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Tiger bells in Northeast Asia


Quotes from Maria C. Czaplicka's

Shamanism in Siberia

Excerpts from Aboriginal Siberia (1914)

In the chapter Accessories of the shaman there are several quotes from various authors on the use and meaning of brass bells in the costume and attributes. The term tiger bell is not used, and a distinction between jingle bells and clapper bells is not always made but in some cases we can infer that the bells mentioned are tiger bells.

On the shaman's costume in general:

The whole costume with its appurtenances used during shamanistic performances throughout Siberia has, according to Mikhailowski a threefold significance:
1. The shaman wishes to make a profound impression on the eyes of the people by the eccentricity of his costume.
2. The ringing of the bells and the noise of the drum impress their sense of hearing.
3. Finally, a symbolic meaning is attached to these accessories and adornments, a meaning known only to believers, especially to the shamans, and closely connected with the religious conceptions of shamanism.

Author M.A. Czaplicka adds:
Thus Mikhailowski. But this interpretation does not bring out the whole importance of the relation of these objects to the spiritual world. They are of great importance, for the spirits will not hear the voice of the shaman unless the right dress and implements are used, and the drum beaten; they are sacred because of their contact with a supernatural and often dangerous power.
Being sacred, these accessories must not be used by any one but a shaman, otherwise they are impotent to produce any result. It is only a good shaman, a real one, who can possess the full shaman's dress.

On the girdle in the costume of the Gilyak:
...the most important accessories are the drum, kas, and the shaman's girdle, yangpa. Schrenck gives us the following description of them: 'One night when I was sitting in a tent in the village of Yrri, they brought in two shamans' drums and other accessories, and at my request they allowed me to be present at the preparation for the ceremony, First of all the drum was heated by the fire, to make the hide taut, so that the sound might be more sonorous. The drum was made of the skin of a goat or reindeer, and whilst it was being prepared the shaman made ready. He took off his outer garment, put on the so-called koska, a short apron, and tied round his head a band of grass, the end of which hung over his shoulders like a tress of hair. Then he took the shaman's leather girdle, with many iron plates, copper hoops, and other metal pendants, which produce a loud clanking noise during the shamanistic dances.' This girdle is called in Olcha dialect yangpa. Its chief pendant is a large copper disk with a small handle ornamented in relief, showing Manchu influence; this circle, called tole, makes the most important sound. There are also many iron links called tasso, and many irregular pieces of iron called kyire, which make a very loud noise; a few rolled iron plates called kongoro, and, finally, some small copper bells without tongues, called kongokto. When the girdle is put on all these objects hang together at the back. This shamanistic girdle is of considerable weight.

Note: The term kongokto is alo used in the description of the shamanic tree of the Nanaj and refers to tiger bells.

On the coat ornamentation of the Yakut shamans:

M.C. Czaplicka quotes from Sieroszewski who gives us an account of the meaning of the shaman's coat ornamentation which he heard from an old Yakut shaman. Number 5 in his list of essential items are:

'Hobo, copper bells without tongues, suspended below the collar; like a crow's egg in size and shape and having on the tipper part a drawing of a fish head . They are tied to the leather straps or to the metal loops. (bold by author)

Note: Because of the size and the shape (a crow's egg, appr. 3,5 x 4 cm.) and the description, a fish head, this could very well be a type A tiger bell.

On the Yakut drum M.C. Czaplicka quotes Sieroszewski:

The drum is always egg-shaped, and is covered with the hide of a young bull. Its longest diameter is 53 cm., the width of the rim 11 cm., and the length of the stick 32 cm. The wider part of the stick is covered with cowhide. According to Jochelson, there are twelve raised representations of horns on the drum.[4] Sieroszewski [5] says that they are always found in odd numbers, 7, 9, or 11. The cross inside is attached to the rim by means of straps. Little bells, jingling trinkets, and other rattles of iron and bone are attached inside round the rim, especially in the places where the straps are fastened.

On the costume of the Altai M.C. Czaplicak quotes Potanin::

The collar is trimmed with owl's feathers. One kam (shaman) had, according to Potanin, seven little dolls on his collar, which, Potanin was told, were heavenly maidens...
A few bells are sewed on here and there; the more prosperous shamans have as many as nine. The ringing of the bells, a kam told Potanin, is the voice of the seven maidens whose symbols are sewed to the collar calling to the spirits to descend to them.


On the Buryat costume:

The Buryat shaman's costume was first described by Pallas. It belonged to a female shaman, who was accompanied by her husband and two other Buryat, each of them holding a magical drum. She herself held in her hand two sticks, ornamented at the top end with a carving of a horse's head surrounded by small bells. [This implement is called by recent travelers 'horse-staves'.] From the back of the shoulders reaching to the ground hung about thirty snakes, made of white and black skin, in such a way that the snakes seem to be composed of white and black rings. One of the snakes was divided into three at the end, and was accounted indispensable to each Buryat female shaman. The cap was covered with an iron casque having horns with three branches, projecting on both sides like those of a deer.

The front of the coat is covered with metal figures of horses, fishes, birds, &c. The back is covered with twisted iron representing snakes, -with rattles hanging from them (shamshorgo),[4] together with a whole row of little bells and tambourine bells.

Horse-staves are in use by the Buryat of Baikal. They are made of wood or of iron. A wooden horse-stave is 80 cm. long; the upper part is bent and has a horse-head carved on it; the middle part of the stick forms the knee-joints of the horse, and the lower end is fashioned into a hoof. Little bells, one of which is larger than the rest, are tied to the horse-staves. Likewise small conical weights of iron, khoubokho, or kholbogo, blue, white, yellow and red-coloured ribbons, and strips of ermine and squirrel fur.

The Olkhon Buryat, say Agapitoff and Khangaloff, have one other property, called shire. It is a box three and a half feet long and one foot deep, standing on four legs, each two feet high. On the box are hung ribbons, bells, strips of skin, and on one of the long sides different figures are carved or painted in red. Usually on the right side is represented the sun, and on the left, the moon. The sun is depicted as a wheel, and in the middle of the moon there is a human figure holding a tree in one hand. In the middle of the long side there are three images of secondary gods, one woman and two men, in whose honour wine is sprinkled several times a year. There are also war implements-bow and quiver and sword, and under each human figure there is a horse. The shire is used to hold horse-staves, drums, and other ritual implements.

Occasionally the Buryat shaman has also a whip with bells, but generally all these implements tend to disappear in modern times.


On the shaman's head cover of the Samoyed and the Ob-Ostyak:
In certain places the tadibey (Samoyed shaman) uses a cap with a visor, and over the leather coat jingling trinkets and little bells and strips of cloth of various shades are hung. In this ornamentation the number seven plays an important role.

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