Tiger bells: various types
Tiger bell, from Mindanao,
Design and name
are made of bronze. They differ from other bells, such as clapper
bells, because of several characteristics:
they belong to the group of jingle bells or crotal bells:
they have a hollow, globularly shaped body in which a small pellet
of metal or stone is held (hence the often used term pellet
bell). When the bell is shaken, the pellet hits the inside
surface and thus the bell sounds, producing a dispersed sound
without a fixed pitch. The bells have an opening, usually a split
in the lower side of the body which allows the hollow body to
act as a resonator. The hoop for suspending the bell is very often
square or rectangular, sometimes round, sometimes trapezium shaped.
characteristic that makes the tiger bells stand out from other
jingle bells, is the design. It is evidently a face with large
eyes, a nose and a mouth or beak. Our first association was that
of a frog's head. Later, on a catalogue card of the Ethnological
Museum in Leyden (Neth.) describing the bells on a baby carrier
from the Kayan in Kalimantan, I found a quote from Prof. J
J. M. de Groot saying that the face is a snake's head. According
to him the Chinese characters on the 'forehead' could mean The
Hing Company. He had seen these characters on the bells of
the Laun in The Philippines .
baby carrier with five tiger bells, in the collection of the Leyden
Ethnological Museum, Prof. de Groot translated the Chinese
characters on the bells as Happiness together.
the 'forehead' there is a Chinese character , the character Wang.
means 'prince, royal' and is usually found on Chinese representations
of tiger's heads such as this toy tiger.
the meaning of the tiger head motif, Peter Dekker of Mandarin
the Chinese the tiger and the tiger motif are linked to 'protection'.
In Chinese both words, 'tiger' and 'protection', sound as 'hoo'.
This led to the belief that the tiger motif gives protection. For
the tiger head motif the 'wang' character is typical. In China tiger
heads were painted on shields for special divisions of warriors
using these tiger shields.The motif is also found on textile hats
for children and on wooden shields on houses. Sometimes the motif
is seen on the buffer plate of a sword.
Examples of the tiger head motif on a shield
Photographs courtesy: Peter Dekker, Mandarin Mansion
of the fact that in Manchu country tigers were indigenous and a
real danger every now and then, the Manchu's had another relation
with the tiger than the Chinese. To Manchu shamans and specially
trained hunters the tiger had a high status and certain rituals
were performed before a tiger hunt was started. Yet, because of
the phonetic similarity between the words for 'tiger' and 'protection',
the Manchu's too linked the tiger, and its motif as it occurs on
tiger bells, to 'protection'.
On the 'forehead' of the bells other characters can be seen as
well. These characters, or character-like shapes, are visible
on both sides of the bells, in the center of the top half of the
bell. Often these characters are corrupted by the casting process
or just meaningless scribbles. Around those characters and around
the eyes and nose one finds curls and curves.
courtesy Musée Quai Branly
bells on the back of a shaman's costume in the Musée de
l'Homme (now Musée Quay Branly) in Paris, France,
are described as:
tête de tigre en laiton (transl:. Crotal bells, tiger's head,
made of brass.
Russian ethnologist Sieroszewski quotes an explanation of
the meaning of the ornamentation on a shaman's coat. The explanation
was given by an old Yakut. About the bells on the costume he said:
'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's head. They are tied to the leather
straps or to the metal loops.
In literature and in actual day-to-day language of ethnic groups
that use or used these bells one finds more names. It is not always
clear if these names refer to bells with this particular design (the
tiger's face) or if they are generic names for pellet bells. There
are undoubtedly many more local names but these are the ones I've
found in literature and heard from the people themselves (in Indonesia
and The Philippines).
In local languages:
In Southeast Asia different names are used by different groups:
Manggyan from Mindoro (the Philippines) call the tiger bells gurung-gurung;
it could also be the generic word for crotal bells.
the B'laan, the Tagakaolu and the Bagobo from SE Mindanao (the
Philippines) we find the words paningkulun and tiolong.
These are generic names for crotal bells, which are often
made by local blacksmiths.
the B'laan and the Tagakaolu the term tongkaling refers
to tiger bells. The names of the various parts of the design are
derived from a human face. These bells are not locally made but
said to 'come from the Muslims'.
epic song of the Manuvu (subgroup of the Bagobo) Tuwaang attends
a wedding the term tukaling refers to small brass jingle
bells attached to a shield. From other examples (such as swords)
we know that these bells could very well be tiger bells.
Piand are tiger bells used by the Muslim groups in West and
South West Mindanao. Among these groups tiger bells also functioned
as a currency for trade.
the Minangkabau (Sumatra, Indonesia) giring-giring refers
to tiger bells that were used for cats.
(Indonesia) uwé kotang is probably a generic term
for crotal bells; ngorong-gorong and wai wonta are
names for tiger bells used with dances and fighting games.
the Fou in Vietnam the word Kai-nja-bang-tong is used for
on Siberian shamanism I found two names for tiger bells:
the Yakut name for copper bells without a tongue, on the surface
a drawing of a fish head (most likely the same design as the tiger's
head). Ordinary crotal bells are called choran.
tiger bells, with the Nanay and the Gilyak.
bell is a name given in in the book Travels through Borneo,
referring to a tiger bell from the Kayan Dayak.
description of the shaman costumes in the Danish
National Museum in Copenhagen tiger bells are
referred to as sleigh bells.
an encyclopedia of world beliefs by Mariko Namba, the
bells on the shaman costumes in Southeast Siberia are called old
ethnologist and Tungus expert Sergei Shirokogoroff who
has seen and described many Siberian and Manchu shaman costumes,
does not distinguish tiger bells from other crotal bells and calls
them all ball-bells.
of these names refers to the animal, the tiger. In only two cases
the name refers to tiger bells with a name that means 'tiger bell'
in the local language:
musicians in the Hanggai folk-popgroup from Inner Mongolia call
the face-bells tiger bells. These bells are new copies and it
is possible that the name came into use after this website was
same could apply for the tiger bells from Korea. Here too all
types of tiger bells are new copies. The local name:
for now: tiger bells...
Since the Wang character occurs since ancient times on
bronze statues of tigers, such as the statue from the Chinese
Zhou-period (appr. 500 BC), and because the description of the
bells in the Musée de l'Homme clearly mentions the
tiger's head, I decided to call these bells tiger bells
to distinguish them from other bronze crotal bells. But for reasons
just as good they could be called fish bells, frog bells or snake
bells. However since I introduced the term tiger bell in
the first version of this report in 1976, it is now widely used
and occurs in many web pages (and even in a computer game although
the bell in the game is not a tiger bell). Therefore I will continue
to use the term tiger bell until it is more correct to
use another name.
statue of a tiger, the Wang character on its forehead
Middle Zhou (946 - 600 BC); collection: Freer Gallery,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC
Courtesy: Orientations Magazine, April 1972
bells vary in shape, size and design. The majority of the bells
belong to one of four type groups: type A, type
B and type C. Some variations exist. Those
variations that are inspired by the tiger bell but miss one or more
of the typical characteristics are grouped into the Alternatives.
Alternatives are inspired by, or resemble type A bells and type
Type A tiger bells occur over a wide area and are used in many different
ways: as a dance attribute (Pakitan, southern Philippines), as an
amulet for adults, children and sometimes animals (goats and sheep
in Afghanistan, cats with the Minangkabau in Sumatra, horses in
Sumba and Malta). There is an evident link between tiger bells and
shamanism. Shamans in Kalimantan, Sarawak, Mongolia, former Inner
Mongolia and South Siberia have type A tiger bells on their costumes
and attributes (while shamans from Tibet and Nepal use type
B and type C tiger bells). One shaman's
costume of the Solon is
decorated with over 60 type A tiger bells of various sizes.
There are not very many records from mainland China. The examples
known are tiger bells said to date from the 19th century, and a
belt, most likely from one of the ethnic minorities in southern
years new tiger bells have been produced, sometimes copies of old
type A tiger bells, sometimes variations inspired by the type A
tiger bell. These bells are produced for trade to be sold in local
Chinese communities and to tourists. So far they are reported in
shops in Singapore, New York, Amsterdam and in shops on the Internet.
In China there is at least one industrial factory that produces
several types of tiger bells, some based on the type A bell.
Set of four bells, collected in China, Steyl Mission Museum
Type A tiger bells occur in many sizes, from about 2.5 cm. to about
4,5 to 5 cm. in width. Most larger type A tiger bells have a square
or rectangular hoop. Smaller type A tiger bells can have square
or rectangular hoops but also trapezium shaped and even round hoops
(see the shaman's belt from Kalimantan). There
is one report of a tiger bell from the Iban, Sarawak, (see below)
with a width of more than 6 cm.
reported in China and in South Korea are larger; these are however
bell with a width of 4,5 cm. Iban (Sarawak).
tiger bell, possibly from China, has a width of more than 6 cm.
This is however an exception.
Several type A tiger bells are probably locally made with variations
in the design (as in Nepal, Syria and China). These variations could
occur because the producer did not recognize the Chinese characters
and considered them as meaningless, or possibly as floral motifs.
Because of the whiskers, the face on the Syrian bell and on one
of the Chinese bells bell looks more like a cat. Other alternatives
are inspired by demon-like faces or use different techniques for
the design such as engraving.
Small tiger bell with
whiskers, probably from China
from the side the height of the bell is smaller than its width.
This sets them apart from the bells of type B and type C of which
the height is larger than the width.
side view of type A
Right: side view of type B
bell from Turkey
this group occur in large numbers on the southeast Asian mainland.
Until now there are reports from Thailand, Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh
and Mongolia. In Thailand (Bangkok) these bells are sometimes painted
gold. They have the following characteristics:
Type B tiger
bells are roughly the size of an chicken's egg. The 'Wang'
character on the 'forehead', so typical for the A type tiger bells,
is missing. On the top half we can distinguish Chinese characters,
sometimes one, sometimes two. The round character here means 'long
life'. The surrounding curls and curves are not always there. The
hoop is always round.
Tiger bells of type B bells occur by the hundreds. In Bangkok they
can be bought in many handicraft and antique shops. They come 'from
the north' but it is not clear what place or region that is. It is
likely that these tiger bells are still produced.
Type B tiger bells are used in many ways. In the Tibetan market
in New Delhi (India) belts for yaks and horses with 10 to 12 of
these bells were sold. One shopkeeper in Bangkok told me these bells
were used as doorknobs. Nepalese and Tibetan shamans wear these
bells on a chain across the chest as part of their costume. Type
B bells of a smaller size are used as dog bells in Tibet and northern
Size and dimensions
These bells are large, with diameters varying from about 3.5 cm.
to 4.5 cm. and heights from 3.7 cm. to 5 cm. or more.
of decorations on the 'forehead' of type B bells
Two Chinese characters
A circle shaped Chinese character
The Chinese character for 'long life'
bells are all from the Tibet - Mongolia area
occur mainly in Nepal and Tibet. They have the following characteristics:
Type C bells
have the shape of B bells but are smaller. On most bells we see the
Wang character, although sometimes corrupted. In general the eyes
bulge more than the other types. Also the relief of the design and
the Chinese characters is thick and relatively high on the surface
of the bell. The hoop is always rectangular with rounded corners.
One handicraft shop owner in Kathmandu, Nepal, told me that bells
of this type were being produced in a workshop in Dehra Dun (Uttar
Pradesh, near the border with Himachal Pradesh, India).
Many of these bells are sold as souvenirs in handicraft and ethnography
shops. They occur in larger numbers on belts for horses and yaks.
On chest chains worn by shamans from Nepal and Tibet, they are sometimes
found together with other bells.
Size and dimensions
The size of the C type bells
is rather consistent: a width of about 3.4 cm. and a height of about
of decorations on the 'forehead' of type C bells
lines could be inspired by two characters. The remains of a
'Wang' character are in the canter of the picture.
are clearly two Chinese characters.
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