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Carlotta - the museum database

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1Animals of various sorts feature prominently in mythological stories and creation myths in many cultures across the world. Specific animals, such as birds, crocodiles, turtles and sharks were believed to be living embodiments of spirits or ancestors and served as totemic symbols for various clans and, as such, were taboo for hunting or eating. It was believed that through undertaking the correct rituals, in the form of offerings, dance, songs or spoken incantations, an animal spirit could act on behalf of humans, enabling them to achieve things such as success in war or on a hunt, or to communicate with ancestral deities who could bestow benefits upon their descendants. For example, in the Sepik region of New Guinea, cassowary birds were believed by several groups to have been the creators of the world and human beings. All cassowaries, both in physical and spiritual form, were believed to be female. As dangerous and aggressive birds, their image and body parts (bones) were frequently appropriated by warriors wishing to obtain some of their power and aggressiveness.
1Archery was a part of warfare in East Asia, like the world over. Unsurprisingly, feathers were used to stabilise the flight of arrows after they have been shot from bows.
1Arrows are, together with bows, perhaps the most important weapon used throughout North America before the arrival of the Europeans. While points of stone, bone, horn, ivory, or wood were later replaced by those made of metal, the wooden shaft and attached feathers did not change much over time. Apart from being used for hunt and war, arrows are also used in games. Toy bows and arrows develop the boy´s skills. Other games are played by kids and adults. Like one where arrows have to be shot through the center of a rolling hoop.
1Aside from including them on ceremonial costume, vibrant and lustrous feathers were also added to peoples clothing or hair simply for their beauty. Valued for their feathers and image, birds are also appreciated for their songs. Either in the wild or kept as pets, the audible and sensory joy of bird song is cherished across the world.
1As many birds were associated with mythologies or served as totemic symbols for clans, feathers from and images of those birds were used on a variety of objects. Through combining these images/materials with ritual incantations and deeds, such objects were rendered sacred. Similarly, the colour of feathers was important. Red and yellow feathers in parts of Polynesia were considered sacred and were used on objects associated with ritual, gods and chiefly rule.
1As visual markers for outstanding individuals, feathers are of central importance for war and hunting. For example in the form of the well-known eagle feather bonnets. But also to simply make arrows fly straight.
1Bags to transport the smoking equipment of Native American men were in common use from at least the second half of the 19th century on. Often highly decorated with glass beads and porcupine quillwork, decorative features can also encompass feathers. This example makes use of dyed chicken feathers, probably acquired from white traders. Imported feathers of non-endemic birds were in use from at least the 18th century on.
1Bird mythology and symbolism is rich in East Asia. Amongst the earliest animal symbolism in China include the vermillion bird that represented South and is also related to cosmology. Early ideas of immortals associated them with feathered beings called yuren (feathered people). Later in Chinese history, symbolism came from homonyms of the names of birds – where the name of the bird sounds like an auspicious word, such as happiness or bravery. Birds may also have been symbolic due to their characteristics. For instance, mandarin ducks mate for life and are depicted as pairs in Chinese and Korean iconography as a symbol of marital fidelity. Many of the bird symbolisms from China were adopted in Korea, where Chinese culture was an important influence for much of its history. However, there are practices in Korea relating to bird symbolism that are not found in China, such as wood carvings of ducks representing marital fidelity that are used in Korean weddings. Effigies of ducks or other birds elevated on poles of columns, called sotdae, were also sometimes placed near the entrance of a village to ward off negative spirits and to carry the prayers of people to the spirit world. Unfortunately, this type of Korean material is not represented in the collections of the Museums of World Culture.
1Birds play a prominent role in indigenous American belief systems. From the far north, where raven teaches humans what is right and what wrong, to the eagle, showing the Aztecs where to build their capital, Tenochtitlan. Hummingbirds, migrating north to Alaska in summer and south to Central America in winter, are mythical ancestors of the members of the hummingbird clan on the Northwest Coast. The aggressive hummingbird is also associated with Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec war god.
1Carefully trimmed black and iridescent feathers have been used to decorate this taumi, a breastplate or gorget that was worn by high ranking chiefs and warriors in eighteenth century Society Islands. Taumi were worn in pairs, one on the chest and one on the back. Worn in this fashion, they visually give the impression of the head of the wearer emerging from the jaws of a shark. Ritually significant, taumi combine valuable materials from multiple domains – the land, the sea, the sky.
1Cassowaries are large, flightless birds native to New Guinea and northern Australia. They are elusive creatures, generally avoiding human contact, but are notoriously aggressive and dangerous when provoked. These are traits which made them appealing to warriors. However, a duality exists within cassowaries as both the male and female bird incubate their eggs and males also care for their young hatchlings. As such, cassowaries are considered to embody both male and female characteristics. For several New Guinea cultures all cassowaries, regardless of actual gender, are considered female. Many New Guinea societies fashioned daggers from sharpened cassowary leg bones and, occasionally, human bone. The strength and aggression of the bird was metaphorically channelled into these weapons which were used in combat to stab enemies at close quarters. Prestigious yet deadly, daggers connected warriors with mythological and ancestral power. They could also be used during male initiation ceremonies and to ritually kill pigs. Decoration of cassowary daggers varied greatly. Some were left plain while others were embellished with incised patterns and motifs. Colourful seeds, glass beads, or tassels of cassowary feathers were also attached to a type of net construction that covered the joint section of the bone.
1Certain birds are connected to certain qualities attributed to them. The smart raven, the wise and powerfull eagle, or the woodpecker, a fierce warrior. In objects made of or adorned with feathers the material can stand pars-pro-toto for these qualities. Among certain Plains groups, war deeds are represented by eagle feathers and with every new battle fought, a new feather is added. In ancient Mexico feathers of rare birds traded over long distances have been the right of the nobility to wear, like the splendid quetzal feather headdress now kept in the World Museum in Vienna, Austria.
1Colourful and beautiful, feathers from multiple species were used to decorate the human body. Plumage, tails, and occasionally even bird beaks were combined with other materials to create dazzling headdresses and costumes that physically enhance and accentuate the aesthetics and symbolism of the wearer. Dance was, and continues to be, a prominent socially unifying activity within Melanesia.
1Dhari are a crested headdress that were worn by men during warfare or ceremonial dances. Made of a framework constructed from cane and coconut fibre string, dhari were decorated with feathers from various birds, including frigate birds, Torres Strait pigeons and cassowaries. Today, other materials can be used to decorate the headdresses. While the basic shape of dhari is the same across the Torres Strait islands, some regional variation in terms of design and decoration. This ubiquity of dhari in Torres Strait Islands culture and society has led to them becoming an emblem of national identity and they feature on the Torres Strait Islands flag.
1Diadem of brass with beads and blue kingfisher feathers.
1Eagle feather bonnets are among the best-known objects representing Native American culture today. Diferent types of theses exist. They originated probably in the Plains and Great Lakes area and became known to a european and euro-american audience during the 19th century and within a few decades turned into an integral part of the stereotypical image of "the" Native American.
1FEATHER BRUSH, Japan ACQUISITION NUMBER: 1887.08.3156 MATERIAL: Feather, maize leave HEIGHT (CM): 24 WIDTH (CM): Ca 16,5 This type of feather brush is used in the tea ceremony. When the kettle is removed from the sunken fire pit, the wooden rim of the fire pit is ritually cleaned with this feather brush before beginning to re-arrange and add more charcoal to the fire. After charcoal and incense have been added, again the rim will be cleaned to make sure there is no ash nor other dust left behind. Two kinds of feather brushes are used. In winter the left side of the feather is wider than the right side. The haboki used in summer is wider on the right side. Feathers of an eagle and a crane are most commonly used.
1Feather Duster 雞毛撣 In our endeavor to keep dust from gathering, humans around the world have gravitated towards dusters made from feathers as the tool of choice. In China, chicken feathers are most often used in the construction of dusters due to their abundance.
1Feather headdresses from the Caribbean are extremely rare. In 1800 Samuel af Ugglas donated this piece to the Royal Academy of Sciences. He mentioned that his grandfather´s grandfather brought it back from the Caribbean, dating it possibly around 1700. A very similar headdress can be seen in a print from the first half of the 19th century depicting a ceremony of the Waiwai in Guyana. The Waiwai live in the Guayanas and Trinidad.
1Feathers, plumes and skins were utilized in a wide range of objects. Elaborate carved and painted headdresses and masks bearing bird imagery and those decorated with vibrant feathers and plumes created glorious displays of colour, capturing the dynamic movement of birds in flight or engaged in courtship displays when danced. The skins of brightly coloured birds were also used in headdresses and as neck ornaments. Feathers were also used to decorate everyday objects such as fans.
1Feathers (hulu manu) were one of the most prized belongings for Hawaiians. Featherwork objects such as cloaks, capes, helmets, standards and god images were among the most precious and high ranking of objects made and used by Hawaiians. They were made for, used or worn only by the ali‘i (chiefs and nobility). Royal featherwork embodied the connection of the ali‘i to the gods, to the mountain forests where the native birds came from and materialised their ownership and control over this domain and its precious resources. Featherwork of the highest standard is exemplified in Hawaiian material culture. The feathers themselves were considered sacred and only the ali’i (chiefs and nobility) had access to them. As such, they were a very precious resource. Their colour, red and yellow, was also considered sacred in Hawai’i. Specialist hunters caught the birds and plucked their feathers. Depending on the number of feathers taken from each bird, some were released while those from whom many feathers were taken were killed. Several species of birds whose feathers were used are now extinct. This includes birds such as the ‘ō‘ō and mamo, from whom yellow and black feathers were obtained. Scarlet feathers came from the ‘i‘iwi bird, a species that is now endangered. Feather capes and cloaks are called ‘ahu ‘ula in Hawai’i. They required tens of thousands of feathers in their construction and it could take several years to acquire the number of feathers required. Worn only the ali’i, they were also gifted to high ranking visitors to the Hawaiian Islands or were presented as gifts when Hawaiians went overseas. For Hawaiians, feather objects such as these are imbued with mana (spiritual power) and genealogical connections to both past and present.
1Feathers and birds can be visual markers of rank and status within a society. These markers are sometimes universal to whole areas - like the eagle feather bonnets. The use of feathers and also the transfer of rights to use them can be limited and it needs experts to take care of them.
1Feathers and representations of birds renowned for their aggression or abilities as hunters appeared frequently on weapons and battledress. They acted as visible proof a warrior’s prowess and success in previous combat. This imagery further channelled those aggressive qualities into the weapons or tools used by warriors and hunters. Prominent in Melanesian (Oceania) material culture are objects that feature frigate bird imagery. Frigates, also known as the Man-of-War, are predatory birds that catch fish near the water surface; they also attack other fishing birds to steal their catch. Fishermen often follow frigate birds to locate schools of fish, particularly bonito (a type of tuna). In the Solomon Islands, representations of frigate birds or their feathers frequently appear on objects associated with fishing, feasting and warfare.
1Feathers are not only used as precious decoration of adornment and use objects. Native Californians used the red and black scalps of woodpeckers as a form of currency. These were also added to headdresses.
1Feathers are until today an essential part of the dance outfits worn by the indigenous groups of North America. They differ in style from region to region. Among the groups of the Plains, circular feather bustles worn on the back have become very popular. The photo shows three dancers at this year´s 4th of July Pow Wow on the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota. Additionally, the roaches, headdresses made of deer hair and decorated with glass beads, are also adorned with feathers.
1Feathers found use in different ways, sometimes even whole bird skins were used. Like for so-called "Brazilian fans", produced in the area of the Great Lakes of North America, where down-feather fans with birchbark handle were decorated with small, sometimes tropical birds.
1Feathers never stopped to be important in traditional and modern rituals and dances. Just the way they are used sometimes changed. And the birds that provide the feathers - due to laws concerning endangered species that limit accessibility. Eagle feathers are one example. But no rule is without exception: to ensure the freedom of Native American spiritual life, the strict laws concerning eagle feathers in the USA make exceptions for members of Native American tribes.
1Fish skin is a quite strong and durable material. In Eastern Siberia, mostly salmon and carp skins were used. This coat from the Amur River region is made of salmon skin and shows a decoration of plant and bird designs. The birds depicted are cocks. Though introduced to the Amur region in eastern Siberia only around 1900 via China and Russia, they began to be the bird depicted the most in art. Other than to their neighbors cocks had no religious or mythological significance to the groups native to the Amur region.
1Four different masks from the northwest coas, British Columbia. All are from the Retzius collection 1904.19.
1Frigate birds are closely associated with the annual arrival of large numbers of bonito, a type of tuna, to the seas of the eastern Solomon Islands. A valuable food source, the arrival of bonito marked a time of feasting and the period in which boys underwent initiation. Frigates would hover in the skies above the large schools of fish, indicating the presence to fishermen. Used to hold food during public feasts, the shape of this bowl stylistically references the body of a frigate bird. The bird holds a bonito in its beak while the ‘tail’ of the bird has an inverted frigate bird beneath it.
1Hairpin in the Form of a Phoenix in Flight The phoenix is an auspicious mythical bird that is believed to appear in times of peace and prosperity or heralds the coming of a great ruler or person. It is said that a phoenix appeared when Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, was born. It is believed that phoenixes do not harm insects and eat the seeds of bamboo, with many species flowering only once every twenty to one hundred twenty years. Phoenixes are usually associated with women. This hairpin would have been worn by a woman from a fairly well-to-do background. It was collected by the Swedish explorer, Sven Hedin, probably in Qinghai province, in the western region of China. In this area, there were overlapping populations of ethnic Han Chinese, Tibetans, and Mongolians.
1Historically, warfare played a prominent role in the lives of Pacific Islanders. Acts of aggression were frequent between groups, taking the form of either stealthy attacks or organized raids. Feathers and bones from predatory or aggressive birds were utilized by warriors and hunters to channel those qualities into tools and weapons.
1In Oceania, birds are closely linked to mythologies or creation stories and their image and feathers feature prominently in art and society. For instance, in the Admiralty Islands (off the northeast coast of New Guinea) a story tells of a dove that gave birth to two young, one a bird and the other a man who became the ancestor for humans as a result of an incestuous union with his mother.
1In some societies, birds were considered intermediaries between the human world and the world of the gods/spirits. Flying between these domains, they acted as messengers bringing guidance or advice from deities to humans. Feathers, bones and or representations of birds were used in a myriad of ways in rituals and ceremonies connected with death and life, initiation, preparations for warfare and celebrations. Feathers could also be used on objects intended to create peaceful relations between groups.
1Kāhili are a feathered standard or sceptre that that signified the presence of an ali‘i, a member of the chiefly classes. Carried by attendants, kāhili were an emblem of chiefly rank. They varied in size from small, handheld examples to larger ones that could be up to 10 meters tall. Feathers from a greater variety of birds were used to decorate kāhili. Longer feathers were obtained from various species including frigate birds, tropic birds and terns.
1Like most societies through history, the decoration one wears on his or her body in East Asia is a visual language that communicates the status of a person, whether it be their wealth, position within society, or rank within government. It can also communicate the hopes and aspirations of a person. This language can be decoded through the symbolism of the decoration and the material an object is made from. Birds, with their rich symbolisms, are often used to communicate these messages. Kingfisher feather was a material often used in women’s adornments in China. They were admired for their iridescent blue colour and could be used for headdresses, hairpins and other bodily adornments. Less frequently, they were also used to decorate table and foulding screens. The delicate feathers were cut into shapes and glued onto silver, often gilt, backings. The most valued feathers were traded from Cambodia. The wealth from this trade may have helped to fund the building of temple complexes of the Khmer empire, such as Angkor Wat.
1Liminal creatures that traverse the land, sky and sea, birds played, and in certain societies continue to play, a vital role in how Indigenous peoples negotiated and mediated relationships with the natural world, with ancestors, gods and spirits, and with each other. Focusing on objects from the National Museums of World Culture collections, this exhibition explores the role and significance of birds in material culture, society and cosmology. It considers the value placed upon feathers, the symbolism of birds and the display of their images on objects in many cultures across the globe. Although some objects were intended to be functional, were made for specific use or to convey specific meanings, their artistic and visual properties also make many of them striking works of art. ‘Avian Allies’ has been divided into six thematic sections: dance/performance; power/display; ritual/ceremonial; war/hunting; mythology/symbolism; and leisure/utilitarian. Naturally, many of these categories overlap with each other and objects discussed in one category could equally apply to another. However, for convenience and presentation sake, this thematic approach has been used. Many of the objects, photographs and archival material featured in this digital exhibition are held in storage and therefore not on display in our museums. This exhibition offers an opportunity to explore the breadth and diversity of our collections relating to how humans interacted with, exploited and utilised their avian neighbours. Object texts for this digital exhibition appear in both Swedish and English. You can change language in the lower right-hand corner. New information and objects will be added to this digital exhibition periodically, so check back for updates.
1Made from a base of intertwined ‘ie‘ie vines, this crescent shaped mahiole was once fully covered with red, yellow and black feathers. However, over time, much of the feather covering has been lost. Mahiole (feathered helmets) and ‘ahu ‘ula (feathered cloaks and capes) offered some physical protection to male chiefs when worn in battle. More importantly, helmets and cloaks also offered a form of spiritual protection through covering the head (sacred and the seat of mana) and the spine (also sacred).
1Made from the bone of the moa, a now extinct large flightless bird found in Aotearoa New Zealand, this fish hook was found during the excavation of an early moa-hunter site near Otago. It was part of a collection of moa bone objects that were sent to Stockholm in 1937 by H.D. Skinner from the University Museum in Dunedin, now Otago Museum. Skinner exchanged a selection of worked moa bone for a Māori fish hook which Gerhard Lindblom from the Museum of Ethnography had sent to Otago. Such exchanges of objects were common during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Aotearoa New Zealand was once home to nine species of moa. Evidence suggests they were hunted to extinction by the Māori sometime during the 1400s.
1Made of tridacna shell, this small circular shaped pendant has been engraved with various decorative patterns. The motifs include a double line of triangular motifs along the bottom edge of the pendant. The main engraved motif shows three frigate birds with a stylized representation of a bonito fish between them. The pendant has been pierced at the top indicated that it was made to be worn, most likely around the neck suspended on a cord. The reverse of the pendant has been inscribed in black ink with the following dedication: “Amulet from Fiji Islands presented by Rev. E. Riley (?) to PT Clive (?)”. This points to an interesting history in the biography of this object. It is a Solomon Islands pendant but the attribution here to Fiji suggests that it was possibly collected there.
1Owls were sometimes depicted on ritual vessels since the Neolithic but their depictions became rare after the Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE). We do not know the exact meaning of these early depictions, but we can assume that these mysterious birds of the night had some type of spiritual significance for the people of the Central Plains.
1Pheasant feathers were associated with martial forces in the iconography of the opera traditions of China*. Martial leaders (both male and female) wore helmets decorated with the tail feathers of pheasants. They were manipulated by the performer to express different types of emotions. Within a Confucian context, both within China and Korea, the ceremony commemorating the birthday of Confucius includes civil dancers holding one pheasant feather in their right hand, symbolising integrity. The Museums of World Culture does not have this type of object represented in its collections. *There are fifty-five recognised ethnic minorities living within the borders of the Chinese nation today. Unless otherwise noted, the ethnic Han majority is implied when China is mentioned.
1Phoenix Crown 鳳冠 This phoenix crown has decorations visually dominated by blue kingfisher feathers interspersed with red pompoms. The bottom register is embellished with phoenixes – auspicious animals symbolizing the feminine. The dome of the crown has a decoration of a peony at the front, representing wealth and honour. There are also dragons, another auspicious animal, but representing masculinity – the counterpart of the phoenix. The Eight Immortals are also represented and have connotations of longevity. The top of the crown have the words furen 夫人, which indicates that the wearer is the lady of the household. Phoenix crowns are worn on formal and ceremonial occasions by women with high rank. They are called phoenix crowns not only because they are commonly adorned with phoenixes, but also because they are worn by women. They are part of the formal wedding costume for the bride. The fact that the form of this crown is made from papier mâché, as opposed to using silver backing and wires, and the details are not the most refined indicates that this crown was intended for the lady of a household of moderate wealth. More elaborate crown can be found on formal portraits of empresses since at least the Song dynasty (960 – 1279).
1Quetzalcoatl, the "Feathered Serpent" was among the most important deities of pre-spanish Mexico. Also known as the peaceful god, he refused human sacrifice to worship him. The oldest depictions of him pre-date the time of the Spanish conquest by far. This photograph shows a decoration on the temple of Quetzalcoatl in Teotihuacan, close to todays Mexico City. The city flourished between the 5th and the 9th century and an estimated up to 150,000 inhabitants.
1Song and dance have always been vital to Polynesian social and ritual life. In the Hawaiian Islands, performances were dedicated to various gods or goddesses by trained musicians and performers. Gourd rattles decorated with feathers, called ‘uli‘uli served auditory as well as sensory purposes. The body of the gourd contains seeds that would rattle when the gourd was shaken during a dance performance while the movement of the vibrantly coloured feathers added a visual aspect to the experience.
1Status and position within many societies in Oceania was made visible through dress and personal ornamentation. Only chiefs or those from the ruling class were entitled to wear emblems of rank and prestige. This included feathers from certain birds. Feathers could also be paid as a form of tribute to chiefs.
1Swedish archaeologist Sigvald Linné (1899-1986) is one of the most important excavators of the City of Gods, Teotihuacan, in central Mexico. Situated close to Mexico City it was among the most populous cities of the world between 300-600 AD, with an estimated population of 200,000. This clay bowl and lid were found during the first campaign in 1932. The top of the lid features an owl, a bird probably connected with night and underworld. Owl depictions can be found quite frequently in the art of Teotihuacan, and archaeologist Hasso von Winning (1914-2001) described the bird as being an important military symbol in 1948. 3D-technology helps us to get a clearer idea of objects, as we can zoom in and see details the eye cannot see. We can also virtually turn the object to recognize production techniques without the danger of damage. The technology is very advanced and can even be used to help reconstruct broken objects or large architectural structures.
1The "Danza de la Pluma" or "Dance of the Feather" is a traditional dance of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. It is part of the annual Guelaguetza Festival end of July and retells the story of the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish. Before the arrival of the Spanish it was connected to fertility rites and afterwards mixed with Christian traditions. During the 20th century, the festival started to attract tourists from all over the world.
1The birds depicted on this huipil, a woman´s blouse, from Southern Mexico unite the old and the new. While the central design symbolizes an eagle sitting on a cactus, Mexico´s national crest, that goes back to precolonial times, the two cocks on both sides of it represent the new. As chicken were introduced to the Americas by the Europeans.
1The characteristics of feathers were utilised in East Asia for both entertainment and more mundane objects. Games were played where a player repeatedly kicked a weighted bunch of feathers in the air, preventing it from dropping to the floor, either by oneself or back and forth with other players. Feathers could also be used for more mundane objects, such as feather dusters.
1The feathers on this mosaic panel may once have been arranged to depict the face of a spirit or an animal. However, over time the feathers have loosened, and the image has become distorted. Feather mosaic panels were once used as part of initiation ceremonies for young men. Groups of panels were displayed inside men’s ceremonial houses, restricted spaces into which only initiated men and those undergoing initiation ceremonies were permitted to enter. It is possible that the panels were used as illustrative devices to help tell stories and myths relating to the community. When not in use, the panels were carefully wrapped to preserve the feathers.
1The flight of birds, their behaviours and courtship displays served as inspiration for ceremonial and celebratory clothing and dance performances in many cultures. Rare, exotic or simply valued for their beauty, feathers or plumage adorned and enhanced headdresses and articles of dress, perhaps transferring characteristics of the bird into the human dancer.
1The human body is one of the most important sites for artistic display in Papua New Guinea. Feathers and whole bird skins from the multitude of species present in Papua New Guinea are used to create elaborate headdress decorations and other ornaments. Through pigment, ornaments and ceremonial clothing, people are transformed physically and spiritually for rituals, celebrations, or historically, warfare. Such decoration reinforces social identity, both at a personal and group level.
1The Hupa tribe in Northern California performs dances biannualy that aim at bringing the world back in order and renew it. One of them is the Jump Dance, in which this basket found use. Certain taboos accompany the production of such baskets. They are woven by women, but finished by the future (male) owner - and during that process not touched by the weaver any more.
1The immense diversity in Native American cultures found in California is also mirrored in their material culture. Feather headdresses appear in a very wide variety, making use of feathers of birds living in the area where the headdresses were produced. In this case whole feathers and feathers cut into certain shapes were knotted to a fibre net attached to a wooden ring.
1The Mundurucú tribe, living on the Rio Tapajós in the Amazon rainforest of South America, is well known for splendid ceremonial regalia, mostly made of colourfull feathers. The National Museums of World Culture in Sweden own one of the largest such collections in the world with the oldest objects coming to Sweden before 1832. A large collection of 36 objects from the Mundurucú came as part of the important da Silva Castro collection in 1865. It consists of a feather headdress, arm and leg bands, belts, and also the shoulder decoration seen here. It was worn lying on one shoulder and the feather-decorated strings suspended on front and back of the wearer and united under the arm on the other side.
1The pitched gable ends of ceremonial men’s houses (ngeko) in the Iatmul, Sawos and Yuat regions of the Middle Sepik were decorated with prominent carved finials depicting a bird clutching a male or female figure in its talons. Western Iatmul and Sawos ceremonial house finials often depict a male figure with the eagle rising above them. Many central Iatmul and Yuat ceremonial house finials portray a bird clutching a woman in its talons. The bird is most likely a sea eagle (gawi), a successful and effective hunter that was also viewed as a powerful headhunting symbol. Writing on man/bird finial figures from the Sepik in the 1930s, Gregory Bateson noted that the eagle was regarded as a symbol for the fighting force of the village. The eagle/woman finial also alludes to other mythological creation stories. Briefly, a mythological story still told today, tells of two sisters, one of whom was brought by the water spirit/crocodile/human male to a village beneath the river where they married. After they mated she laid two eggs, out of which hatched eagle children. These flew up through the river and settled in a tree from which they attacked and killed all the men, women, and children in the area. They eventually returned to the underwater village and caught their mother, one clasping her head in its talons, the other bearing her by her feet, and they carried her up to their tree where they killed and consumed her, only leaving her skull intact. As such, house finials connect male and female ancestral and mythical beings with an eagle that represents to strength of the village as a unit. This house finial does not bear much evidence of environmental weathering that would be expected of a finial carving exposed to the elements. Considering this and the freshness of the pigment, it is likely it was collected not long after it was made.
1The rights to possess or wear feathers from certain birds often indicates a person’s status, their level of initiation, or their totemic affiliation. Access to birds, as a food source or for their feathers, was often tightly controlled by the elite and the wealthy. As signifiers of power and authority, feathers or avian imagery often convey multiple messages and characteristics: beauty, aggression, status.
1These jackets were once common in large parts of the Arctic. They are made of the skins of several large birds and combine qualties that we today find reproduced artifically in GoreTex. They are wind- and waterproof. It was collected in Alaska during the Vega-Expedition before 1880 and is still in outstandingly good condition.
1This charm comprises a small wooden carved human face that has a base of long black feathers attached to it. The face has been painted using red pigment or ochre while dark brown pigment has been used to highlight the eyes and mouth, as well as some painted lines along the cheek, jawline and edge of the face. The stylized human face of this war charm also features carved representations of earlobe extension once practiced by Admiralty Islands men. A perforation running through the top of the figures had has a piece of cloth (trade cloth?) running through it. The ornament includes twenty-six trimmed frigate bird wing feathers. The long black feathers have been secured into the conical base of the wooden face using resin or clay and fibre binding, possibly rattan. The shafts of the feathers have been cut into a zig-zag pattern with only the ends being left untouched. Additionally, a string of red glass trade beads has been attached to one edge of the charm, strung on red fibrous material. Alternatively called a charm or a war sign, these were worn to protect men and give them strength in warfare and when visiting neighbouring groups. The charm was believed to render the wearer invulnerable to enemies. It was securely tied around the neck with cord and worn so the carved face looked upwards and the feathers flared horizontally away from the body. The gentle curve of the top of the figures head was most likely carved in this was to as to render it more comfortable for the wearer. It is thought that the form of the charm represented here, with a wooden face, or in some cases a full figure, developed during the nineteenth century and was a progression of an earlier style of charm. Also worn around the neck, these earlier forms comprised leg or arm bones bound with fibre and trimmed feathers. The bones could be either those of an ancestor or an enemy and the charm functioned in the same way as the later wooden example. While the functional need for these objects ceased in the early twentieth century with the cessation of warfare, these objects continue to be made and worn today as part of dance costumes.
1This frontlet is part of a head decoration worn as part of a ceremonial outfit of the Heiltsuk Nation in Canada. It is executed in the typical style of the Northwest Coast of North America. A wide range of birds can be found there, many of which are associated with mythological stories of the local populations, like eagle, raven, and even hummingbird. The frontlet was brought to Sweden as part of a large collection gathered by Swedish anthropologist Gustav Retzius (1842-1919) during his stay in North America in 1893. As Retzius bought mostly from traders, only further consultation with the tribes from whom the collections came can clarify meaning and use and help identify the species of bird depicted. Making a 3D model available online helps to spread the knowledge of the existence of the frontlet and it can be virtually examined by members of the tribe it originates from, as well as museum professionals, scholars in the field, but also everybody interested. Knowledge on the objects can flow back to the museum and new friends can be made.
1This headdress, one of the few of its kind, would have been a valuable heirloom, one that indicated the status and wealth of its owner. Rooster feathers, as well as those from other birds, and whale ivory were important and valuable materials for Marquesan Islanders. Black, iridescent tail feathers and plumage from roosters, along with their red coloured neck feathers, were used to decorate various types of headdresses. As such, roosters were highly prized and well cared for. Each rooster had two long tail feathers which, when plucked, would grow back. Some Marquesan headdresses have so many rooster tail feathers attached that it could take several years to acquire the feathers needed to decorate them. Prestigious ornaments like this were worn by male or female dancers at ceremonial events or various festivals. Worn on the top of the head or across the temples, this crescent shaped headdress comprises finely trimmed cock feathers have been carefully tied into small bundles. The bundles have been bound onto a fibre base and arranged so that the feathers fall in the same direction, creating a lustrous surface to catch the light when the headdress was danced. Where the main body of the headdress meets the ties, through which the headdress is secured to the head, small red and green coloured feathers have been added along with decorative stitching of fine coconut fibre cord. These ties are further embellished with eighteen small whales’ teeth, one of which has split. Whale ivory was a rare and highly prized material in Marquesan society. When European traders and whalers began to visit the islands more frequently in the early to mid-nineteenth century, whale teeth became a favoured trade item leading to an increase in the availability of ivory.
1This headdress consits of approximately 3,000 dyed turkey feathers. It was used in the "Dance of the Feather" ("Danza de la Pluma") in Oaxaca, southern Mexico. The tradition of this dance dates back to the time before the arrival of the Europeans and is still performed annually.
1This headdress entered the collections of the Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1783 as the crown of the king of the Delawares. It was a gift of chief Teedyuscung, who called himself king of the Delaware, to a missionary in New England. He later gave it to a Swedish missionary, Carl Magnus Wrangel, who brought it back to Sweden after spending some years in North America. Other examples of this rare type of headdress can be found in the collections of the Musée du quai Branly in Paris and the Museo de América in Madrid.
1This headdress from Northern California features the red feathers of woodpecker scalps attached to a leather base. This headdress is worn by dancers on their forehead.
1This is a to’o, a god image from Tahiti in the Society Islands. It most likely dates to the late 1700s or early 1800s. The apparent simplicity of this object belies its historical and ritual importance. It is made from finely plaited coconut fibre which has been worked into an elongated cylindrical form which tappers from top to bottom. Small coconut fibre bindings and tassels bearing traces of feathers of various colours and barkcloth have been attached, although the feathers have now degraded quite badly. A small perforation or opening is visible in the centre of the figure, perhaps representing a navel. Adrienne Kaeppler has convincingly argued that the finely plaited coconut fibre cords represent objectified prayers and that it is this, the entanglement of prayers within the coconut fibre that renders the object sacred. The addition of the feathers and barkcloth, both sacred materials, further indicate the sacredness and importance of the object. The association between feathers and important religious and political objects such as gods images and other featherwork, perhaps originated in the Central Polynesian belief that the founder god, Ta‘aroa, emerged from a shell, the pieces of which he used to create the world. A feathered deity, he shook off the red and yellow feathers that covered his body and, where they fell, trees and bushes grew. Historical sources state that to’o were closely associated with the god ‘Oro, the primary god and the god of war in Tahiti. To’o have been called god images and so they were intended to be the god during ceremonial occasions. They were used or carried only by ritual specialists or chiefs and ordinary people would have been forbidden to see or touch them. As such, these were potent and powerful objects associated with divinity and power. To’o were periodically renewed or reactivated during ceremonies called pa ‘iatua. During this time, god images were assembled together on the marae (a sacred enclosure), were laid out on white barkcloth and unwrapped and rewrapped as part of renewal ceremonies. New sacred materials such as feathers, human hair and coconut fibre were added to the to’o while older, less potent materials were removed. These removed materials were then presented as offerings to lesser gods.
1This quiver unites two qualities that feathers can have when used by humans. While plum feathers decorate the body of the quiver, wing or tail feathers have been used on arrows that are carried in the quiver. These feathers stabilize the flight of the arrow.
1This rattle from the Pomo in Northern California features not only bird feathers, but also dyed bird feathers and moth cocoons to produce the rattling noise.
1This wicker shield, which features an oval or rounded top and base with a slightly contracted middle section along with the inclusion of fine wickerwork decorative motifs in black, was probably made in Guadalcanal or Nggela (Florida Islands). Shields produced in this area were traded or sold to other islands in the Solomons, particularly to the Western Solomon Islands, from where many were eventually collected. Other wicker shields of more elliptical shape, with pointed tops and bases, were probably made in Santa Isabel and similarly traded or sold to the Western Solomons. Decoratively, the shield has been divided into three sections through the inclusion of black fibre. In this example, the top and bottom decorative patterns feature stylized representations of the forked tail of the frigate bird. As with many other societies in the Pacific, the frigate bird was often associated with aggression and warfare and other male activities.
1Used to catch bonito fish, a type of tuna, this fish hook comprises a shank of iridescent mother of pearl shell resembling a stylized fish to which a turtle shell hook has been bound using fibre. Tikopian fishermen also added white feathers to the shank which acted as bait. The movement of the hook and white feathers as it was drawn in and out of the water by the fisherman attracted the bonito and enabled them to catch the fish.
1Usually made by women, a bilum is a netbag made from vegetable fibre, wool or yarn that are used in daily life to carry personal possessions, tools, produce, even babies. Feather bilums have feathers from different birds attached to one side of the bag. These feathers have been added in seclusion by males undergoing initiation rites. Worn on the back with the feather side facing out, the contents of the bilum, ritual objects associated with male initiation, were hidden from view. There are various classes of feather bilum, each associated with a different level of initiation. The highest stage of initiation was associated with the cassowary bird. The feathers that decorate this bilum possibly came from an eagle. The inclusion of many pig tusks suggests that the owner of this bilum was of an advanced level of initiation.
1Wakahuia or treasure boxes served as containers for various family heirlooms (taonga). They were originally created to store the highly prized black and white tail feathers of the now extinct huia bird, after which the boxes are named. Waka Other valuable personal ornaments such as earrings or pendants made from greenstone (pounamu) and whale ivory were also stored in them. Access to prestige materials such as huia feathers and greenstone, and to food sources, was controlled by the chief of each clan. Only those of high rank were entitled to wear ornaments made from these materials. Wakahuia themselves were highly prized, heirloom objects (taonga) and were often given personal names. The figural handles at each end possibly represent manaia, a bird/lizard/human figure from Māori mythology often ascribed with protective qualities. It was from these handles that the box was suspended from the rafters of a home or storehouse, from which the fully carved underside of the box would have been visible.
1When we think of eagle feather headdresses from North America we usualy think of the splendid bonnets, sometimes with suspending trailers, that are so typical for certain groups from the Northern Plains during the second half of the 19th and beginning 20th century. This cap with five upright eagle feathers is a typical cap used by the Apache in the Southwest of North America.These pieces oftentimes combine feathers and colour- and meaningful beadwork on a leather cap.
1Worn as a garland on the top of head or around the neck, Hawaiian craftspeople created lei hulu (feather lei) in a dazzling array of colours. Unlike capes or cloaks, to which feathers were tied on using olonā (Touchardia latifolia) cordage, lei hulu were created by wrapping (wili) small bundles or individual feathers with cord to a base. Some comprise just one colour while others were made using feathers from a variety of birds. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, only male ali’i could wear featherwork capes, cloaks and helmets. Female ali’i did not wear such objects but did wear feather lei, either worn around the neck or on the top of the head. During the nineteenth century female royalty began to wear feather capes and cloaks to distinguish their rank and status. Today, featherwork, including the creation of lei hulu, remains a flourishing art form in the Hawaiian Islands.