Artifacts

Initiation Mask

This mask comes from the Yaka people, who live in southwestern Congo in central Africa.  Initiation and circumcision are mandatory rituals for all Yaka young men, and are organized in remote locations by the secret societies ngoni and yiwilla.  After receiving education in adult responsibilities and sexual behavior, the initiates return to their villages for festivities.  This type of mask, which resembles a bird, is used in such celebrations.  The masks are carved by the initiates and their teachers specifically for that event and are used only once.  This mask is currently on display in Professor Deacon’s Cultural Cabinet.

 

Bontoc Axe

This early-20th century axe comes from the Bontoc people of the Philippines.  The Bontoc live in the highlands of Luzon, the largest and most populous Philippine island.  In the past, the Bontoc practiced headhunting, beheading their enemies during warfare and claiming the severed heads as trophies.  Typically, a warrior would attempt to spear his opponent to deliver a mortal blow, but before he died, would decapitate the wounded man using an axe like this one.  The trophy head was then brought back to the village where it was smoked, washed, and ritually activated to bring good fortune to the village.  Sometimes, the lower jaw was removed to be used as a handle for ceremonial gongs.  This axe is currently on exhibit in the student-curated mini-exhibit Warfare and Violent Conflict, in which you can learn more about traditions linked to headhunting.

 

Inca Ceramic Container


This type of Inca ceramic vessel from the Peruvian Andes is known by a variety of names.  Often referred to as aryballos (or aribalos in Spanish) because of their similarity to jars of the same name used in ancient Greece, they are also known as Cuzco bottles or urpus in the indigenous Quechua.  Dating from the 15th to early 16th century, these containers were used to store and transport chicha, a fermented corn beer, as well as water and other foods.  To transport the vessels, ropes were pulled through the handles and wrapped around the central lug, which is marked with a stylized animal face, allowing the container to be easily carried on one’s back.  The two rings under the lip of the jar originally held a cover in place, while its pointed base allowed it to stand upright when set into the earth.  Incan aryballos are almost always decorated with polychromatic geometric designs like this one.  You can currently view this container in Professor Deacon’s Cultural Cabinet.

Japanese Belt Ornament

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Popular in 17th and 18th century Japan, belt ornaments such as this one are known as netsuke.  Used to fasten belongings to a belt, the elaborately carved ornaments also served as symbols of the wearer’s class, wealth, and taste.  This example, which is slightly more than an inch tall, is made of ivory and represents a pair of guardian figures known in Japan as shishi, which are represented as having the features of a dog and a lion.  Shishi are used to ward away malevolent spirits outside of Buddhist and Shinto shrines.  A wide range of netsuke are currently on exhibit in Playing with Spirits: Pokémon and Shintoism.

Yup’ik Snow Goggles

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These snow goggles were made by the Yup’ik people in the Kuskokwim River Valley of Alaska.  Known to Yup’ik speakers as i-guak, the goggles are carved from a single piece of wood with only small slits to see through. Yup’ik hunters use snow goggles all year.  In the winter, they prevent snow blindness caused by the strong reflection of sunlight off the snow.  In the summer, they act simply as sunglasses, shading the hunters’ eyes.  This pair of goggles was collected by Moravian missionaries working in the Bethel, Alaska, in the 1880s.

Mexican Calaveritas

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In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 and 2. Many families set up an ofrenda or offering to the spirits of loved ones who have passed away.   It often includes favorite foods and drinks, flowers, candles, images of saints and the remembered ancestors, personal items, and other objects.   In urban areas, skulls and skeletons are popular elements of ofrendas. In addition to sugar skulls, miniature skeleton figures like these, known as calaveritas, reenact scenes from daily life. They represent the ancestors and things they liked to do, bringing back happy memories of the deceased.   These calaveritas are currently on display in Life After Death: The Day of the Dead in Mexico.

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