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1And now for an impressive collection from Central Asia, related to the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. These items originate from Sven Hedin’s last big expedition in the 1930’s. Many items were in fact collected by other members of the expedition, for example by Gösta Montell, an ethnographer who was related to the Museum of Ethnography. In Tibetan Buddhism many of the ceremonies and texts are to do with boddhisattvas. A bodisattva is an enlightened creature who has not yet entered nirvana. Instead it has chosen to help others reach enlightenment. One of the most important is Manjushri, the bodisattva of wisdom, presented to us here as an impressive sculpture made of copper gilt.Among the attributes of Manjushri is the sword that will cut the veil of ignorance, the veil that conceals the true reality. To the left of the Manjushri sculpture are piles of books with Tibetan texts. The books are not bound; the sheets of paper are kept together by wooden covers. A lotus stalk is growing from the left hand Manjushri’s left hand, and a similar book rests in the flower head of the lotus. This is the Buddhist sutra Prajna Paramita, the fulfillment of wisdom. This tour through the Storage rooms exhibition has helped us remove part of the veil which normally conceals so many items in our collections. Please continue to marvel and feel amazed at the collections and don’t forget to do some further research in our digital archives!
1Combs that have been pulled through hair on the heads of many people. Combs that have removed pests and parasites, or have decorated elaborate hairdos. Combs made of bone, wood and plastic. The oldest comb in the showcase is made of tortoise shell and arrived in the collections 1799 through Anders Sparrman who was one of Linnaeus’s pupils. Human hair is the conveyor of a lot of symbols and implications. Sometimes the hair is supposed to be totally covered, whereas sometimes it is let free or it is pruned into strict coiffures. Sometimes the hair is shaved off, as a punishment or to mark the introduction in a new community. The comb is an intimate and personal item. However, these combs are arranged to form a pattern that is almost abstract in character. Still, in spite of all these variations, an original shape remains to remind us of the comb’s function to get rid of tousles, to make culture out of nature. Continue to showcase Q04.
1Favourites. Nearly all collectors have their favorites. Things you fancy the most. The figures in this showcase are some of the museum’s favorites. They come from Papua New Guinea. These lovely sculptures are made to celebrate and remember someone who has died. The eyes of the figures look very real, maybe even a little scary. They are made from a special kind of seashell. Hopefully you too will find some favorite thing in the exhibition. We invited some children to choose among the objects. In the next room you can have a look at their choice. That is, if you dare to enter!
1Ganesha is one of the most popular Hindu gods. He is the beginning of everything and he removes all obstacles for happiness and success. There are many variations to the story of how he got his elephant’s head. One of them tells about how Ganesha was create as Parvati, his mother, was sweating out a saffron dough from her body. She used the dough to form a small boy. His first task was to guard the door to Parvati’s bath house. When Parvati’s husband Shiva who was a very strong god came home, he cut off the head of somebody he took for an intruder – small Ganesha. When he discovered his mistake, he replaced the damaged head with an elephant’s head and made Ganesha the god of the beginning of all things. Ganesha is often depicted accompanied by a rat. One of his tusks is broken off and it is said that Ganesha had used it to write down the Mahabaratha, a long epic poem. End your tour at the big textile showcase C.
1Go past display D to display C. In the left-hand side of the display hang three women's shirts from the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia (items 2, 10, & 11). They are made from the inner bark, tapa, of the paper mulberry tree. The shirts are produced through several labour-intensive stages. The bark is cut from the tree, carried home, boiled, rinsed, and fermented. Then it's beaten for several days into a cohesive whole. A tuned ear can hear at what point in the process the cloth is at, through the rhythm of the beating, and if several people are working together, a noisy concert can occur. Finally the cloth is plant-dyed and geometric patterns are created. Bark cloth has long played an important role in Indonesia. People have used it to clothe both their homes and themselves. It's been used for everyday and special occasions, and people have wrapped their dead in it. Like the rest of the world, Indonesia is a constantly changing story of the islanders' contact with Europe and with contemporary Western popular culture. Nowadays cotton and other textiles are used for most garment manufacturing. But you can still hear, in the villages, the rhythmic sound of the bark cloth being made.
1Here is a turquoise-coloured Chinese umbrella made from plastic (item 4). It's cheap to buy, easy to carry, and dries quickly in Beijing's prevailing climate. The plastic umbrella has replaced the heavy and fragile oil-skin umbrella. Umbrellas were already in use in prehistoric China but then they were reserved for people of standing, and were a clear sign of high status. In 400-500 AD, umbrellas were dressed with oiled paper to make them water repellent. In Europe, umbrellas began to be used in the 16th century. People still mostly used cloaks to keep the rain out, or beaver hats. With their large brim and the beaver's water repellent fur, they were an effective rain shield. Around the second half of the 18th century, the genius of the umbrella was suddenly understood, and its popularity quickly spread. They began to look like they do now – collapsible with a steel frame. The previous models were made of wood but these proved very difficult to fold up when it had rained.
1Leopard mask in display V03 comes from the Twa pygmies in Rwanda (item 2). It consists of a rectangular piece of bark with black spots painted over the whole surface, and with two cut-out holes for the eyes. It has probably been used for initiation ceremonies when boys became men. The leopard is a seemingly inexhaustible source of inspiration. On the African continent, the wild cat has principally symbolized political power, magical power, and secret knowledge. In Western fashion, the leopard pattern has represented the wild and exotic. In Europe, there were reports in the 1930s of “leopard men” or a “murder society,” which was thought to to attack, kill, and eat innocents. The same stories are told over and over again – of the African as the opposite of the white man: wild, wicked, and with unbridled sexuality. Perhaps this particular leopard mask was sold as a tourist souvenir, with the unspoken selling point of the leopard mask's unpredictability and unbridled power. It is in any case clear that the mask wasn't used by any secret “murder society.”
1Look at all these weapons. There are still many, many more in the museum – mostly arrows and spears of all kinds. There are fish arrows, bird arrows, war arrows and big game arrows. Some are very beautiful with their patterns and feathers, whereas others are quite simple. Why is that? Some of the spears are not sharp at the ends, but blunt. Why – have a guess! It’s really clever thinking: if you are hunting to get a fur skin for clothing you would not want holes in the skin! Same thing if you need nice feathers for a feather headdress: you go hunting with a blunt arrow. When the bird is hit in the head by a blunt arrow, it will become dizzy and fall to the ground. Then you just pick out a few feathers and after the bird has rested for a while it can just fly away. Smart, isn’t it? Some arrows have poisoned ends. If you work in the storage rooms you must be careful when handling them. Look if you can find the poisoned arrows in the showcase! Continue to showcase B22.
1Please continue to showcase V, where we have gathered objects representing leopards and jaguars (or made from them). Leopards live in Africa, whereas jaguars are to be found in Central and South America. These big cats, with their beautiful fur and supple bodies are surrounded by myth, they are admired and feared. Leopards and jaguars are often associated with power and strength, secular or spiritual. Their fur, claws and teeth have been used in clothes and jewelry. In the fashion world the leopard pattern is an evergreen, symbolizing all from expensive exotism to cheap tackiness. Kerstin Thorvall, the author, once wrote: “Sooner or later you reach that fatal age when the leopard pattern becomes a temptation you cannot resist.” A legend from the Zulu people in southern Africa tells about a leopard that killed and ate Khanka, a chief who didn’t try hard enough to defend his people against the British. After that, the leopard slept with Nalleti, the chief’s daughter. After some time she gave birth to Ingwe, the leopard king. Ingwe grew up and became a man with the strength, the suppleness and the wild temperament of a leopard. He was feared by Brits and Boers alike. The jaguar, the leopard’s American cousin, is attributed with the same qualities as the leopard; power, secular and spiritual strength. In the showcase to the far lower left you see an Olmec werejaguar made of green magnesium. A werejaguar is half human and half jaguar (cf. werewolf). The Olmecs, Zapotecs, Mayans and other Meso-American Indian peoples associated jaguars with the underworld, with water, caves and shamanism and also with the sun. The sovereigns often adorned themselves with jaguar fur. Turn around the corner and crawl into room X.
1Porcelain pieces can be expensive collector’s items and decorative ornaments. Here you find a small Turkish cup with decoration of a blue rooster. The cups from Eritrea with their simple reddish-brown decoration are of the same size and shape. Chinese platters are to be found here, for the serving of meat, sweets and “various dishes”. What we eat and what we don’t eat is one way of expressing our identity and to classify our existence. Do you eat koscher or halal food? Are you a vegan or a meat eater? The way the tables are laid and the table manners tell about every-day life and celebrations, traditions and the feeling of home. But surely there’s something missing in the bowls, cups and spoons? Imagine the tastes of spices and sauces, sake wine in the bottles and rice in the bowls. The aroma of strong coffee in the small cups. Continue to showcase K03.
1The apparently insignificant red, cloth loops in the box (items 1, 2, & 13) were worn by priests in the Khaki movement in Congo. They are epaulettes, shoulder pieces, that show rank and dignity. They are the membership symbols of a religious movement that is both African and European, modern and traditional, Christian and non-Christian at the same time. Red is the colour of power, blood, and freedom, but also of passion, desire, and love. The colour conveys a message about a society's structure and its values. In the political world, red is the colour of socialism; and in the Protestant church, red symbolizes the Holy Spirit. At the end of the 1800s, the textile dye Congo red was launched in Germany. The name was a clever move. It evoked exotic images of the distant “dark continent.” At the same time, discussions on the colonization of the Congo were being held, later to be acted on as well; Congo rubine, Congo corinth, brilliant Congo, Congo orange, Congo brown, and Congo blue.
1The bracelet (item 2) has been worn by a man in Asmat, Indonesia as a reminder of a deceased relative. The bracelet is made of rattan, seed, and the relative's hair. This is an unusual artefact from Asmat, but it was more common on other islands in the Pacific. Men in grief let their hair grow, to then cut it off and braid mementoes from it. The head was considered the most charged part of the body, since a person's power was largely concentrated in the head and hair. In many parts of the world, hair symbolises beauty and life. Hair has an amazing capacity to withstand time and can be preserved for thousands of years. In every age, people have also used hair to make jewellery. The myth that hair continues to grow after death strengthens ideas of hair's immortality and the body's eternal life.
1The fact that people in the Amazon have been shaped by sharing their world with plants, animals, and the spirit world is illustrated by these ear ornaments (items 20, 21, 27). They are made of feathers and shimmering green beetle skulls, which reflect the light and rattle beautifully when you move. The ear ornaments originally come from the Shuar indigenous people who live in the tropical rainforest between Ecuador and Peru. Perhaps they have been used in ceremonies where, through contact with the spirit world, help is sought to heal people and restore the balance of nature. Featherwork is sensitive and difficult to preserve in a museum storeroom. It is sensitive to both light and insect attack. Even so, in the display the feathers get along fine with the beetle skulls, and we can enjoy their colourful display.
1The hard, scaled skin that once protected the New Guinea crocodile has been reshaped into a strong shield, body armor for a human being. It originates from the surrounding area of the Sepik River in Papua-New Guinea. Now the shield, in its turn, is protected from our hands by the thick glass walls of the showcase. A creation myth from the Sepik area tells us about the long march of the crocodiles: in the beginning there was nothing but water, but when the large crocodile opened its mouth, heaven was created from its upper jaw and earth from its lower jaw. The first human beings followed the trace of the crocodiles from the village of Gaikorobi. As they wandered along these crocodile traces the humans settled and created villages. Feces and scraps from food left behind became the origin of the water spirits. And because they once followed the crocodiles, people nowadays are living in many places along the river. Continue to showcase D 2
1There was a time, not very long ago, when people didn’t travel much, and there was no TV or Internet. Imagine the thrill it must have been to enter the museum and see things you had never seen before. Today you might find those things in an ordinary shop where you live, or you might travel and discover them by yourself. Here you see a lot of things that were collected in China over a hundred years ago. There are jars with various contents. Do you recognize any of the contents? Continue to showcase A.
1These little cloths might not look very special, but stop and study the subjects of the embroideries! They are gifts from the Pentecostal Mission and they tell about the horrible reality of women in the Buvako region in the north eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of the cloths shows how it’s necessary for a woman to have eight arms to be able to perform all her everyday tasks. On another cloth you can see a man being abused and possibly killed by soldiers in front of his family. The women who made these embroideries are often single providers for large families. On one cloth you see a woman carrying an infant on her back and three more children are surrounding her: one of them is starving, one is ill and in front of them, on the ground, a dead child is lying. The same hands that made these stitches have been soothing children, carried heavy burdens and resisted brutal sexual abuse. Depicting your reality in embroidery can sometimes be easier than to speak about it. The aim of the donation from the Pentecostal mission was to bring these embroideries in the open to a large Swedish audience, in order to spread knowledge about the civil war and the present situation in the Congo. One reason behind the civil war is the struggle about valuable natural resources, a struggle with a severe impact on the civilian population. Continue to showcase H.
1They are medicines from Kashgar in Chinese East Turkestan, collected by the missionary Lars Erik Högberg in order to be exhibited in the Museum of Ethnography in 1907. This is what he writes about these medicines: “The first task of a Kashgar doctor is to determine the patient’s elements. This is done by feeling the pulse, observing the tongue, the color of the skin, and the urine. In most cases, the disease is caused by the patient having consumed cold nutrition instead of hot, or the other way round. When the patient’s elements and the cause of the disease have been explained, the doctor decides on what medicine to use – wet-hot, dry-hot, wet-cold or dry-cold – and if it should be of the first, second or third degree, according to the nature of the disease.” The bundles are telling us about something we all do: we arrange, classify and give names to our reality, in order better to understand it and cope with it. There is Uigurian writing on the medicine bundles, indicating how the medicines are to be used. For example, you find here a wet-hot medicine that will reinforce your heart, lungs, brain and memory. Högberg himself in his turn has numbered the bundles in red and black ink, in order to keep his collection in order. When the medicines arrived in the museum, every little bundle was given an item number, visible on the bundle itself in microscopic digits and also on the attached label. The medicines have been arranged according to various classification systems over the years. Here and now, however, the system is built on the item numbers. Continue to showcase E13
1This is a fine example of an okimono, a Japanese adornment. The crab is very realistically rendered. If we could take it out and feel it, we would discover that its joints are movable. In periods of peace when there was not such a demand for weapons, the sword makers would show off by making okimono objects. By this, they were demonstrating their skill and ability about how to use the materials. There is a Japanese legend about the battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185, when the Heikei Empire was defeated by the Genji clan. The leader of the Heikei clan was just nine years old, and when he realized that the battle was lost he threw himself into the sea. His loyal samurai warriors followed him down into the abyss, and according to the legend their drowning souls were turned into crabs.
1Tooth guessing. All over the world and in all times people have loved primping and preening. We make jewelry and other things out of miscellaneous materials like, for instance, teeth. Pull out the drawer and have a guess! Whose are the teeth? Continue to showcase N.
1To the lower left you see an embroidered blouse from Mexico, called huipil. Between two embroidered cockerels there is a third bird, placed above a cactus plant. This motive is related to the Aztec legend about how their capital, Tenochtitlan, was founded. According to a prophecy, the Aztecs were to build their city where they could see an eagle sitting on a cactus. Their journeys took them to an island where that prophetic sign was shown to them. On that island they built Tenochtitlan, their powerful city with palaces, pyramids and channels. In 1519 the Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortez arrived there, and met the Aztec sovereign, Montezuma. Today, after many dramatic incidents that city is called Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. On the wings of the eagle we now leave the animals in the Storage room Menagerie.
1To the right you can see a big black bird’s mask, called Bek bek kwaluusa. It is from the Canadian West Coast, from the kwakiutl Indians who live there. It’s difficult to dance with this mask because it’s heavy. To be able to wear it, you will need many ropes, some of them around your body. The lower part of the beak is movable, so that the beak can clatter in the dance. The mask originally belonged to Hamatsa, a society of cannibal dancers. There is a myth telling about the cannibal spirit Bakhbakwalanooksiwey who lives at the northern end of the world. A vey long time age a forefather met this spirit and became obsessed with it. Later he founded a secret society into which Kwakiutl Indians from selected families could be members. Only those who are members have the right to wear such masks. Among the Kwakiutl Indians, it improves your status even today to know about the rituals and be acquainted with the songs and the dances.
1Travelling around the world. Almost 130 years ago a Swedish expedition travelled around the world with a sailing ship, the Vanadis. The journey took 3 years and many places and peoples were visited. During this journey things were collected that were to end up in the museum. Here are some of them. Have you any idea where these things come from? Continue to showcase G and the photograph of several trees.
1Travelling around the world with the Vanadis ship was a photographer called Oscar. This is one of the photos he took. The art of photography was quite new and various methods were tested. You often hear that there have been more than one thousand ways of taking photos. Oscar took his photos using glass negatives that were bought from a factory. This was really modern. Before, you would have had to cut out the glass pieces yourself and smear them with a film, often containing silver. Silver is sensitive to light. You can see that on old silver jewelry and cutlery. They will get black over time unless you keep them in a dark box or a drawer. It was precisely that blackness which helped creating a picture. To buy ready-made glass negatives was much simpler, but they were heavy and very fragile. Imagine all they must have been carrying around and how important it must have been to make up one’s mind on what to take pictures of. This is a photo of Indian trees with huge tangling roots.How many people can you see in the photo? Continue to showcase K and pull out drawer K05.
1Turn right and you will see lots of objects from one of the expeditions of Sven Hedin. The two-humped camels of China, by many associated with the adventures of Sven Hedin, are well adapted to the extreme climate in the Taklamakan desert. That is where one of the most famous expeditions went, in the 1890’s. However, not even the camels could cope with Sven Hedin’s pace and seven of them died from thirst and exhaustion. Down on the floor is a somewhat tired-looking camel. It’s carrying a burden which is quite different from provisions or measuring instruments; on its back sits the horrifying Hemantadevi, the goddess of winter. In one hand she holds a sword and in the other a skull, filled with blood. Over her shoulders she is wearing the hide of a flayed demon. Next to the camel is a sculpture of the goddess Sharad Devi, riding a deer. Together with the goddesses of spring and summer they are the followers of Shri Devi, a goddess sitting on a red mule, to be seen on the upper shelf. She protects the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan town of Lhasa.
1What’s this supposed to be? Among all the neatly classified items there is a drawer full of grimy rags, tangled together, some of them with traces of human hair and skin. The label tells us they are “burial finds from Peru”. So these rags, today disheveled in a drawer, once were carefully buried with human bodies in Ancón on the Peruvian coast. The Swedish Vanadis expedition arrived in Ancón in the 1880’s, but these textiles are much older. The Vanadis expedition also brought mummies and craniums from this burial area. Today there is an ongoing discussion about how to handle human remains in museum collections. We don’t know how the people in the graves once imagined life after death. However, the textiles from the graves were part of a conception of the world where the living and the dead held their specific positions. Continue to showcase P12.