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Tiger bells in Asia

Bells, mirrors, masks and other ornaments

A shaman's costume 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 Tang dynasty.
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.
Photograph from 'Art in Siberia', by Maria Czaplicka, Valentina Gorbatcheva, Marina Federova, courtesy Parkstone Press International, New York (USA) 2008

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 Mongolian Costumes, courtesy: Danish National Museum, Copenhagen

Still frames taken from the documentary
Trommels van onthechting (Drums of detachment) Courtesy: Columbine films, Copenhagen and the Danish National Museum, Copenhagen

This 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.

Remarkable is the mask. It is made of bronze. Bronze masks such as these are not commonly used.

Below, still frame: Detail of the bronze
mask in the picture to the left.

Still frame: Several bronze mirrors

Still frame: A tiger bell, several cowrey shells and an animal tooth

Still frame: A bronze mask overlooking the ongoing séance...

Masks were 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:

Practitioners rarely wore such masks during séances but instead placed them in an honored location within their dwellings.

Apparently 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 tiger bells),
mirrors and a mask. See also the costume of the museum in Hohot, Inner Mongolia. Details and source unknown.

A Dagur shamaness, to her left is a mask.
photograph source unknown, 1931

Living Treasure Sichingua, Daur shamaness,
Photograph: courtesy Meng Huiying
Two 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.

A mask in a market stall in Ulaan Batar
Source unknown

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