Sara Cromwell

Iban Textile

blanket webxThis Iban ceremonial textile, known as pua kumbu, was made in the town of Kapit, in Sarawak, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo.  The Iban people, known as the Sea Dayak during British colonial rule, are the largest ethnic group in the state of Sarawak.

Most pua kumbu are woven on back-strap looms by women.  The decorative pattern is created by Ikat dying, a tie-dying process during which the individual threads are dyed before being woven.  This pattern contains human-like figures known as engkaramba.  In the past, these powerful figures could only be woven by wives and daughters of chiefs.  They are representations of deities in the Iban’s shamanistic religion and can offer protection from danger.  The act of weaving is a deeply spiritual undertaking that establishes an Iban weaver’s womanhood and status.  Specific patterns like this one are often passed down from mother to daughter.

Pua kumbu translates as “grand blanket;” however, the pieces are very rarely used as sleeping blankets.  Pua kumbu are recognized as sacred cloths throughout Iban mythology, dictating their use in rituals and ceremonies.  In one creation myth, the pua kumba already existed at the beginning of time, and the first man and woman were brought to life by the Ancient God underneath it.

Although the cloths maintain these historic connections to shamanism, now the textiles also serve as a symbol of indigenous identity, separating the Iban from the majority Muslim Malay population.

Celebrate Day of the Dead with the MOA

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The Museum of Anthropology has celebrated Day of the Dead with exhibits, lectures, and other programs for nearly 20 years.  This year, Life After Death: The Day of the Dead in Mexico will be on exhibit from September 16 through December 12.  The Museum will also introduce new local collaborators for Day of the Dead programming.

The Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos, is celebrated in Mexico over several days coinciding with the Catholic observances of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days (November 1 and 2).  The observance has roots in both ancient pre-Hispanic celebrations and medieval Spanish Catholic practices, and has evolved to feature a blend of elements from both traditions.  The celebration is considered a festive time when families remember their dead and honor the continuity of life.

Last year, the Museum introduced new text and a new title for the annual bilingual exhibit.  Life After Death: The Day of the Dead in Mexico now includes more information about the celebration’s history, skeleton-themed folk art, and regional variations in observance.  As always, the centerpiece of the exhibit is a traditional Mexican ofrenda, an altar with food and beverage offerings, flowers, candles, sugar skulls, and photos of deceased family members.  The exhibit also includes a children’s ofrenda with toys and  snacks; a wide selection of folk art including ceramics, wooden toys, and cut paper; and a photo essay illustrating the celebration in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.  The Museum welcomes patrons to contribute to the exhibit by placing photos of deceased family and friends on the altar.

The Museum’s programs center around a new collaboration with the Hispanic League and Sawtooth School.  First, the Museum staff will be at the Sawtooth School on Friday, October 24, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. for the Adult/Child Sugar Skulls class.  The Museum will provide background information about the Day of the Dead celebration, as well as objects and photographs to inspire the participants.  Each adult/child pair will get to decorate one sugar skull.  Visit for information and to register.  The next event is the Day of the Dead Excursion on Saturday, October 25, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  The program will start in the morning at the MOA with an educational presentation and in-depth guided tour of the Life After Death exhibit.  After an authentic Mexican lunch at the Museum, participants will move to the Sawtooth School for a workshop where veteran mask maker Martina Moore will guide them through each step of the creative process to produce a Day of the Dead inspired mask.  Participants will have the option of displaying their masks in the MOA’s exhibition through early December.  The excursion is open to ages 14 and over.  Visit for information and to register.  We hope to see you this fall!


Day of the Dead Toy

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Children in Mexico grow up playing with skeleton toys like this one.  The toys teach them about mortality, but also make sure their first impressions of death are cheerful.  Craftsmen have made toys specifically for the Day of the Dead since at least the mid-1800s.  Folk artist Gumercindo España Oliveres, known as Don Chinda, made this toy, as well as the other toys on display in our current exhibit, Life After Death: The Day of the Dead in Mexico.  He has been making toys with the help of his wife, children, and grandchildren for over 40 years in Santa Cruz de Juventino Rosas, Guanajuato.  His toys often have some element of movement.  As this one rolls forward, the skeleton on the cart sits up.

Gond Tobacco Container

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This carved wood tobacco container with a stopper, known as dinga gutta, was made by the Gond people of India.  The Portuguese introduced tobacco to India in 1600, and its use quickly became widespread.  This container was likely made to hold snuff, a popular form of finely ground tobacco.  It was made in the Bastar District of central India.  The Gonds are a group of aboriginal people with a population of over 2 million people.  Although some of the population speaks Hindi rather than their native Gondi, the Gond are not beholden to the Hindu caste system or other Hindu restrictions.  They practice their own religion which centers on a group of clan or village deities and ancestor worship.






Join MOA for The Amazing Summer ESCAPE Challenge

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The Amazing Summer ESCAPE Challenge is an innovative family engagement initiative that reduces summer leaning loss by encouraging students and families to participate in summer learning activities throughout our community, all summer long.  As a member of the Association of Visitor Attractions of Forsyth County (AVA), the MOA is proud to partner with Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and other community partners to provide thousands of local families with a free Amazing Summer ESCAPE Challenge Kit and Passport.

From June through August 2014 students and families can engage in the numerous FREE and low-cost programs, including nature walks, scavenger hunts, puppet shows and more.  A complete list of partner institutions and available programs can be found online at  When students participate in programs, they will add stamps to their passports.  The MOA will reward student who complete the gallery scavenger hunt with a passport stamp.  As students collect more stamps, they become eligible for prize drawings to be held at the Finale and Awards Celebration in August.

Please join us at The Amazing Summer ESCAPE Challenge Kick-Off event at Hanes Mall on Saturday June 21, 2014 from 10am – 2pm.  At the event, students and their families begin the summer learning adventures and find out what it takes to be entered into the prize drawings.  Help us fight summer learning loss and support affordable family fun in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County.

For more information regarding The Amazing Summer ESCAPE Challenge, please contact Sharon Frazier, District & Title I Parent Involvement Coordinator, at or (336) 748-4000 Ext. 34225.

 The AVA is a collaborative marketing organization made up of the following members: Downtown Arts District Association, Historic Bethabara Park, Historic Bethania, Korner’s Folly, Museum of Anthropology at Wake Forest University, New Winston Museum, Old Salem Museums and Gardens, Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, SciWorks, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA), Tanglewood Park, and Triad ECO Adventures.

New Permanent Exhibit Highlights Cultural Diversity in Africa

Ngaady webThe Museum has opened a new long-term exhibit entitled A Glimpse of Africa: Five Cultures from the Continent, which explores the remarkable amount of cultural diversity found in Africa by providing an in-depth examination of five ethnic groups: the Bamileke of Cameroon, the Baule of Cote d’Ivoire, the Kuba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Tuareg of the western Sahara, and the Zulu of South Africa.

Although American popular culture often portrays Africa as a homogeneous entity, it is home to at least 3,000 distinct ethnic groups.  Two thousand recognized languages, representing more than 25% of all languages in the world, are spoken on the continent.  Additionally, Africans are more genetically diverse than the inhabitants of the rest of the world combined.  The five cultures featured in the exhibit showcase this diversity.

The artifacts on display include ceramics, textiles, baskets, masks, weapons, personal adornment, and other objects from daily life.  Although the artifacts vary in age, they largely focus on “traditional” ways of life.  However, several pieces provide insight as to how tradition can be transformed through internal and external influences.

The exhibit was curated by the Museum’s student employees with staff supervision.  Wake Forest students Austin Brown (junior philosophy major), Chris Rinker (second year Divinity School student), and Olivia Whitener (junior Anthropology major) each created an overview of their chosen ethnic groups, selected and researched artifacts from the MOA’s extensive African collections, and composed exhibit text.  As a summer employee, Chris Rinker also provided invaluable assistance installing the exhibit.