Posts Tagged 'ethnology'

Object: Lion’s Mane Headdress

Object: Lion’s Mane Headdress

E/1975/5/001

Lion’s Mane Headdress

Oromo

Ethiopia

1960s-1970s

Lion skin and mane, red cotton fabric

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E/1975/5/001 Lion Mane Headdress in the Sam Noble Ethnology Collection

 

This striking artifact comes from Ethiopia. On first glance you might think you are looking at a glamorously highlighted wig. However, looks can be deceiving. This headdress is actually created by using the scalp and mane of a lion. Due to the declining lion population in Ethiopia, headdresses made from lion manes are rarely, if ever, created in modern times. Today, fur from other animals are used, such as horse hair. Headdresses made from animal furs or plant fibers are worn by many Ethiopian ethnic groups. It is possible that this style of ornamentation was inspired by or traded between varying tribes in the region. However, this headdress is likely attributed to the Omoro people, specifically the Shoa Oromo.oromodia

The Omoro is the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, making up a population of roughly 30 million. This area is largely supported by an agricultural economy with coffee and spices being the largest exported goods. In this regard, many aspects of labor in the region are unchanged from earlier centuries. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the cultural integrity of the Oromo people. Between 1870 and 1900, a colonization of the region subjected the Oromo people to cruelty and genocide. These cultural clashes continue in some areas today, where even celebratory gatherings can turn to violence.

 

Still, despite these struggles the Oromo people have continued to work to protect and preserve cultural traditions. As the tourism industry grows in the area, many Oromo people have found both an economic and cultural outlet by entertaining tourist groups with traditional song, art, and dance. Traditional Ethiopian dance or “eskista” is performed by both men and women. Eskista dancers generally form rows or line up in groups and actively engage everyone in the room with their shoulders shakes and shimmies. Eskista dances can consist of a single dancer or a large group of both men and women together. Traditionally, different kinds of eskistas tell different stories or teach a myriad of life lessons. Each tribal or ethnic group has their own variation of movement and regalia.

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A children’s illustration highlights the traditional dance attire worn during the Shoa Omoro dance.

Eskista translates roughly to mean “dancing shoulders” in Amharic. This perfectly describes the traditional dance style of the Shoa Oromo which includes rapid shoulder , head bouncing, and the flipping of hair. Traditionally, the male performers don a lion headdress. Male performers usually wear light colored fabric and carry a stick.  Traditionally, the female performers wear a brown two-piece dress with fringe or shell decoration. While dancing, they use their full-bodied hair to enhance their dance movements.

Check out this Shoa Oromo dance below with a traditionally styled headdress on the male performer. This dance makes me smile!

 

 

 

 

Sources and Additional Reading

 

http://www.gadaa.com/aboutOromo.html

http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/02/africa/lost-lion-population-discovered-ethiopia/index.html

http://www.allaroundthisworld.com/learn/africa-2/ethiopia-for-kids/ethiopia-eskista/#.Wfd8flynFns

http://saba.air-nifty.com/mocha_ethiopia_dance_e/introducing-ethiopian-fol.html

https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/09/19/fuel-fire/security-force-response-2016-irreecha-cultural-festival

 

((Christina J. Naruszewicz))

Object: Roman Double-Sided Comb

Accession Number: C/1948/6/001

Object: Double-Sided Comb

Culture: Roman

Date: 30 BC-641

Materials: Boxwood

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Figure 1. Roman Comb from the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. C/1948/6/001.

This week’s object is a double-sided comb from Egypt, near Luxor. Although this artifact was excavated from Egypt, it is identified as Roman due to the Roman occupation of Egypt between 30 BC-641 AD.  This means the age of the comb is somewhere around 1,400-2,000 years old! Although combs of this style are seen through multiple centuries, we can determine that this comb is Roman due to it’s location, approximate age, and the material its carved from: boxwood.

Boxwood is one of many materials used to create double-sided combs. Combs made from ivory or bone are also common. However, boxwood was the cheapest of these and was used almost exclusively to create the Roman army’s standard-issued combs for their soldiers. (1) Three combs made from boxwood uncovered in the “Cave of the Pool”, near the Dead Sea are believed to have come from the early Roman period. (2) These combs bear a striking resemblance in shape, design, and material to the collection’s comb. It’s very possible that the collection’s comb belonged to a soldier in the Roman army.

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Figure 2.  Original illustration by Brian Delf.

Now you may be wondering, why did the Roman army issue a double-sided comb to their soldiers as part of their standard gear? The answer has less to do with making sure their soldiers looked their best, and more to do with making sure their soldiers itched a lot less! Living in cramped conditions with your platoon, with few opportunities to bathe or shave, left many of the Roman soldiers susceptible to head lice. The fine toothed side of the comb was meant to catch and remove adult lice and eggs, while the broader toothed comb was meant to tidy the hair and remove tangles.

Unfortunately, Lice have been piggy-backing on humanity’s migration across the world  for thousands of years. In fact, during the excavation of a cave site in Israel, tests performed on hair samples from an individual who died there found remnants of lice and their eggs dating back 9,000 years! (2)

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Figure 3.  Double-sided Combs carried on much later than the Roman Period. “Allegory of Vanity” by Jan Miense Molenaer, 1633.

While lice combs have proven to be a tried and true method, more creative remedies have been used. The practice of shaving the head and body hair to prevent infestation was common. This method was popular with the Egyptian elite who used elaborate wigs and powders to stay stylish and louse-free. However, other methods included mixing cresol powder, sulfur, mercury powder, and even kerosene into a salve that would be spread on the hair or body. (2)

While these methods may have offered temporary relief, the results of these caustic concoctions could create more problems than the lice themselves! For this reason the most popular method for lice removal during the last 3,500 years has been maintenance through a fine toothed comb. Many varieties of lice combs can be found throughout the world. In fact, head lice have been so closely tied to our ancestors lives that by the 15th century giving a lice comb was considered to be quite the romantic gift! (3)

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Figure 4. 15th Century French Double-Sided Comb. The reverse reads “Pour Bien” meaning ” for your comfort”. This lice comb was probably a gift between sweet hearts.

So next time you have an itch, be thankful you’re not getting a lice comb for Valentines Day!

((Christina J. Naruszewicz))

Sources:

1- Dowdle, Elizabeth. “Archaeology of Daily Life: Double-sided Comb”, John Hopkins Archaeological Museum, accessed Oct 9, 2017, http://archaeologicalmuseum.jhu.edu/the-collection/object-stories/archaeology-of-daily-life/female-beauty/double-sided-comb

2- Mumcuoglu, Kosta Y., and Gideon Hadas, “Remains in a Louse Comb from the Roman Period Excavated in the Dead Sea Region”, Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 61, no. 2 (2011), 223-229

3- Morton, Ella. “Some of History’s Most Beautiful Combs Were Made for Lice Removal”, Atlas Obscura, June 21, 2016, accessed Oct 9, 2017. http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/some-of-historys-most-beautiful-combs-were-made-for-lice-removal

 

Carved Horn Bugle from the American West

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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)

 

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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

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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.

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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

 

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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!

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Figure 2: Abelam Community. Photo Credit Unknown.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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