Day of the Dead Toy

DoD Toy webx

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

tobacco container web

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.






Kuba Divination Object

Itoom webThis small wooden animal carving is known as an itoom and is used as an object of divination among the Kuba people, who live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  When practicing divination, Kuba diviners, called ngwoom, make an inquiry and then rub a small wooden disc with a smooth base and a projecting knob over the back of the itoom.  The answer to the ngwoom’s inquiry is determined by where the disc sticks as it is rubbed across the itoom’s back.  You can see that the back of this carving has been worn down from use.  Common animals represented by itoom are crocodiles, warthogs, lizards, and dogs.  You can see this artifact on display in the new exhibit A Glimpse of Africa: Five Cultures from the Continent.

Kuna Mola

Kuna Mola web

This colorful textile made by the Kuna people of the San Blas Islands in Panama is known as a molaMolas form part of a Kuna woman’s traditional clothing with the brightly colored panels applied to the front and back of a blouse.  Molas are made of several layers of different colored cloth, which are cut away to form the intricate design, in this case a sea turtle.  The layers are then sewn together with nearly invisible stitches.  These textiles are the best-known representation of Kuna culture to outsiders, and to the Kuna people are a symbol of ethnic pride.

Model Kayak


This model of a kayak was made by the Yup’ik people in the Kuskokwim River Valley of Alaska.  It was collected by Moravian missionaries who worked in the area beginning in the late 1880s.  The model kayak is made of seal hide stretched over a wooden framework.  Traditionally, a kayak was a Yup’ik hunter’s most prized possession and a symbol of manhood.  To help identify individual kayaks, men often added unique painted designs or modified the bow or stern shape of the boat.  The Yup’ik used kayaks for seal hunting, fishing, and general transportation.  This model kayak is currently on view in the new exhibit The Yup’ik Way of Life: An Alaskan People in Transition.

Heart Ex-Voto

This wooden carving from Canindé, Brazil, is known as an ex-votoHeart web
or milagre (Portuguese).  Canindé is an important pilgrimage site, particularly during the feast of St. Francis.  In areas with such strong traditions of petitioning God or saints for relief from troubles, religious pilgrims offer these objects in gratitude for their answered prayers, often for recovery from an illness or injury.    Ex-votos can take the form of paintings or sculptures made from a variety of materials including wood, cloth, or wax.  They often represent parts of the body that have been healed.  The petitioner in this case may have recovered from a heart attack or other cardiac ailment.  The MOA has more than 275 votive sculptures from Brazil in the permanent collection.