Archive for the 'ritual item' Category



Object: Manuscript Box

E/1955/18/252
Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
ca. 19th Century
Materials: Bronze, Gold Gilding, Precious Stones, Persian Turquoise, Wood

Manuscript boxes like this one were used throughout Southeast Asia by both Hindus and Buddhists to store important religious texts. Their design varies with respect to materials and form. They all show intricate and ornate design work.

The top of this particular box shows the goddess Durga slaying Mahishasura (the buffalo demon), the theme of a famous Hindu story. No man, not even a god, could kill Mahishasura. The trinity of gods created Durga and gave her their weapons to defeat him. The battle of Durga is important in Hindu mythology and ancient art, and it is still told today.

Manuscripts featuring the story of Durga are considered amulets. They are valuable items that can protect their owners from some evil influences. This box is nailed shut, keeping its mysterious contents both safe and secret.

The Kathmandu Valley, where this box was made, has been an important site of cultural exchange since around 300 B.C. Located in Nepal, between India and Tibet, it contains a blend of both Hindu and Buddhist religions. An ancient trade route connected Asia, from Iran in the west, to China in the east. It linked cities in Pakistan, India, Burma and Thailand, and had a crucial stop in the Kathmandu Valley.

Artifacts from this area often reflect the diverse people that have passed through it. This box displays a Hindu goddess, but it contains inlaid turquoise from the Middle East and precious gems that are likely from Burma. It also draws on Burmese design, where manuscript boxes with feet were more common.

The spiral patterns and handcrafted details of this box are unique. They were created by the native people of Nepal, called the Newar. This box’s material, design and overall shape reflect the diversity of cultures, peoples, religions and materials that have existed in or passed through the Kathmandu Valley, from the 8th century to today. Watch the movie below to see a movie version of Durga slaying Mahishasura.

Work Cited

Jwajalapa.com
“The Newar Synthesis”. Accessed 1 October 2013, last modified 23 September 2008.  http://www.jwajalapa.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48&Itemid=61

Ratanapruck, Prista.
2007 Kinship and Religious Practices as Institutionalization of Trade Networks: Manangi Trade Communities in South and Southeast Asia. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 50(2/3): 325-346.

Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India
2013 Mythology of Durga Puja. SJFI: India. Retrieved from http://www.durga-puja.org/mythology.html

UNESCO World Heritage Association
“Kathmandu Valley—UNESCO”. Accessed 1 October 2013, last modified 2013. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/121/

[Elly Roberts]

Object: Pueblo Drum

E/1975/2/22
Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, United States of America
Date: early 1900s
Materials: cottonwood, rawhide, pigment

This object is a drum that was crafted in a Pueblo community sometime around the beginning of the 20th century. The Pueblo people represent a long tradition of indigenous presence in the Southwestern area of the United States. This drum has strong resemblance to those built by the Cochiti Pueblo community in New Mexico, as pictured on their official seal. Similar drums can be found in the collections of other museums like the NMAI Smithsonian and the University of South Dakota National Music Museum.

Pueblo drums come in many shapes and sizes, from small hand drums to enormous floor drums. Pueblo drums are crafted by hand, giving each drum a unique form and sound. This double-headed drum is of a medium size and can be held by a rawhide cord handle near the top of the drum’s body. This drum is crafted from a hollowed log of soft wood, most likely cottonwood or aspen. Hide, typically from deer, bison, or cow, is processed into rawhide for the drumheads. The animal hide is soaked, stretched, and cut to fit tightly over the ends of the hollowed base. Holes are punched into the edges of the hide and rawhide cord connects the two heads. Pigments are often added to the body of the drum and the colors are symbolic, typically representing a force of nature.

The Southwest has a long-standing history of embracing the significance of rhythm. Song and dance, like the Cochiti Eagle Dance, are culturally monumental to the Pueblo community. The beat of the drum, which gives cadence to dancers, is symbolic of the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Drumbeats can be attributed to having healing powers, as they represent a unity between man and nature. Check out this video about Native American Drumming from the National Museum of the American Indian.

Work Cited

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
2007  Cochiti Pueblo. http://www.indianpueblo.org/19pueblos/cochiti.html

Love To Know Corp.
2012  Aspen Trees. http://www.2020site.org/trees/aspen.html

Mason, Jim.
N.D.  Cottonwood. Great Plains Nature Center. http://www.gpnc.org/cottonwood.htm

Mckosato, Harlan.
2007  Drums: Heartbeat of Mother Earth. Native: Native Peoples Magazine. http://www.nativepeoples.com/Native-Peoples/July-August-2009/Drums-Heartbeat-of-Mother-Earth/

Montana Arts Council.
N.D. Indian Rawhide Drum Making. http://art.mt.gov/folklife/folklife_drum.asp

National Music Museum.
2007  Ceremony Drum, Pueblo Nation, Arizona, 19th-early 20th century. http://orgs.usd.edu/nmm/AmericanIndigenous/879/CeremonyDrum879.html

National Museum of the American Indian.
2014  Drum and Drum Stick.   http://www.nmai.si.edu/searchcollections/item.aspxirn=64872&catids=0&%09cultxt=pueblo%20&objtypetxt=drum&src=1-5

Prindle, Tara.
1994  Cordage Technology. NativeTech Native American Cordage. http://www.nativetech.org/cordage/

Pueblo de Cochiti.
2003  Visitors Guide. http://www.pueblodecochiti.org/guide.html

[Cameron Benton]

Object: Kachina Doll

E/78/1/35
Hopi, Arizona
Materials: Cotton Wood root, Horse Hair, Paint, Feathers

The Hopi live in what is now northeastern Arizona. Their reservation includes twelve villages on three mesas. Agriculture is one of the central aspects of Hopi life. Though they live in less then ideal conditions for farming, the Hopi have adapted to the arid climate by practicing agricultural methods such as dry farming and using irrigation. This does not mean, however, that rain is not an important part of Hopi life. It is in fact extremely important and something to be prayed for. One of the ways it is prayed for is through Kachina dances. Kachinas are spiritual beings that act as messengers for the Hopi, each one controlling a different aspect of the universe.

This carved figure is a Hopi kachina doll, created to represent a spiritual being in Hopi religion. There are over 400 kachina deities in Hopi religion. Traditional knowledge is an important part of Hopi culture. Hopi elders pass their knowledge on through the telling of stories. These stories include lessons on what it means to be Hopi. Kachina dolls are used to teach children about ritual knowledge. This kachina doll is a duck kachina, also known as the Pawikya kachina. It is believed to be a messenger to the rain gods for the Hopi people. This doll was created so that young Hopi children could learn about this deity’s role in the universe. Some kachinas teach children lessons on how to behave. When children misbehave, they are threatened by the idea of being taken away by the Soyoko kachina. This deity inspires good behavior in misbehaving children.

Hopi carvers produce kachina dolls using the root of a cottonwood tree. Traditionally, dolls are carved using a single piece of wood. First, the bark is removed to form a smooth surface. Several different tools are used in the carving process such as hammers, chisels, and knives. Once the carved surface is sanded smooth, the carver is ready to paint. Customarily, kachinas are painted using native mineral or vegetal pigments. However, kachina dolls made today for the open market are painted with modern dyes and paints. The duck kachina is decorated with clouds to represent its role as the rain messenger. Each doll is painted with its own unique symbols. Details are added last such as the red horsehair and feathers attached to the duck kachina. Other attachments include headpieces, weapons, and jewelry. For a closer look at the Kachina carving process watch this video.

Work Cited

2009. Agriculture. Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. http://www8.nau.edu/~hcpo-p/youth.html

2013. Reporter’s Notebook: Hopi Sacred Objects Returned Home. National Public Radio: All Things Considered. http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=213560746&m=213598104

Bohl Gerke, Sarah.
2008. Nature Culture and History at the Grand Canyon: Hopi Reservation. Arizona State University. http://grandcanyonhistory.clas.asu.edu/sites_adjacentlands_hopireservation.html

2010. Hopi Katsina Dolls: 100 Years of Carving. Heard Museum. http://www.heard.org/katsinadolls/faq.html

[Katherine Taylor]

Object: Ritual Mask

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

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

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

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

Sources:

Fabius, Carine

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

Stein, Geoff

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

[Dakota Stevens]

Object: Bronze Eagle

C/1957/14/39
Bronze Eagle
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze

This eagle is standing at 1.75 in. (4.4 cm) high with wings tuck to its sides. The body is 1 in. (2.5 cm) wide and including the tail is 2 in. (5.1 cm) long.  It has a hole that goes partway through it, beginning underneath the head. The hole indicates it was likely attached to something.  There are details of feathers on the head, breast, wings, and tail.  The head and wings are shiny in areas where the surface was worn or handled.

Eagles were an important Roman symbol.  They appear as companions of the god Jupiter (Zeus) in art and literature. In fact, Roman emperors adopted the eagle symbol when they appeared in art in the guise of Jupiter. Since eagles accompanied Jupiter, they were symbols of power, which the Roman emperors and the Roman army used to indicate victory and strength. The army carried Aquila, eagle-standards, as an emblem of the legion. Previously, wolves, Minotaurs, horses, and boars had also been used on standards. Marius’s reforms, named for Roman General Gaius Marius, at the end of the 2nd c. A.D. however, made the Aquilae the only animal used for standards. On standards the eagle is made of gold and is shown with outspread wings standing on a thunderbolt. The eagle was mounted on a long pole so it could be carried as a visible and imposing sign of the Roman army.

In war camps and fortresses the Aquila was prominently placed in the chapel within the headquarters building.  Soldiers venerated the Aquila as their divine protector (proprium legionis numen). The greatest disaster for a Roman legion was to have its Aquila stolen, which only happened when they were defeated by an enemy.  One infamous example of the loss of the eagle-standard was the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, when German groups decimated several legions and took the Aquilae.

Another fascinating example of how important eagles were in Roman iconography involves the story of the emperor Octavian (also known as Augustus) and his fiancée Livia. One story of an eagle says that while Livia was engaged to the emperor Octavian, an eagle dropped a white hen into her lap. The hen was unharmed and holding an olive twig in its mouth. Augurs, who divined the future from bird behavior, instructed her to care for the bird and its offspring and to plant the olive twig. From then on, the Emperor Augustus and his successors carried a branch from the olive tree that grew and wore the branch as a garland when they held a triumphal procession.

 

Works Cited

McKeown, J. C.

            2010 A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts                    from the World’s Greatest Empire. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Toynbee, J. M. C.

            1973 Animals in Roman Life and Art. New York: Cornell University Press.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Object: Brass Emblem

E/1955/18/251
Brass Emblem
Nepalese
Asia: Nepal
Unknown Age
Material: Brass

This is a brass religious emblem from Nepal. It is 17.5 inches tall and 5.5 inches in diameter. We do not know where specifically this object comes from, but we do know it represents the Tower of Life, a holy emblem in Hindu and Buddhist belief systems. This symbol is often used to mark temple entrances. Each tier of the emblem represents a plane of human consciousness and existence that reaches upward towards heaven.

The Indus Valley region was home to the early Vedic religions, which focused on ritual and social obligation and included a pantheon of deities. Reincarnation, or rebirth, and karma were ideas introduced very early in this belief system in religious texts such as the Vedas, Brahamanas and the Upanishads. These are all influential teachings in Hinduism, which developed from these early Vedic beliefs. Hinduism today believes in one Supreme Being that manifests itself in many forms, primarily Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, forming the Hindu trinity.

Siddhartha Guatama, a Hindu man born in Nepal, supported certain aspects of his native religion, such as karma – the notion of moral cause and effect, based on behavior.  However, he rejected other facets of this theology, such as the strict caste system deeply embedded in Hindu societies, and the importance of rituals. Instead, he encouraged people to disassociate themselves from earthly pleasures, and focus instead on attaining personal enlightenment, or Nirvana, by eliminating all desire. After reaching enlightenment, Guatama became known as Buddha, and his teachings became the backbone of the Buddhist belief system that then swept through                                                                          East Asia and then around the world.

As Buddhism and Hinduism developed and changed over the centuries throughout Asia, both religions prospered in Nepal, producing a powerful artistic and architectural fusion. Buildings reflect outstanding craftsmanship in their intricate ornamentation in brick, stone, timber and bronze that are some of the most highly developed in the world.

Take a look at this PBS Documentary to learn more about the development and spread of Buddhism:

[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]


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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