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Five Go Collecting: Traditional Healers in Palawan

Dalia is one of the five modern-day collectors selected by the Royal Anthropological Institute to take part in the Horniman Collecting Initiative. Here she reports on her fieldwork with the traditonal Palawan healers of the Philippines.

In many areas of the Philippines, traditional medical practitioners continue to be the main providers of health care. In the course of my fieldwork, the most common practitioner that I came across in the Palawan ethnic group were 'balyan', who rely on visualisations and invocation of spirits during healing practices.

Balyan use a variety of objects in their every-day practices and many were keen that some of these objects be donated and displayed at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in order to help maintain their cultural practices which they feel are under threat.

In order to select the most appropriate objects for the museum, I trained various healers to use digital cameras in order to visually document their practices and the objects that they use.

Following an initial training session, participants were given cameras for a period of 1-3 weeks and at the end I collected the cameras and printed the participant’s pictures.

The pictures were then used as the basis of qualitative interviews and allowed healers to decide what objects best reflect and convey their work.

In one case, Sario Langi, a balyan, used his camera to take pictures over 3 weeks whilst treating a variety of patients. One evening, a man came to him feeling very weak. Sario felt his pulse whilst calling upon the spirits to assist him in his diagnosis (turon). He also used a 'tari-tari'.

Tari-Tari is a diagnostic tool, a bamboo stick with honeybee wax at one end from which a piece of 'rocoroco' (Ocimum sanctum or Holy basil) is attached. Sario’s tari-tari was made by his father (also a balyan) and he inherited it from him after his death. The tari-tari is the same length as the span of Sario’s hand, but it will become longer or shorter to respectively confirm or refute the questions that Sario asks it.

In this way, Sario was able to diagnose that the man was suffering from 'pintas' (curse or evil words), probably spoken by a scorned lover. The tari-tari is crucial to Sario’s work, so he kindly made one to donate to the Horniman.

As a treatment, Sario gave him a 'pananga' which is an example of a repellent (panulak). This small cloth pouch, sewn by Sario’s wife Pina, contained 7 specific herbal plants and roots which, if tied by a string round the waist, reverse the curse and help defend the patient against further attacks. 

Sario inherited the knowledge of which 7 plants to use from his ancestors who appear to him through prayer. Sario collects these plants from the surrounding forest and stores them in a woven basket made by his father. Sario kindly donated this basket to the Horniman along with some pananga.

As well as illnesses caused by human agents, Sario can diagnose those caused by malevolent spirits. Using his camera, he documented his treatment of these illnesses.

He enters a sleeping state (natutulog) so that his own soul leaves his body and is replaced with a spirit with whom he can communicate. He adorns a headband that has sprigs of rocoroco (Ocimum sanctum or Holy basil) tucked into it, closes his eyes and start to use 'tawar' (incantations) to invite the spirit in. Sario feels himself becoming dizzy at this point is unable to ‘see’ what is happening in the human world.

He then picks specific sprigs of rocoroco which he waves in a circular motion over the patient along with 'silad' (pom poms) made from Mangrove Fan Palm (Licuala spinosa) accompanied by incantations (tawar) to call good spirits to his aid. Sario’s daughter took pictures of him using the silad which have now also been donated to the museum.

Five Go Collecting: Coin Garlands of the Marma Community

Farhana is one of five modern-day collectors selected by the Royal Anthropological Institute to research and acquire new objects for our collections. Here she reveals what she has learnt about an intriguing family heirloom in a Bangladesh community.

When I first came to Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts in January 2013, I interviewed two women from the area's Marma community in the town of Bandarban. We discussed coin garlands, which are family heirlooms which act as a link to their Burmese heritage. The women were originally from Ruma, which is close to the border with Myanmar (Burma).

Since then, I have looked into the custom of coin garland making. The men of the family would collect the coins and when they had a sufficient number, they would make a garland. The garland would be given to the eldest daughter as dowry to take with her into marriage.

Women used to wear the garlands all day, while working and sleeping, carrying their ‘personal value’ with them mainly because there was no way of keeping valuables safe in their remote bamboo homes. Today, the garlands are worn on special occasions or at Marma cultural events. 

The garlands are typically made up of Indian Rupee coins, sometimes threaded on string or on a small chain. Sometimes there are plastic beads between the coins or white metal beads made from melted-down coins. I am told the garland designs are Burmese in origin but that the makers had to rely on local Bengali smelting techniques and craftsmanship as well as local materials such as plastic beads and chains.

When I visited the Tribal Cultural Institute in Bandarban, I found garlands made from Indian Rupee coins with the heads of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V and East Pakistan Taka coins depicting George VI. Equally interesting is the fact that all the local tribes wear and value similar garlands.

Whilst the Marma call the garland 'Puaitha Loing Hrui', other tribes have different names. The Chak call it 'Tang Grik'; the Mro, 'Keng Leng' and the Lusai 'Cheng Thui'.

The coin garlands reflect the chequered history of the region. At different points in time, the people of the Chittagong hills have been incorporated into an ever-changing larger state, becoming minorities first in India, then in British India, then in Greater East Pakistan and finally in Bangladesh.

The British Empire played a prominent role here: the region was annexed as far back as 1860, becoming a British protectorate to keep the tribes safe against raids by a collection of guerrilla tribes.

Since the 1970s, this area has experienced huge upheaval, guerrilla warfare, and a Government-encouraged Bengali immigration. The latter was in response to the growing impoverishment of the Bengali population due to famine, disappearing delta land and a need to move to higher and fertile ground. The migration of Bengali people into the Hill Tracts was also seen as a way of integrating the Hill Peoples into Bangladeshi culture.

Therefore this area has many competing identities, with tribal people living alongside Bengalis and a fluid border. Objects such as these coin garlands reflect these multiple and dynamic influences.

Collecting a Coin Garland for the Horniman Museum

Returning to Bangladesh this year, I put out the word that I was interested in collecting a Marma coin garland for the museum because the object reflects not only the history of the area but carries cultural meaning for this community that has migrated to this area from Burma in the 1600s.

Many coin garlands vanished during the insurgency period in the CHT (1971-1997) or had already been sold to collectors. After months of gentle reminders, I received news that a family in Ruma wanted to sell their coin garland. Leaving our motorbikes behind, we walked the narrow trails along jum (slash and burn) cultivated slopes and mountain ridges to Ruma. However when we arrived, the family had changed their mind about the garland so we set off to another village to find another.

When I began chatting with the children in this village in a mixture of Bengali and Marma, the elders came out to see us and the owner of the coin garland invited me into his house. He was not willing to sell his garland but allowed me to see it, and I was able to ask him questions about the significance of it to him and his family. I explained how long I had been walking and was so far away from anything I recognised yet nonetheless here on his table, were coins with my British king on them! They laughed with me. Why, I asked, did they collect coins with another king’s head on? They were after all subject to their own king – the Bohmong Raja - but here they were wearing the coins of another king from very far away. He pointed out that these British kings were the ‘kings of everywhere’ and that the coins held great power and value as a result. My meeting with this owner drew a crowd from the village and everyone listened to the stories recounted.

After two more visits to Ruma, I was told of a lady who wanted to sell her coin garland. She grew up with her grandparents because her mother had died when she was 5 years old. Her grandparents gave her the garland when she was 15 years old. As her husband died in 1999 and she has no children, she had no one to pass the garland on to. The thread is original; there are 12 Pakistani coins, 11 taka coins and 27 connecting beads – silver coins melted down. Some of the coins are missing, possibly 3 in total.

When I met this lady for the first time, she uncovered different parts of the necklace slowly. They were hidden in different places in somebody else’s house. The necklace was not fully strung: there were loose coins and a broken string. We laid out the necklace so that we could take a photograph of her with her heirloom and she indicated how the necklace should look.

Back in the UK, the necklace was fixed before being handed over to the Horniman.

I wore it so that I could feel its weight and imagine what it must have felt like to wear such a heavy ornament all day. Worn by three generations of women, far away in the exotic remote hill tracts on the border between South Asia and South East Asia, this ornament is not only rich in history and meaning, but is also quietly exquisite.

#TranscribeTuesday at the Horniman

Today marks the start of #TranscribeTuesday in our archive, as we invite the public to become Horniman historians and deceipher the handwritten notes of curators and collectors past.

Normally hidden in our archive stores, 'Scrapbooks G & H' provide a fascinating record of the Horniman's early purchases, including some of the most iconic objects from the collection.

These records are over 100 years old, and show objects signed over to the Horniman's first curator, Richard Quick, and even to the museum's founder Frederick Horniman himself.

Many contain their own notes about their purchases, often including quick sketches, presumably to remind themselves of which object was which before the days of quick and easy photography.

Now, each page of these fascinating folios has been carefully digitised, but there is still some information missing from our collections database.

Inspired by St Fagans National History Museum in Wales, we're uploading these documents to the photo-sharing website Flickr, and inviting the public to transcribe the handwritten notes in the comments. We're hoping this information can then be added to our database to help researchers in the future.

To get involved and add your transcriptions (there might be more than one interpretation of some particularly spidery scrawls), head on over to our #TranscribeTuesday Flickr set and sign in to get started. If you don't already have a Flickr account, creating one is free and easy.

We've started the project by uploading receipts from the first page of Scrapbook G.

Transcription can be a tricky task: while the text of some receipts seems easy to read, the handwriting of some sellers seems deliberately designed to stump.

You don't need to transcribe a whole document at once (although we are looking for a transcription for every piece of text on each receipt). If a letter of word is completely unreadable, typing [?] or [000] in your description is a good way to show it.

If you fancy doing a little work to hone your transcription skills first, why not check out The National Archives interactive tutorial? You can try your hand at some really tricky passages and check how accurate your reading was at the end.

Alternatively, if you don't fancy your deceiphering skills, just taking a look at some of the receipts now on display online allows a fascinating glimpse into museum purchases of the past.

We'll be sharing further pages from the scrapbook on Twitter every Tuesday, as well as tweeting some transcription tips, so be sure to look out for the #TranscribeTuesday hashtag. Other organisations are also making use of the tag, so take a look and see where else you can get involved.

Changes in the Natural History Gallery

If you've visited our Natural History Gallery lately, you might have noticed that things are looking a little different.

Thanks to a generous grant from the DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund, we're able to revamp the front of the historic Gallery, creating new displays which highlight star specimens unearthed by our recent Bioblitz review, as well as improving physical access to the original 1901 gallery.

Over the next few months, some objects and cases from the front of the gallery will disappear as we make room to start work.

But not to worry - the Gallery is still open, and the rest of the displays are still intact around the corner, including our world-famous Walrus.

In the mean time, we've used the display cases to show pictures of how some of the Gallery used to look way back when, as well as provide a look at what you might see around the corner.

There will be some short temporary closures later in the year, but we'll keep you updated, so be sure to check the gallery's website page before visiting.

Latest news: the first temporary closure of the Natural History Gallery will be from 1 September to 5 September 2014.

Horniman collections on display at Tate Britain

Five objects from the Horniman's acclaimed Anthropology collection are currently on display at Tate Britain, as part of the exhibition British Folk Art.

We asked curator Martin Myrone to introduce the exhibition and tell us why our objects are on display.

British Folk Art brings together inventive, strange and wonderful objects from collections across the country, made by people outside the artistic mainstream.

Displaced from their contexts in social history or regional collections, they are being shown as examples of everyday, sometimes idiosyncratic, creativity.

These are objects with multiple lives - as functional objects, decoration, cherished artworks or historical curiosities.



The objects being borrowed from the Horniman are wonderful examples of the invention applied to the craft of creating trade signs in the past.

The strange and brooding Chimneysweep's Sign, for example, is both a fantastic piece of figurative sculpture, and a rather alien, even 'ethnographic' artefact.

What was once an everyday piece of street signage has been transformed by time and by re-display into a compelling artwork.

British Folk Art is at Tate Britain until 31 August 2014. Later this year, the exhibition will be at Compton Verney from 27 September to 14 December.

Soundmaps and Spectograms in the Horniman Gardens

Last week, the Horniman's Youth Panel took to the Gardens to create a sound map inspired by Bernie Krause's recordings of animal orchestras from around the world.

We started off the session with a sneak preview of the Great Animal Orchestra exhibition, which opened at the Horniman on Sunday.

Then we headed outside, tasked with discovering the quietest spot in the Horniman Gardens. The challenge? To see if we could find anywhere where you could hear only natural sounds, and nothing manmade.

Using their knowledge of the Gardens, the Youth panel picked the spots where we might have the best chance, sticking to the Northern side of the Gardens in order to keep away from the noise of London's busy South Circular road.

The first stop was next to the Animal Walk, where the Horniman's Pygmy Goats certainly created a lot of noise, but since these are domesticated animals, was this natural? In any case, there was quite a bit of manmade noise here, from planes flying over to people picnicking.

Many of the Youth Panel chose to record the sounds by drawing a visual representation, taking inspiration from Great Animal Orchestra, where the pitches of different animal noises are displayed in a colourful 'spectogram'.

How would you record the pitch and volume of a bleating goat?

We moved on to the South Downs, creating a 'sound circle' (there was a collective groan) and sitting in silence for 3 minutes to carefully listen and record for any sounds around us.

Beth, our Youth Coordinator, may have been distracted by an overly-friendly moth.

Lots of natural sounds on the South Downs, but they were still overpowered by the noise of traffic an particularly sirens in the distance.

Next stop was the Meadow Field, the quietest place so far.

Another discussion struck up - was the noise of a ring-necked parakeet natural? The consensus was no, since it was an introduced species.

Our last stop was in the far north corner of the Gardens, tucked away by the end of the Nature Trail. The unanimous decision was that this was the quietest place to be found in the Gardens, provided you didn't catch a particularly rowdy game of football in the old boating pond.

By the end of the evening we had quite a collection of hand drawn spectograms, each representing 3 minutes of sound.

Youth can see the full collection of spectograms in the Youth Panel's Flickr album.

Some people may have got a bit carried away with spectogramming.

Some members decided to record the sounds we heard in each spot. Here are Nick's recordings:









Thanks to the Youth Panel for helping us create our own Horniman Sound Map and spectograms.

Bernie Krause introduces his Great Animal Orchestra

Bernie Krause's new installation of the Great Animal Orchestra opens at the Horniman this Sunday. Here the sound designer shares the history behind this stunning soundscape of natural habitats.

The new Horniman soundscape, The Great Animal Orchestra, is based on concepts within my book of the same title in which I describe how animals taught us to dance and sing. From my musical background and field observations of natural sound, my installations express how we discovered the origins of music which emanated from the world’s wild places.

The installation features the beautiful biophonies (the collective sound produced by all living organisms in a given location) from four different habitats: Borneo, Costa Rica, Sumatra, and Zimbabwe. Simultaneously, the installation projects the graphic images of these recordings called spectrograms.

The dramatic images, like orchestral musical scores, illustrate the organization of sound from which humans living amongst these animals mimicked, adopting the acoustic structure, melody, rhythm, harmony, texture and performance. One of my favourite moments is the magical call and response of two duetting gibbons in the recording from Camp Leakey, Borneo which really does sound like a musical duet.

The recordings at the Horniman hold special meaning for me and have been selected as prime examples of the many thousands I have recorded around the world. My fascination with biophonies began following my first field trip to Kenya in the 80s. When I returned home I created simple spectrograms from the recordings I’d made. Just as photographic images appear on photo paper, unmistakably clear patterns materialized showing the audio sequences I’d recorded. This was far from the chaotic random expression I and others perceived it to be; it became unmistakably clear that creatures vocalize in distinct kinship to one another, occupying their own bandwidth in order to hear their own species just as each instrument of the orchestra has a different range.

And so a lifetime’s work began.

The communal sound arrangement described above is still produced in the few remaining undisturbed places of the wild. Unfortunately many of my soundscape recordings are of habitats that no longer exist due to human intervention or natural disaster.  For example, the impact of population and mining has had a devastating effect on the Borneo habitat you can hear in the installation, and the habitat you hear from the Aceh province in Sumatra was destroyed in the 2004 Tsunami.

Great Animal Orchestra: Natural Soundscapes by Bernie Krause opens in the Horniman's Music Gallery on Sunday 27 July. Join us to celebrate the launch of this new exhibition at The Great Animal Orchestra Party.

Creating the Great Animal Orchestra

This week saw the transformation of the Horniman's Music Gallery performance space into the perfect setting for Bernie Krause's Great Animal Orchestra soundscapes. We popped in to take a look behind the scenes at how this special exhibition was created.

The performance space can be found at the end of the Gallery, and is usually closed to the public for use by schools and community groups.

The work began on Monday, as technicians from ArtAV arrived to install a huge frame into the room.

Careful measurements ensured the pieces brought in fit perfectly.

The next step was to fit black fabric to every side of the frame, as well as across the ceiling.

Leaving us with a dark space and a perfect projection surface for the visual elements of the exhibtion.

The only light in the room comes from the entry door and fire exit, meaning the rest of the work needed to be done by headtorch.

It wasn't long before ArtAV had the speakers playing Bernie Krause's fabulous natural soundscapes from around the world, and their accompanying spectogram displayed on one wall.

We could finally take a look at what the finished exhibition would be like.

It's a perfect place to stop, and maybe sit for a while, and listen to the sounds of the natural world.

Great Animal Orchestra opens to the public this Sunday and will be at the Horniman until 31 August. Join us for the launch party and experience the exhibiton alongside live music performances and family activities.

#MuseumMatch Highlights

For the knockout stages of this year's World Cup, we took to Twitter to share objects from the competing countries in #MuseumMatch.

While we were unfortunately unable to share any of our objects from England, our collections contain a wealth of objects from around the world, including all the countries which made it to the later stages of the tournament.

We picked some of the most interesting, intriguing and inspiring objects usually hidden in the stores to reveal to our Twitter followers.

Asking our followers to make a choice allowed us to get some idea of which ojects able to spark their interest, and what information they most wanted to learn.

Some things were expected, such as the popularity of animal-shaped objects.

But even some objects which we thought may be off-putting sparked some real interest and conversation with our followers.

The choices made led us to reveal more information about the objects in each pairing...

....as well as carry on conversation into the finer points of each object.

But things really got going in the later stages of the competition, when our semi-final and final Museum Matches seemed to eerly predict the outcome of the World Cup games.

First our object from Germany (seen above) trounced the choice from Brazil. The anatomical model chosen by many, leaving the Brazilian figure in the dust.

Then our Argentina/Netherlands matchup resulted in the first #MuseumMatch draw.

And finally, tweeting 2 days ahead of the World Cup Final #MuseumMatch experienced some early interest in Argentina.

But then.

More accurate than an octopus?

 

Thanks to everyone who participated in #MuseumMatch. You can look through all of our tweets on the subjects by following the #MuseumMatch hashtag on Twitter.

Giant Jellies in the Horniman

If you've visited our Aquarium in the last week, you'll probably have noticed some of the animals in our jellyfish tank are a little different to usual. Aquarium Curator Jamie Craggs introduces us to these giant jellies and what they're doing at the Horniman.

Last week the Horniman's Aquarium team travelled to the south coast to collect a number of large Barrel Jellyfish, Rhizostoma octopus.

These impressive jellyfish have bloomed in number this year, probably due to a unseasonably large plankton population.

Like most jellyfish species the barrel jellyfish are short-lived, growing from just a few millimetres across at the beginning of the year to individuals that weigh 20 kilos or more by the summer.

This species is also known as the 'dustbin-lid jellyfish' due to its size. Compared to our resident Moon Jellyfish, they are giants. To give a sense of scale, the smaller jellyfish in these pictures are around the size of an adult's hand.

The Barrel Jellyfish population explodes for a few short months and then dies out during September and October.

These individuals will be used to start our breeding programme for this species, enabling us to culture the species behind the scenes for many years.

Be sure to visit our Aquarium over the next few weeks to see these giant jellies in the tank alongside our resident smaller species.

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