bells in Asia
Bells, mirrors, masks and other ornaments
consists of several components: the apron (sometimes called
caftan), the collar, the head dress, the knee protectors
and moccasins. The material is soft reindeer leather (chamois).
Often the sleeves and shoulders are decorated with bands dyed
in various colours. Decorations are also made using strips of
chamois or strings of textile, and other natural materials such
as cowrey shells, animal teeth and hair of reindeer or other
animals. Colored beads are sometimes used as well.
Most striking are
the metal objects such as bronze bells and round mirrors (toli),
often present in considerable numbers. The bells can be clapper
bells and crotal bells. Most crotal bells are tiger bells (kongokto).
On many costumes crudely made figurines of humans and animals
made of iron are sewn on the costume, fixed or as pendents.
These iron objects are usually made by local blacksmiths or
blacksmiths from neighbouring groups. The bronze mirrors and
the tiger bells are of Chinese origin and were (and are) considered
heirlooms, already within the communities' possessions for many
decades, possibly hundreds of years. The costumes and the accessories
were passed on from one shaman to his or her successor. It is
difficult to estimate the age of costumes but surely many of
them are very old. This is also true for the metal objects,
figurines, bronze mirrors and tiger bells. For the mirrors and
the bells estimates vary from several
hundreds of years to 1100 years, thus going back to the
costume of a Manjagir shaman. This is an excellent example
of the elaborate costumes in the region NE China -Inner Mongolia
- SE Siberia. A costume like this may weigh up to 30 to 40 kg.
from 'Art in Siberia', by
Maria Czaplicka, Valentina Gorbatcheva, Marina Federova,
courtesy Parkstone Press International, New York (USA)
Detail of the photograph
above. In this part of the costume only
we count appr. 32 tiger bells.
The costume of a Solon shaman,
from the book Three
courtesy: Danish National Museum, Copenhagen
frames taken from the documentary
Trommels van onthechting (Drums
of detachment) Courtesy: Columbine films, Copenhagen and the
Danish National Museum, Copenhagen (Denmark)
costume of the Solon (a sub-group of the Ewenk,
earlier known as Tungus), is also decorated with many
objects. The overall design is almost the same as the costume
above. Apart from the many metal objects we see rows of cowrey
shells and several animal teeth. As with all costumes from the
area NE China
- Inner Mongolia - SE Siberia the number of bronze objects
is striking. At the front there are about 15 round bronze mirrors,
and about 60 tiger bells. The shaman holds a stick or stave
with a horse head on his hand. The stick is decorated too with
tassels, ribbons and tiger bells. At the back there are also
tiger bells and mirrors fixed on the costume.
is the mask. It is made of bronze. Bronze masks such as these
are not commonly used.
still frame: Detail of the bronze
mask in the picture to the left.
Still frame: Several
Still frame: A
tiger bell, several cowrey shells and an animal tooth
Still frame: A bronze
mask overlooking the ongoing séance...
made of bronze. On the history and use of these objects
Dr. Patricia Riess Anawalt remarks in her book
Shamanic regalia in the far north:
rarely wore such masks during séances but instead
placed them in an honored location within their dwellings.
such masks, dating from the Iron Age, ca. 1200 BC, still
can be found in the ground throughout Western Siberia.
This could imply
that the history of the masks is different from the history
of the tiger bells and mirrors.
A shaman's costume from Mongolia, with bells (possibly
mirrors and a mask. Details and source
A Dagur shamaness,
to her left is a mask.
Treasure Sichingua, Daur shamaness,
Photograph: courtesy Meng Huiying
photographs of Sichingua,
a Daur shamaness, living and practicing in Inner
Mongolia. In the picture on the left we see Sichingua
in her full costume. Please note the dozens of mirrors
and the numerous bells, possibly old or newly made tiger
bells. In the picture on the right we see Sichingua
ready for the seance, with a mask. It is not clear if
this is a bronze or copper mask, or if it is made of
other materials. Although Sichingua is a female shaman,
the mask is that of a man. In the picture on the left
Sichingua does not wear the mask.
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