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Tiger bells in Northeast Asia


Countries/regions/groups: Ewenki, Daur, Manjagir, Nanay, Tuva, Buryati

Tiger bells are of the A type, and of an alternative type based on the classic A type.

For an indication of the location of these groups, see the Distribution map.

Group: Tungus (or Ewenk); East Siberia, Stanovoi Mountains

Four tiger bells, on the back of a shaman costume. In the collection of the Musée de l'Homme, Paris (France). In the description that came with the photographs, the bells are described as: Grelot, tête de tigre en laiton, accroché au dos du costume chamanique. Dimension en coupe longitudinale: 3,7 cm. (Religion / magique) Toungouse, USSR - Siberie Orientale - Monts Stanovoi. (transl. Crotal bell, tiger's head, made of brass, tied on the back of a shaman's costume. Dimension in diameter: 3,7 cm. (Religion, magic). Tungus, USSR - Oriental Siberia, Stanovoi mountains). No year of collection is mentioned.

Four tiger bells, together with ordinary bells, and other metal objects

The costume

One of the tiger bells
photographs: courtesy Musée de l'Homme, Paris
with the help from Drs. Ingrid Groenen

Another picture of the four bells on the Tungus shaman costume, from 'Masterpieces from the musée du quai Branly collections', page 64, 65, publ. by the Musée du quai Branly, 2010.

The antlers on the head dress imply that this is a 'costume deer'. Reported in 1975, in the exhibited collection of the Musée de l'Homme in Paris (Fr). Seen again in 2009 in the Musée Quay Branly, Paris, France. In 2017 another costume appeared to be exhibited (see the following description).
Group: Daur, Trans-Baikal region, East Siberia

Six tiger bells on a shaman's costume of which four on the head dress, one on the left shoulder and one partly hidden between the textile rolls a tufts. A seventh bell is suspended on the inside of the drum. In the permanent exhibition in the Museum Quai Branly this costume has replaced the costume presented above. Because of the feathers in the head dress, this is a bird costume (or 'costume duck') . The ribbons and rolls of textile imitate snakes that help the shaman.

Two of the bells are visible while one is hidden between
the ribbons and rolls of cloth.

The same two bells on the headdress in a better view.

Two more bells (middle and left) are now visible.

The bell hidden between the rolls of cloth in a better view.

Although, because of the reflections in the glass, the design is not very
clear the bell on the shoulder is also a tiger bell.

Inside the drum three bells are suspended. The bell to the
left is a tiger bell.

A better view on the three bells inside the drum. The bell to the left
is the tiger bell.

Photographed in the Musée Quay Branly, Paris, in October 2017.

Group: Ewenk
Twelve tiger bells, on a shaman's costume. In the collection of the St. Petersburg Museum of Ethnology; exhibited in the Tropen Museum, Amsterdam during the exhibition 'From shaman to cyber space', 1998.

The costume

Detail of the costume.
Photographs courtesy Tropen Museum, Amsterdam

Group: Manjagir

Shaman's coat, in the Russian Ethnographic Museum,
St. Petersburg; detail from the front, with at least 25 tiger bells

The same shaman's coat, detail from the back, with at least two tiger bells.
Pictures are details from photographs published in Art of Siberia by
Valentina Gorbachova and Marina Federova (2008),
courtesy Parkstone Press Int. New York USA

The Manjagir are a subgroup of the Ewenk, a large Tungusic speaking ethnic group in East Siberia. For examples of complete costumes such as these, see the pages The ultimate shaman costume, Inner Mongolia and Bells, mirrors, masks and opther ornaments.

An Ewenk shaman
Note the
toli and the rows of bells;
almost certainly all these bells are tiger bells
Photograph: source unknown

Group: Nanay (Amur river)
Sixteen tiger bells on a shaman tree; a drawing made by a shaman named Inka, in Materialy po izobrazitel'nomu iskusstvu narodov sibiri by S.V. Ivanov (Materials on the fine arts of the Siberian people, in the 19th and early 20th century; page 247 - 248). Description:

The bark of the tree consists of crawling animals, the roots are formed by giant snakes; the leaves are formed by toli (bronze mirrors); the flowers are formed by jingle bells soeroeotsja or kongokto; the tree's crown has many metal horns. The horns, toli and kongokto were (..) an intriguing part of every ritual shaman costume.

Toli are worn by the shamans on the chest. They believed the toli could protect the shaman from good and bad acts by humans; that they gave access to the truth and at the same time protect the shaman's body against enemy arrows.

The meaning of the kongokto is not entirely clear. One shaman explained that the bell that was tied to the head dress of a shaman houses the ajami: the protector spirit, the soul, and the shaman's teacher.

Such objects as copper
toli and bells are surely from the Nanay. They came into the area from Northeast China.

Translation of caption (courtesy Elise Fafié, St. Hilaire-en-Morvan, Fr.)

Drawing 117: Shamanic tree. After a drawing made by
a Nanay shaman. Amur Museum of Ethnography (?)
Collection of I.I. Kosminsky

The original shape of the bells [in the drawing by the shaman Inka] is interesting. The division of the bells with a vertical line between two circles surrounded by arcs, are no coincidence and not made up by the shaman. They represent in a simple way the bells from Mancuria and China. On these bells we find representations of eyes, nose and a big mouth, composed of two combined halves of one bell. On illustration nr 118 (see below) two bells are shown for comparison: left a drawing by a Nanaj; right: an original bell from the museum in Amur. Copper bells of this type decorated the head dresses of the shamans from Mancuria. (Translation: courtesy Mrs. Veldhuys, Deventer, Neth.; bold by author)

Translation of caption (courtesy Elise Fafié, St. Hilaire-en-Morvan, Fr.):

Drawing 118. Bells
1: after a drawing by a Nanay shaman,
2. after an object in the exhibition of the Amur Museum
of Ethnography (?)

Thirteen tiger bells, on the girdle of a shaman's costume. In the collection of the St. Petersburg Museum of Ethnology; exhibited in the Tropen Museum, Amsterdam during the exhibition 'From shaman to cyber space', 1998.

Courtesy: Tropen Museum, Amsterdam

Groups: Tuvene

A report by Arnoud van Haaft in March 2008:

'In the exhibition in the National museum in Kyzyl, capital of Tuva, we have seen such bells on shaman costumes; unfortunately no photographs.'

Country/region: Buryatia

Bells are of the A type, and of an alternative type based on the A type and possibly recently made.

The Solon's shaman's coat, with more than 60 classic type A tiger bells, now in the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen, belonged to the Solon shaman Delger Bugu. He had inherited the costume from his father, a Buryat from Zabaikal district. This is the only report of classic type A tiger bells with the Buryat.

On the website of 3 Worlds - The Shamanism Website: a ritual whip, from the area Southern Siberia / Buryatia / Northern Mongolia. (http://www.3worlds.co.uk/Pages/Gallery-5-Ritual.html) The whip is for sale. Here is the complete description:

Origin: Northern Mongolia (or Southern Siberia, Buryatiya)
Age: 45 - 25 years
Length: 600 mm approx.

Price: 198 English Pounds
A very rare object, this shaman's ritual blessing whip or bardag was used both to bless people and objects, and for the purification of people and objects.

It is not a particularly old example, but is a genuine used item, complete with its ritual metal work of tiger bells and old iron cones. The old iron cones are far older than the bardag, and probably came of a very old shaman's costume or other ritual objects. It is also decorated with colored woolen threads in the traditional way, which are tied to the wooden handle.

Whips like these are held by shamans while they sing to their spirits, and then when the spirits have taken them over and they are in trance, they touch those gathered for the ceremony with the bardag to bless and purify them.

The shaman holds the antler part, which is traditionally the antler of a three year old stag. The shaman's hand would be put through the blue silk ribbon attached to the antler like a horse rider would put their hand through the strap of a ridding crop.

Some examples of bardag have small models of the tools of the blacksmith tied to them (hammers, anvils etc.) as well as weapons such as small iron bows and arrows, the spirit of these the shaman would use while in trance if they needed to battle hostile spirits, or escape from them. Sometimes even model boats are attached to bardags, should the shaman need to make a hasty escape by water while in the spirit worlds.

Left: the bardag ; right: detail with four of the tiger bells


Left: close up of two of the tiger bells ; Right: a Buryat shaman from Southern Siberia relaxing inside a yurt. He wears his ritual costume including a metal shaman's mirror around his neck, and a bardag resting on the floor, it's strap going around his right wrist.
Photographs: courtesy 3Worlds - The Shamanism Website

A closer look at the design of the bells shows us that they are clearly tiger bells. The square hoop is there and the face is present. However the lines around the eyes (that in other bells form the line around the eyes and the nose) are reduced to curved lines around the eyes that start from the 'mouth'. This is not seen in other tiger bells and makes these bells alternatives. The shaman with the whip on the photograph is a Buryat. However it is not clear if the bells on his whip are tiger bells. My impression is that these tiger bells are recently made.

In M. A. Czaplicka's Shamanism in Siberia, excerpts from Aboriginal Siberia (1914), the chapter Accessories of the shaman, we find several quotes from various authors on the use and meaning of brass bells in the costume and paraphernalia. 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. To read the quotes, go to Quotes from Shamanism in Siberia.

S. M. Shirokogoroff is a well known authority on Tungus (or Ewenki) shamanism. In his study The psychomental complex of the Tungus shaman he describes several costumes. Shirokogoroff dates the emergence of the Tungus shamanism complex in he 11th century.

Brochure of the Vienna Ethnological Museum, Austria: a photograph of two shamans with costumes more or less similar to the Solon costume from Inner Mongolia (with more than 60 tiger bells).

Two shamans. Note the toli's (round mirrors) and the rows of bells.
It is almost certain that all these bells are tiger bells.
Photograph: courtesy Vienna Ethnological Museum

In the Teyler's Museum in Haarlem (Neth.) a copy of the book The costume of the Russian Empire by W. Miller (published in London, 1803) is on display. One of the 73 engravings shows a Mongol female shaman in her ritual costume. We see bronze mirrors (toli) and metal objects,, and on the lower rim of the costume, six crotal bells. Possibly the row of bells continues at the back of the costume. The color yellow indicates that the toli and the bells are made of bronze. The bells are quite large but that is possibly the result of an unintended exaggeration by the engraver. On the bells' surface there is an indication of a design. The pages of the book were displayed in an interactive media presentation on a computer screen so it was impossible to get a more detailed image of the design. It is however very well possible that these bells are tiger bells. The entire costume is remarkably similar to the costumes we know from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. That fact too makes it likely that the bells are tiger bells.

The costume

Detail. The pictures were taken from the monitor screen
courtesy: Teyler's Museum, Haarlem (The Neth.)

Reported in April 2014

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