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Tiger bells in Central Asia

Formerly: Outer Mongolia

Tiger bells are of the A type and B type

Group: unknown

Page from 'Grove's dictionary of music' with various bells

One larger type A tiger bell, used as an amulet. Illustration in the Grove's Dictionary of Music, an article on various types of bells by the late Mr. Percival Price.

Group: unknown, probably common
One large type B tiger bell. No further details available but probably from a horse belt (similar to those from Tibet).

A shaman costume from Darchad, in the National Museum of Mongolian History. On the headdress two large tiger bells, type A, are attached (diameter appr. 5 to 6 cm.). One smaller tiger bell on the side of the costume. The costume was exhibited during the exposition Dancing demons of Mongolia, Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, 1999.

Photographs: Jan Fontein
Courtesy: Organisatie De Nieuwe Kerk; Publishers: V+K Publishing / Inmerc

In March 2009 Marco Hadjidakis reported:

In addition to several single tiger bells I have a Mongolian shaman's mirror, tied to a small table or stool with silk khadaques (tufts of silk). Also twelve small tiger bells are attached to the table.

Two of the tiger bells. The bronze mirror,
toli, is on top of the object.
Photograph courtesy: Marco Hadjidakis who also contributed
pictures of bells from China and Burma

The tiger bells are of the A-type. The average diameter is appr. 3,5 cm. Note the large rectangular hoop and compare this to one of the tiger bells from China.

I had the chance to see the object myself and Marco Hadjidakis allowed me to make several photographs. Instead of twelve there are thirteen tiger bells. They are tied to what seems to be a cube-shaped miniature table of wood with sides of about 12,5 cm. The 'legs' are appr. 4 cm. square. The cube is covered with such a large number of silk threads, tufts and ribbons that it is difficult to see the cube itself. The tiger bells are also hidden in the tangle of silk. The longest of the ribbons are more than 50 cm. long. Mr. Hadjidakis thinks the toli (bronze mirror), the silk ribbons and the bells were once part of a shaman's dress. They were tied to the cube-shaped mini-table, that thus became an altar piece or an oracle-mirror. My impression however is that it is a head decoration. The ribbons were supposed to hang over the head and shoulders of the shaman in order to cover his face. The toli, on top of the head of the shaman, reflected the sun. The object is clearly part of a shaman's costume in the tradition of the Ewenk, and was used by an Ewenk shaman or a shaman of a subgroup such as the Solon or Nanay.

The object is placed on a stool to show the length of the
silk ribbons and tufts.

The object is so intriguing that I have added a special page with more views in a larger size. Click here to go to that page.

A screen shot taken from a documentary on Christian missionary work in Mongolia wherein a missionary meets a shaman in Ulan Bataar. The screen shot was taken by Henk Orsel (Eindhoven, the Neth.) who also reported the tiger bells from Istanbul (Turkey). The picture shows two tiger bells between other shaman's attributes. No more details are known.

Photograph courtesy Boeddhistische Omroep, no details are known

The two bells are of the A type; however the design seems to be engraved in the surface of the bell (and not in relief on the surface). This could indicate that these are newly made bells.

Reported in October 2012

The Mongol invasions, the Hazara and the Turkish armies

Inspired by Mr. Timoshenko's find of the two old tiger bells in November 2011, I searched for information on the Mongol invasions. In the WikiPedia I found this map. The map shows the Mongol empire under Djengis Khan:

Courtesy: WikiPedia
The area is indeed almost similar to the distribution area of the the classic tiger bell. The map shows the Mongol empire in the 14th - 15th century. The Mongols had a strong shamanic tradition which was closely related to the shamanist complex of the Ewenk (or: Tungus) and their subgroups, as well as the Manchu's. The Mongol leaders were shamans. Shamans accompanied the armies during their invasions over the Asian continent.

Dutch anthropologist Hendrik Wittenberg reacted too on the report of Mr. Timoshenlo's find. He too remarks that there is a striking similarity between the distribution area of the type A tiger bells and the Mongol empire at the height of its power in the 13th to the 15th century. Mr. Wittenberg writes the following:

In my opinion the Mongols were the most important actors in the spread of the tiger bell (type A) which they had given an iconic meaning. Many rulers of the Khan family positioned themselves as shamans. And how far did they get! There even were raids to Indonesia and fights against Javanese royalty...
The presence of tiger bells in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and possibly also in Turkey, could therefore very well be a direct result of immigrations of Hazara and Turkic people, who arrived in the area with the Mongolian armies.

The presence and use of tiger bells in Mongolia cannot be seen separately from the presence of tiger bells in Inner Mongolia and SE Siberia.

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Shaman's head dress
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