Posts Tagged 'ethnology'

Carved Horn Bugle from the American West

IMG_0009

Figure 1. Horn Bugle from the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum Natural History, Ethnology Collection. E/1951/01/036 Photo Taken 2017 by Christina Naruszewicz

E/1951/01/036

Cow Horn Bugle

Texas, United States

1890

Cow Horn, Fabric Strap

 

This bugle from the collection of the Sam Noble Museum is an intriguing artifact. It has several etched details on its surface. Towards the lip of the bugle is a cross-hatching design which continues for roughly four inches. This is hardly the most exciting aspect of the bugle, however. There are also several drawings of animals, including what appears to be two dogs, an eagle, and a horse with saddle and bridle. A detailed drawing of a rifle or shot gun is also meticulously carved. The most puzzling engraving on the surface of the bugle is a set of initials and a date reading: “FBC January 3, 1890.” Who was FBC and what is the significance of the date? Sadly, it is likely this detail about the horn bugle will remain a mystery. Despite this, we can wonder about the person or persons that handled this object through history and we can play detective about its role in their lives.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Horn of this type can be used to create a variety of objects, including gun powder containers, combs, and cups. (1) Through a process of boiling or soaking the horn, it can also be softened, and cut into sheets for later use. (2) Bugles or signals made from animal horn are some of the earliest and most commonly created musical instruments. This quick video shows the process of creating a traditional Viking horn bugle that is very similar to the one in the collection.  .

The uses for horn bugles vary from the scared and ceremonial, to the mundane and functional. One example of a ceremonial significant bugle is the Jewish shofar. The shofar is an instrument traditionally made from ram horn. (2) The shofar is blown on special occasions, such as the beginning of the month, and at sacrificial or peace offerings. In the Bible, the shofar is said to have brought down the walls of Jericho.

In medieval Persia, animal horns were also used to create simple trumpets. These often had holes bored into the side, which could produce several musical tones. (3) Examples of similar bugles called the si, can be seen in Sumeria, one the earliest civilizations. Likewise, similar horn instruments were created in India, Greece, Europe, Africa, and elsewhere.

images

Figure 4. An example of a traditional Jewish Shofar, made from ram horn.

In the American colonies, the horn bugle has a history of being used as a long distance signal for battle or hunting. When a bugle or trumpet of this type is used during a hunt, it acts as a signal to the entire hunting party. It signals when a hunt has ended, or a target (such as a deer) has been located. By 1765 military or musical trumpets made from brass became popular, with many imported from Europe. (4) Due to the popular importation of brass instruments for concerts and military purposes, we can assume that this bugle was not imported. It is likely the Sam Noble’s animal horn bugle was made in Texas, Oklahoma, or another nearby state. Without holes to change it’s pitch, we can also assume this horn was not meant to be an musical instrument. Could the time, location, and the rifle etched on the side of the bugle indicate it was used as a hunting signal? Some of the clues seem to say so! However, this horn could have been made by a pair of idle hands as a toy, or other simple amusement.

Who do you think made the horn trumpet and why?

 

 

Sources:

 

  1. “On the Employment and Working of Animal Horn”, Scientific American, Jan 26, (1850), 142.
  2. Eugene Walter Nash, “The Euphonium: Its History, Literature and Use in American Schools” (Masters, University of Southern California, 1962), 16.
  3. Nash, “The Euphonium”, 21.
  4. Katheryn Eileen Bridwell-Briner, “The Horn in America from Colonial Society to 1842” (Phd diss., University of North Carolina, 2014), 83.

((Christina Naruszewicz))

Ceremonial Phurba (Kila) Dagger

E_1958_26_1front

Figure 1. Phurba Dagger within the Sam Noble Ethnology Collection. E/1958/26/001

E/1958/26/001

Ceremonial Dagger: Phurba, Kila

Tibetan or Nepalese

Asia

ca. 18th Century

Bronze, Turquoise Stone

The Tibetan Phurba or Kila (in Sanskrit)  is a ceremonial dagger traditionally used in Tibetan Buddhism for tantric rituals. The Phurba (pronounced Pur-pa) can be fashioned out a of a variety of materials, including: wood, bone, glass, clay, horn and even crystal. (1) See figure 3. to see an example of a crystal phurba dagger on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Despite the array of materials used in the creation of phurbas, these ceremonial daggers have a distinct blade which makes them easily identifiable. The unusual blade of the phurba dagger is designed to have three edges. This gives the blade the appearance similar to a stake used to tether objects to the ground, much like the pegs you see today to secure tents. It has been theorized that this stake design is inspired by earlier Tibetan ceremonies, where shamans tethered sacrificial animals to the ground. However, other researchers debate its shape is meant to represent the pegs used to tether a horse, to keep it from wandering. Whatever its design origins, a phurba dagger is never used to stake anything physical. Its power resides in its spiritual ability to tranfix spirits or demons to the earth. (2)

 

Tibetexpedition, Fürst von Gautsa

Figure 2. Photograph of a Tibetan Shaman. Notice the Phurba dagger in his left hand. Photo by Klause Ernst, Tibet, 1938

Indeed, the dagger’s three sided blade usually has a dull edge, proving ineffective in battle. However, Phurbas have grown in popularity in recent years as tourist items, meditative objects, and have even been adopted as a weapon in some schools of marital arts. An example of the phurba dagger being used non-traditionally as a martial arts weapon can be seen here.

Due to it’s wide use in Tibet and some parts of India, the phurba dagger and its

met

Figure 3. A Crystal Dagger on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 15th Century. Image Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.

ceremonial origins may have evolved from the ancient and native Bon religion in Tibet. (3)  This argument suggests that the dagger always served a spiritual weapon, intended to tether negative spirits in place so that they can be driven from the sites of sacred ceremonies, or to force demons from the sites where shrines will be constructed. (4) In fact, the phurba’s ability to bind spirits was put to use in building thirteen Buddhist temples and stupas within Tibet. It was believed that before Buddhism could be successfully introduced into Tibet, the wild spirits within the region needed to be subdued. The building of Buddhist temples in the area served as both the symbolic and physical tethers binding the goddess of the region, limiting her powers. (5)

 

Many elaborate daggers depict three different faces on the pommel of the dagger. This particular Phurba dagger appears to show the deity, Vajrakilaya, a wrathful but powerful deity of Tibetan Buddhism. Vajrakilaya is the over thrower of obstacles. By meditating on the forces that work against the user, Vajrakilaya removes the interference to bliss, happiness, and enlightenment. This tantric practice was eventually absorbed into all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and the phurba dagger serves as the primary object of focus during the mediation process. (6) Unfortunately, the details about this ceremony and the phurba’s exact role have been hidden away. These teachings are left to the understanding of the most devout followers and their instructors.

vajkildorjezhonu

Figure 4. Depiction of Vajrakilaya as a ceremonial dagger.

Footnotes:

1. Ryan Hudson, “Phurba with Three Faces of Vajrakila Buddha,”  http://www.tibetanculture.weai.columbia.edu/phurba-with-three-faces/. (accessed August 16, 2017)

2. Georgette Meredith, “The “Phurbu”: The Use and Symbolism of the Tibetan Magic Dagger”, History of Religions 6, no. 3 (1967): 246.

3. Meredith, “The “Phurbu”, 240.

4. Meredith, “The Phurbu”, 246.

5. Janet Gyatso, “Down with the Demoness: Reflections on a Feminine Ground in Tibet”, The Tibet Journal 12, no.4 (1987): 41.

6. Robert Beer, The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs (Boston: Shambala Publishing, 1999), 246.

 

Additional Reading:

 

The Tibetan Book of the Dead. “Ceremonial Objects.” Virginia University. Last Modified 2017. Accessed August 16, 2017. https://www.lib.virginia.edu/exhibits/dead/ceremon.html

 

((Christina J. Naruszewicz))

Yam Mask by the Abelam People of Papua New Guinea

 

E_1972_4_3

Figure 1. Abelam Yam Mask, E/1974/04/003, Sam Noble Collection. Photo Courtesy of Sam Noble Museum of Natural History.

E/1972/04/003

Helmet Mask/ Yam Mask

Abelam

East Sepik, Papua New Guinea

Cane Reed, Natural Pigments

To say that yams play a large part of life for the Abelam people of Papua New Guinea would be an understatement. Yams play an integral part of connecting the Abelam people to their environment, community neighbors, and cultural celebrations. Not only does this crop serve as a food staple, the Abelam people observe a dedicated six month growing period for the tuber, with some yams measuring in at a whopping ten feet long!

yam-festival-at-kalabu-village

Figure 2: Abelam Community. Photo Credit Unknown.

 

yamlineb

Figure 3. A Yam mask using a modern halloween mask.    Photo courtesy: Art-pacific.com

Tending to their yam gardens and growing the largest tuber possible is the sole focus of the men during the growing season. The growing season for yams typically begins in August and ends in February. For the months that mark the growing season, all warfare and fighting is stopped. Hunting and the butchering of animals is stopped, and even sexual activity is suspended until the end of the growing season. This is because the Abelam believe that their giant yams are aware beings that “have a sort of extrasensory perception.” Richard Scaglion, an ethnologist who worked closely with the tribe in the 1970s described the Abelams view of yams saying:

“They (the yams) can “feel” things. They appreciate tranquility and can perceive social discord. Various other things deemed as “hot” activities upset their serenity. Yams can “sense” an act of sexual intercourse because it is “hot.” Fighting is “hot.” The killing and butchering of animals is also “hot” so there is a taboo against these activities while yams are growing.” (1)

The six months dedicated to the growing of yams allows the men of the tribe to pause from their rivalries and pour their energies into growing the largest yam possible. The man who grows the largest yam is seen has having the most power. Each man traditionally gifts his prized yam to his rival, who is expected to deliver an even bigger yam the next year or face humiliation.

yammaskb

Figure 4. Yams on display. Photo courtesy of art-pacific.com

Each community takes their turn displaying their yams proudly, a process which can take months of festivities. Each community demonstrates the fruits of their harvest, taking the largest yams and laying them vertically in long rows so that they can be viewed. Once the yams are ready for display they are decorated with a variety of colorful embellishments. These may include palms leaves, oranges, feathers, and shell money. However, the most important ornamentation is the yam mask itself, which is believed to imbue the yams with the spiritual power and knowledge of Abelam ancestors.

An Abelam “yam mask” ties together the importance of yams to Abelam cosmology and ancestry. Masks like the one seen in Figure 1 are created by the men of the tribe. This is done by stripping the pliable fibers from cane shoots. After carefully weaving the basket-like mask, natural paints and dyes are applied to the surface.  These days its possible to find variations from the traditional ornamentations. Moderns versions of the yam mask can include a variety of decorations. Labels repurposed from mackerel tins, as well as red and yellow cellophane “twisty ties” are now seen with some frequency in the decoration of yam masks.  Some even include store bought halloween masks, as seen in figure 3. Once the mask is completed, it is reused through many yam harvest celebrations.

yamlined

Figure 5. Yams on display. Photo courtesy of art-pacific.com

At the completion of the harvest festival, the masks are removed from their displays and hung in the eaves of their Abelam homes. Overtime, the burning hearths and fires within these dwellings darken the masks with soot. At the end of the growth season the men of the community remove these masks, carefully wash them and touch up the paint, returning the masks to their previous vibrancy.

This cyclical practice of re-using the masks in many ways mirrors the cyclical quality of the Abelam way of life. Through their devout focus on the growth and harvest cycle of the yams, they have also found a way to live in balance with their neighboring communities and the limited resources around them. By abstaining from sexual activity they control their population growth and guarantee new mothers a break from continuous pregnancies. By refraining from hunting and the butchering of animals they allow the wild pig populations around them to rebound and grow. By laying down weapons, they allow angers to cool. The best yams are allowed to sprout and are replanted, rooting not only next years crops, but each generation through a lineage of yam planting.

(Christina J. Naruszewicz)

 

1. Richard Scaglion. Abelam: Giant Yam and Cycles of Sex, Warfare and Ritual.  (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993), 11.

References:

  • Arte Magical. “Yam Masks and Baba Masks: Ritual Masks from Papua New-Guinea”,  http://www.artemagical.nl/masks
  • Carolyn Leigh and Ron Perry. “Abelam Yam Masks and Tops” http://www.art-pacific.com/artifiacts/nuguinea/yanmasko.html
  • Scaglion, Richard. Abelam: Giant Yams and Cycles of Sex, Warfare and Ritual. In Portraits of Culture: Ethnographic Originals. M. Ember and C. R. Ember (eds.), pp. 3-24. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1993

 

Photo Quiz!

Take a close look at this picture and then vote on what you think it is!

Take a close look at this picture and then vote on what you think it is!

Stay tuned….we’ll post the answer in one week, on April 5th!

In the meantime, take a look at some of the cool new things in the Ethnology Department!

[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.

Archives

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,680 other followers


%d bloggers like this: