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Tiger bells in South Asia


Tiger bells are from the B and C type and of an alternative variation of type A.

In the Tibetan Refugee market in New Delhi several yak belts from Tibet were for sale, each with 8 to 10 tiger bells type B attached.

Similar belts were seen in the Rotterdam World museum and the Berlin Ethnological museum. Both belts were bought in India.

Apart from the type B tiger bells, attached to yak belts as seen and the belt given below, there is one report: a tiger bell of the smaller type B.

In Nagaland an alternative variation of type A tiger bells is reported.

In Arunachal Phradesh an Idu Mishmi shaman has two C type tiger bells.

According to several shop owners and antique dealers in Nepal, tiger bells of the C type are produced until this very day in factories in Dehra Dunn (Uttar Pradesh, near the border with Himachal Pradesh) and Rajpur, for the Tibetan and Nepalese market.

A tiger bell of the smaller type B, in a shop in Mahabalipuram (1990, Tamil nadu), now in the author's collection. No details were known and there are no other indications that tiger bells occur in this area (South east India).

Dimensions: wide 3,4 cm., high 3,4 cm., side 3,2 cm., hoop 1 cm.

Hans Brandeis, ethnomusicologist in Berlin, reports:

…I noticed the tiger bells in 1997 inside a glass cabinet in the basement of the Museum für Völkerkunde. I could not take them out. But the objects in that cabinet were from India. I could see the archive number: 103.315.' The tiger bells were mounted on a leather strip, probably about 10 pieces, of which 8 bells are visible in the picture…

This a yak or horse belt, similar to those in the Tibetan Refugee market in New Delhi.

Photograph: courtesy Hans Brandeis

Assam, Nagaland
Group: Naga
Several strands of small metal sequins, strung as necklaces, with two or three tiger bells and ordinary bells. The strands have probably been restrung for trading purposes. Originally they were much longer and were worn by Naga women around the upper body. The tiger bells are of an unusual type. Type A comes closest. Age and origin are unknown.

Reported by Rinus van Huijksloot who has several of these strands in his shop, the Nusantara Museum shop in Delft (Neth). Also see several photographs in The Nagas, hill people of Northeast India by Julian Jacobs, published by Thames and Hudson.

Arunachal Pradesh
Group: Idu Mishmi
On Flickr (Internet) several photographs of an Idu Mishmi tribesman holding a ritual object with two tiger bells type C. These bells occur mostly in Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and possibly northern India.

Ornaments of an Idu Mishmi shaman from Arunachal Pradesh
Photograph: from
Flickr, no other details available

The caption says:

The Idu Mishmi live in the Dibang valley in Arunachal Pradsesh. The more you move northwards in the valley, the more shamanism becomes prevalent. The costume of the shaman is fantastic with its decorations, tiger teeth collar and bells on the back. Men traditionally wear a white loin cloth, a jacket with red embellishments and a typical cane hat. Women's traditional dress is black, also with red embellishments.

The Idu Mishmi are one of the Burmese-Tibetan groups that live in this Himalayan state of India. They arrived in the area from Burma in three waves, the last wave was about 500 hundred years ago. Arunachal Pradesh is situated north of Nagaland, Assam, and shares its borders with Bhutan in the west, Tibet in the north and China and Burma in the east.

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