 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: Replica of Phaestos Disk

Figure 1 Front of cast of Phaestos Disk from the Classics Collection at the SNOMNH, photo taken by author

Figure 1 Front of cast of Phaestos Disk from the Classics Collection at the SNOMNH, photo taken by author

Figure 2 Back of cast of Phaestos Disk from the Classics Collection at the SNOMNH, photo taken by author

Figure 2 Back of cast of Phaestos Disk from the Classics Collection at the SNOMNH, photo taken by author

 

C/1985/9/1
Replica of Phaestos Disk
Minoan
Crete
Late Minoan Period
Materials: Plaster

This Phaestos Disk replica is a modern cast of the Late Minoan Period original. It measures 16.5 centimeters in diameter and 1.5 centimeters in width. It was originally on loan from Dr. Allen C. Johnson, former professor of the Department of Classics at Princeton University, but since his death has become a permanent part of the Classics Collection at SNOMNH.

Figure 3 A view of the site of excavation of the Phaistos Disk; Photo "Festos1(js)" by Jerzy Strzelecki - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Festos1(js).jpg#/media/File:Festos1(js).jpg

Figure 3 A view of the site of excavation of the Phaistos Disk; Photo “Festos1(js)” by Jerzy Strzelecki – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Festos1(js).jpg#/media/File:Festos1(js).jpg

The original Phaestos (or Phaistos) Disk was unearthed on the island of Crete by Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier in 1908. The excavation took place on the south coast of the island, and the disk gets its name from the ancient region and palacewhere it was discovered. Experts date the disk to the Minoan Neopalatial (New Palace) Period, about 1600-1450 BCE [1]. Currently, the original Phaistos Disk resides in the Heraklion Museum in Crete, along with other extremely well known objects from the Minoan time period. The Minoan people are known for their unique advancements in religion, art, and technology [2].

Figure 4 This map depicts the island of Crete during the Minoan period. Photo "Map Minoan Crete-en" by User:Bibi Saint-Pol - Own work (data from http://metamedia.stanford.edu/imagebin/minoan%20crete%20map.JPG, map background from Image:Map greek sanctuaries-fr.svg).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_Minoan_Crete-en.svg#/media/File:Map_Minoan_Crete-en.svg

Figure 4 This map depicts the island of Crete during the Minoan period. Photo “Map Minoan Crete-en” by User:Bibi Saint-Pol – Own work (data from http://metamedia.stanford.edu/imagebin/minoan%20crete%20map.JPG, map background from Image:Map greek sanctuaries-fr.svg).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_Minoan_Crete-en.svg#/media/File:Map_Minoan_Crete-en.svg

The most fascinating thing about the Phaistos Disk is its mysterious symbols and figures that are inscribed in a circular spiral on both sides. Archaeologists are still unsure as to what the markings mean, or even the original purpose of the disk itself [3]. In recent years, however, scholars have claimed to make significant strides in cracking the code of the disk, translating the text, and determining its purpose and significance. Yet the fact that we still don’t know for sure the meaning of the text or reason it was used has caused some critics to question the authenticity of the disk [4]. Despite such controversy and confusion, the fact that classical archaeologists and scholars have spent so much effort over the past 107 years trying to interpret the nature of this small circular object suggests that when we ultimately and definitively crack the Phaistos Disk code, we will be able to understand much more about the Minoan culture, and the ancient world as a whole.

In this TEDtalk, Dr. Gareth Owens shares the progress he and his colleagues have made in deciphering the Phaistos Disk.

[Elizabeth Rischard]

Object: Egyptian Amulet

Figure 1 Amulet of Egyptian God Bes from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Amulet of Egyptian God Bes from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

C/1987/7/15
Amulet of Bes
Egyptian
Unknown Date
Materials: Faience (fused glass)

This small amulet depicts the Egyptian God Bes. In ancient times, Bes was very important to pregnant women, mothers and children. He was a god of protection against evil spirits and creatures that wanted to do harm to families.

The god Bes is unlike many of the other Egyptian gods in several ways. He is usually shown as forward facing, which is a very rare trait to see in Egyptian art. Most Egyptian art illustrating humans or gods depicts their subjects in profile view, where the shoulders and upper body of the person or god is shown from the front, the nose is easily distinguished, and both feet can usually be seen. Ancient Egyptians painted in this manner so they could be as accurate as possible when recreating the likeliness of an individual as well as emphasizing what were seen as the most important features of a person or god.

Figure 2 Cosmetic Jar with Egyptian God Bes, photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Figure 2 Cosmetic Jar with Egyptian God Bes, photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Bes was one of the only dwarf gods worshiped in ancient Egypt. He was very ugly in appearance, with bulging eyes and his tongue sticking out. This strange depiction was in order to scare away evil and poisonous creatures. His legs are commonly shown as being bowed outward, and he is often shown wearing the skin of a large cat such as a panther or a lion. He also always wore a feather headdress, which is another uncommon trait to see in images of Egyptian gods. By being a dwarf, wearing his unique outfit, and being shown as facing forward, some scholars believe he originated from a culture other than Egyptian. Before being incorporated into the Egyptian pantheon of gods, it is guessed that he may have been an African deity of some sort.

Ancient Egyptians believed amulets had to be made in a specific way in regards to the material and the shape. Magic contained in an amulet could be figured out from the form, the materials, what colors were used, and several other attributes. By creating the amulet based on these specifications, the amulet was supposed to grant the wearer’s wish when using it. Amulets could be carried or be worn in many different ways such as on a bracelet, a necklace or a ring. Similar amulets were often also included on the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptians to assist the deceased and guide them into the afterlife.

This amulet from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History provides some interesting insights not only into the origin of the Egyptian God Bes but also into the use of amulets in ancient Egypt.

[Katelyn Williams]

Resources:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/art/whatisaeart.html

http://www.livescience.com/507-ancient-egyptians-held-dwarves-high-esteem.html

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/egam/hd_egam.htm

Object: Roman Tombstone

Figure 1    Roman Tombstone with Latin Epitaph from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Roman Tombstone with Latin Epitaph from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

C/2000/1/1
Roman
Unknown Date
Materials: Stone

This ancient Roman stone is from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. It has an interesting epitaph, or inscription, in Latin, which roughly translates as “To the shades of the departed ( or ‘for/to the god Mercury’), Plutianici (Latin-ized Greek name) lived 23 years, 4 months and 3 days. L. Plutius (Latin-ized Greek name) Stephanus made this (stone) for his most sweet (dear) wife.” The inscription identifies it as a Roman tombstone or funerary monument erected by L. Plutius Stephanus for his wife Plutianici, who lived only 23 years, 4 months and 3 days.

Funerary monuments in Roman cemeteries were important symbols to the people of Rome because they served as a way to commemorate the deceased as well as a way to remember them for the years to come. According to Valerie Hope, “monuments were frequently designed to catch the eye of the passer-by: scale, decoration, words, and images all combined to provide a final snapshot of the deceased” (Hope 2007:141).

The tombstones were also a way to show social identity in Ancient Rome. In Hope’s research, she declares that erecting a tombstone inscribed in Latin is a “Roman act” because it symbolizes “the attainment of citizenship or at least a claim that such citizenship was deserved” (Hope 1997:119). These tombstones served as a form of identity for Roman citizens to show that they were a part of the empire and belonged to Roman society when they were alive.

On the epitaph found on the tombstones, the Manes, believed to be the spirits of the dead, were commemorated with the phrase Dis Manibus, which was shortened to DM. This commemoration was exclusive to tombstone inscriptions. The Manes were celebrated in February during Parentalia, a nine-day festival commemorating the ancestors. During this time, the ancestors were honored and appeased with food, offerings, and prayers to show piety towards them by their living descendants and family members (Yasin 2005:439).

After the commemoration of Dis Manibus on Roman tombstones, the first name of the deceased was displayed, then the exact age of the person in years, months, and days. The inscriptions on the stone also usually included the occupation of the deceased and concluded with the name of the person who erected the stone in their honor. All of the information presented in an epitaph showed the identity and social status of the person so that he or she could be remembered for the years to follow. Ultimately, just like tombstones today, the tombstones of Ancient Rome served as a physical monument that gave the living a glimpse into the life of the deceased.

[Sarah Noel Rodriguez]

Further Links:

Latin Inscriptions: http://www.ashmolean.org/ashwpress/latininscriptions/tag/latin-tombstones/

Latin Funerary Inscriptions: http://archaeologicalmuseum.jhu.edu/the-collection/object-stories/latin-funerary-inscriptions/

Roman Inscriptions: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/insc/hd_insc.htm

Sources:

Hope, Valerie M. 2007. Death in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.

Hope, Valerie M. 1997. Constructing Roman Identity: Funerary Monuments and Social Structure in the Roman World. Morality 2(2):103-121.

Meyer, Elizabeth A. 1990. Exploring the Epigraphic Habit in the Roman Empire: the Evidence of Epitaphs. The Journal of Roman Studies 80:74-96.

Yasin, Ann Marie. 2005. Funerary Monuments and Collective Identity: From Roman Family to Christian Community. The Art Bulletin 87(3):433-457.

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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