Posts Tagged 'culture'

Object: Wooden Mask

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Accession Number: E/2014/3/012

Object: Wooden Mask created in the 1970’s donated to the Sam Noble Museum in 2014.

Location: The continent of Africa in the country of Liberia from the tribe of Dan (Gio).

Date: 1970’s (Exact date unknown)

Materials: Wood, Camel Teeth, Clay

Mask, Africa, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Dan

 

Description of the Mask

This mask, which was donated to the museum in 2014 by the McGee foundation, comes from the country of Liberia from the Dan tribe. This mask is about 19 inches tall and 7 inches wide. A long forehead, prominent lips, and scarification all stand out to make this mask unique. Materials used to make this mask include wood, camel teeth, as well as clay for detailed decorations. Most ‘Bimbo’ masks were made out of metal and had some from livestock hair which makes this specific mask unique. This mask was made in the 1970’s with the exact date unknown. This mask was used in many traditional ceremonies by the people of Dan.

Who were the Dan?

This mask was created and used by the Dan tribe of Liberia. The people of Dan migrated to present day Liberia from Northern Africa in the 1800’s. The people of Dan are known for their warlike society. Power is very important to the people of Dan (4).  Most of the people belonging to this tribe were farmers. Hunters and owners of guns were usually seen as the most powerful to these people. Materials acquired to survive were mostly obtained through trade. Family is an important aspect of their culture as well as art. Dan people used art to express themselves (1).  Masks like these were very popular to uniquely identify a person behind it based on things such as economic class.

More, More, and More!

Like stated earlier, the people of Dan had a strong cultural emphasis on power. Their political system functioned similarly to that of a caste system. Families in the tribes were separated into quarters based on economic status in the tribe. Settlers and traders were the main two classes of the Dan people in the 1970’s. Hunters who owned guns were seen as very powerful in the society. Beneath chiefs and people in political power within the tribe, hunters were seen as necessary providers (4).  Food and other materials needed to survive could not be obtained without the confidence, courage, and strength of a hunter. Although people still feel that the country of Liberia’s political system as a whole is corrupt, many progress has been made in an effort to bring this social system to modern times.

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An example of a contemporary Gle Mask. Photo courtesy of Andrew Scott, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0.

During the 1970’s in Liberia, art was a big part of the culture in Africa. Art was used as a form of self-expression during war times in Liberia (1).  These Dan masks were made and worn only by males. Although it seems as though this would not be a complicated task, many steps were needed in order to even begin the carving process of the mask. Cleansing of the carver/performer and a journey into the woods to find a perfect piece of wood were some of the necessary steps needed to begin the ceremonial process. Once the ceremony that the mask is needed for is completed, it will no longer be used again. The mask that the man makes is seen as a sacred piece of art and is kept in his family from generation to generation (3).

Not only is this mask is well known for aesthetic reasons, but the Dan people had a strong religious connection to this mask. Although the people of this tribe did believe in a supreme god (their religious affiliation can be most closely associated to the Islamic or Christian religion), they did not think that human beings could reach them on their own. They put on ceremonies to awaken the ‘Du’ which they used to communicate with their god (3).  The mask was the center of these ceremonies accompanied by elaborate clothing items and headpieces (1). A lot of time, detail, and effort was put into creating this mask. Little things that were observed about this object such as holes in the sides so that it could be secured to a performers face confirms the authenticity of this mask (2).

((Kelly Jones))- Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

 

 

References

 

  • Duerden, Dennis

2000

The “Discovery” of the African Mask. Research in African Literatures 31(4): 29–47. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3821076

 

  • Leach, Melissa

2000

New shapes to shift: war, parks and the hunting person in modern West Africa. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 6(4): 577–595. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2661031, accessed February 20, 2018

  • Maxwell, David

2012

What Makes A Christian? Perspectives From Studies Of Pneumatic Christianity. Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute 82(03): 479–491

  • Putnam, Aric

2006

Modern Slaves: The Liberian Labor Crisis and the Politics of Race and Class. Rhetoric and Public Affairs 9: 235–256. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41940051, accessed February 20, 2018

 

Object: Bronze Incense Burner

Accession: E/1955/18/139

Name: Bronze Incense Burner

Location: Asia: Dynastic China

Date: Dynastic China

Materials: Bronze

Key Terms: Incense, Burner, Bronze, Dynastic China

This bronze incense burner from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History is a three-piece artifact dating back to Dynastic China. The base consists of an elephant with three attachments that sit on top of the back of the elephant; the top tier is missing, however, there are holes on the top attachment of the elephant where this piece would connect. The burner stands 24” high when assembled. It is made from bronze and each piece is hand painted in multi-color designs, including light blue, dark blue, teal, light green, dark green, purple, yellow and white. The incense burner was used to burn incense as remnants of this process are evident because you can hear the remaining fragments moving around inside the elephant as you lift the object. There is also proof of aging in the form of green discoloration on the insides of the attached tears as well as the top of the elephant, which is a result of the bronze oxidizing.

 

The period of the Shang and Zhou dynasties is generally known as the Bronze Age in China. During this time in China rituals that centered on incense burners like this one had an important social function, because these were so important for creating societal cohesion. Since these rituals were so valued most objects used were made from bronze, which represented the superior sectors of society, as bronze was highly valued. Therefore, the material used to create this burner leads us to its cultural significance, as bronze burners are the most precious. The rituals this burner was used in became increasingly religious over time and were used to communicate with gods, spirits, and deceased ancestors. [1, 3]

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Map courtesy of Arab Hafez licensed by CC-BY

Although we cannot pinpoint the exact date this incense burner was created, I am led to believe that it was likely constructed sometime during the Bronze Age (Shang and Zhou dynasties). Research shows that excavated Han Dynasty tombs had depictions of incense burners and elephants, therefore, the significance of these symbols in this culture was created before the Han Dynasty. This incense burner was likely to have been constructed in the orange/yellow region of the map on the right because that is where bronze paraphernalia used for rituals was being created at the time of the Bronze Age. The remnants found in incense burners excavated from tombs also prove that China was engaged in the global economy through international trading at the time these burners were being used because some of the spices found in the remnants were not grown in China. [2]

 

These burners were historically used to burn incense and spices for religious purposes and are contemporarily used for the same reasons; however, the religious symbolism has evolved over time. Earliest documented scent culture emphasizes simplicity and the belief that complex aromas were inherently suspicious because of the extravagance the original purity of virtues is lost. The original simple scents and spices used were intentionally unpleasant to avoid the corruption the pleasant but complex scents were thought to bring. Over time a change occurred and the idea of antique simplicity died off. Today, diverse incense and spices are used in combination with different religious ceremonies or rituals. [3]

 

The authenticity of this bronze incense burner is affirmed in its physical structure and visual signs of aging. Feet elevate the burner above the table surface, which is a requirement of an authentic incense burner, as without them the object would not be able to function correctly. The green discoloration on the top of the elephant also exemplifies its age as bronze greens from oxidation. This burner was undoubtedly handmade as the intricate designs that appear throughout the artifact are hand painted. Although the process for molding these bronze burners may be derivative, I would assert that these designs are unique to this particular burner, and exemplify the maker’s creativity and originality. The time put in to paint this complex design on such valued material denotes the importance of this object. [4]

 

((Kayla Grudzielanek))- Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project

Works Cited:

  1. Department of Asian Art. “Shang and Zhou Dynasties: The Bronze Age of China.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. 2004, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/shzh/hd_shzh.htm.
  2. Kim, Minku. “CLAIMS OF BUDDHIST RELICS IN THE EASTERN HAN TOMB MURALS AT HORINGER: Issues in the Historiography of the Introduction of Buddhism to China.” Ars Orientalis, 44, 2014, pp. 134-154., http://www.jstor.org/stable/43489801.
  3. Milburn, Olivia. “Aromas, Scents, and Spices: Olfactory Culture in China before the Arrival of Buddhism.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 136, no. 3, July 2016, pp. 441-464., http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7817/jameroriesoci.136.3.0441.
  4. Stone, Elizabeth Rosen. “A Buddhist Incense Burner from Gandhara.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, 39, 2004, pp. 69-99., http://www.jstor.org/stable/40034602.

Picture:

“Ancient Chinese Dynasties: Advancements and Achievements.” Ancient Chinese Dynasties: Advancements and Achievements – The Zhou Dynasty, anchientchinesedynasties.weebly.com/the-zhou-dynasty.html.

E/1955/18/139 in the Sam Noble Museum Ethnology Collection

 

Additional Reading:

Maguer, Sterenn Le. “Typology of Incense-Burners of the Islamic Period.” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, vol. 41, July 2010, pp. 173-185., http://www.jstor.org/stable/41622131.

 

Object: Shipibo Pottery

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Fig 1: Shipibo Pottery Vessel. Image Credit Sam Noble Museum Ethnology Department. E/2014/003/007

E/2014/3/007

Bowl

Shipibo Culture

Peru

Unknown Date, Possibly 1960s-1970s

Clay, Paint Slip

 

This post’s object, a Shipibo ceramic vessel comes to us from the Shipibo people of Peru. The Shipibo people traditionally live near the Ucayali River, a southern tributary of the Upper Amazon in Peru.  The vessel measures 5.875” H x 5.875” W x 5.875” D.  The clay has a natural earthy red tone, which can be seen in the interior and bottom of the vessel. The exterior of the vessel is highly decorated with a cream colored base. On top of the cream base, layers of intricately woven geometric patterns are painted over the surface of the vessel in black and terracotta. There are two faces, one on each side of the vessel. The nose and ears of the face are sculpted and are part of the body of the pot.

The style of Shipibo pottery is easily identified by its geometric line patterns, and while one may believe these patterns are guided by rigid stylistic rules, each Shipibo pottery is unique. Like a fingerprint, no vessel will have the same patterning as another, and the artist is encouraged to tap into their own inspiration as they work across the surface. Another unique aspect of  Shipibo artists is that they are almost exclusively women. This tradition of women as community artists has given women today the opportunity to economically support their families through the selling of wares to tourists and collectors.

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Fig 2. A Shipibo woman shows of the distinct line patterning on a textile. Photo credit by Photo by Juan Carlos Huayllapuma/CIFOR is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Often times, women work together on a single piece. In these instances, the women seem to have an unspoken understanding of their collaborative efforts. Where one woman may finish a layer of line work, the next steps in to add even further intricacies with only their personal interpretations to guide them. In some cases, the artist is inspired by the aid of colorfully veined plant leaves, called iponquënë . Women place these leaves on their closed eyelids in order to trace their complicated vein patterns.

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Fig. 3.  A variation of Ayuahausca brewing on the fire. Traditionally ayuahausca is used in                                 Shipibo shamanic rituals and can create vivid visions in it’s users.                “Preparación de ayahuasca con chacruna”  by Jairo Galvis Henao  Licensed is under, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

The meaning behind these intricate patterns has been a subject of hot interpretation by anthropologists, ethnologists, and other researchers. Some believe the lines represent an early form of language. Others instead insist that the patterning is derived from early attempts to map the Amazon’s winding river systems. However, according to the Shipibo themselves, these patterns are derived from their shamanic practices aided by the use of ayuahausca, and serve as a reminder of the forces that were once visible to humans.

In mythic times, patterns like the ones that decorate Shipibo pottery, textiles and clothing, covered the entire world. These patterns flowed across the sky, trees, huts, people, and animals. All things were interconnected by this system of winding patterns. But due to the misdeeds of early humans, this idyllic union was ruptured and the world was shifted into three planes: Nëtë ŝhama (the sky world), Mai (the earth world), and Jënë ŝhama (the subaquatic underworld). Simultaneously, periodicity (day and night, or time), mortality, and speciation appeared. (1)

 

 

References:

(1) Roe, Peter G.  (1980). “Art and residence among the Shipibo Indians of Peru: A Study in Microacculturation.”American Anthropologist, 82, 42–71.

Pantone, Dan James. (2004).  Shipibo Indians. Retrieved from http://www.amazon-indians.org/shipibo-indians-masters-ayahuasca-01.html

Roe, Peter and Bahuan Mëtsa. Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian. National Museum of the American Indian  Retrieved from http://nmai.si.edu/exhibitions/infinityofnations/amazon/239608.html


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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