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On the Trolley

If you've visited our Natural History Gallery or Nature Base, you might have met one or two of our Engage volunteers. This team are a fantastic addition to the Museum, encouraging visitors to explore a little more and always ready to share their knowledge.

One of the key roles for our Engage volunteers is setting up and staffing the Engage trolley, which displays objects from the Horniman's handling collection in the Gallery.

Choosing objects for the handling trolley is always a difficult task so we asked our Engage volunteers to pick their favourites. We've had many fascinating and intriguing objects on the trolley for visitors to explore over the years and now and until the end of July, visitors will be able to handle and learn about our volunteers favourite objects.

Rhys chose the whale vertebrae.

The whale vertebrae is a huge, very tactile piece and really gives a sense of scale as to how big an animal a really whale is, especially when compared to the snake vertebrae on the handling trolley. The younger visitors love to guess which animal it is from, guesses have ranged from giraffe, elephant, hippopotamus and even a woodlouse! But everyone is impressed when they find out where it really comes from. I love that something so large and seemingly obvious can also have an air of mystery about it. It looks so ancient and no one is absolutely sure which species of whale it comes from, all we know is that it was once part of an ocean-dwelling giant!

Maher chose a sperm whale’s eardrum.

I chose the Sperm Whale’s eardrum as it is such a unique object. I often ask visitors to guess what it is and many come up with the most random of guesses. Once revealed that it is a Whale’s eardrum, it often leads to surprise and discussions about Whales, such their diets, where they live, how they can dive without coming up for air for over an hour and why sound is so important to them. I also explain to the younger visitors about echolocation, which many find fascinating. Also, along with the Whale’s vertebrae, it gives many an idea of the size of a whale.

Richard chose a snake skeleton.

The snake skeleton is a favourite of mine among the handling objects, as even quite young children have a good chance of identifying it. I particularly like using it in conjunction with the whale vertebra to show the difference in scale between the two species.

Andrea chose the hedgehog.

My favourite is the hedgehog. I enjoy demonstrating to the children how to handle it gently as this gives them an idea on how to be more safe. They also have the opportunity to touch an animal that is not very often seen during the day as hedgehogs tend to come at night. Like the other objects on the trolley, I love to ask open ended questions, explain to the public where it’s habitat is, what it’s food source is and who the predators are. I have immense pleasure when I see how much the children are in awe of the hedgehog and I also find it extremely cute.

Visit the engage trolley in the Natural History Gallery most days from 11am – 3pm to see these objects for yourselves. There will be new objects appearing on the trolley in time for the school summer holidays, so watch this space!

Design Inspiration from the Archives

You might have seen our posters and banners for this weekend's Horniman's Curious Tea Party and our Edwardian summer season of events.

When we sat down to think about how these would look, we had a little dilemma.

The Curious Tea Party is host to a day of newly commissioned art installations and dance performances, we didn't really have many photos we could use in advance.

Luckily, our graphic designer Stewart remembered seeing a wonderful Victorian poster - advertising the Museum and Gardens in 1897 - which provided excellent inspiration.

The Museum then was filled with lots of different, interesting and varied activities, just like our tea party will be this weekend. We used a similar style to display the information about our 2014 tea party, as well as the rest of our Edwardian Extravaganza, drawing on an object from the museum's own history.

See if you can spot some of the similarities between the 1897 poster and our new designs (note, it's not the fireworks).

A Tibetan gathering at the Horniman

Assistant Curator Tom updates us on a recent visit from a Tibetan group to the Horniman.

Two weeks ago Tibetans of mixed parentage came from all over the world to attend a unique gathering in London. One of the core ideas behind the gathering was put to Tibetans of mixed parentage in touch with each other and the Tibetan diaspora as a whole.

Dechen Pemba, who worked with us on our Tibet Food Workshop brought the group to the Horniman.

Alongside permanent displays of Tibetan material in the Music and Centenary Galleries we are currently showing a temporary exhibition of Tibetan Buddhist clay figures, so there was quite a lot to look at and discuss.

It was very interesting to browse our Tibetan exhibits with the group and it made me think about who we display our objects for. With the exception of Dechen, all the visitors were at most half Tibetan. Some had experience of the objects on display, whilst others had not. Some were very involved with Tibetan culture whilst others were not so much so. For all of the group however, the Tibetan objects on display had a particular significance, which was not something shared by other museum visitors.

The information which I could provide about the objects was mainly about the people who had collected them, and didn’t seem particularly relevant to the stories and experiences of the group.

In fact the most interesting thing about the visit was the backgrounds of the different members of the group and the similarities and differences of their experiences growing up mixed Tibetan in differing parts of the world. One member from Arizona told me about how back at home he had a Navajo friend who would turn up to Tibetan meetings and everyone would be none the wiser, mistaking him for Tibetan. He also drew comparisons between the use of silver and turquoise by Navajos and Tibetans. I was very pleased to tell him that the Horniman has played host to both the creation of a sand mandala by monks from Tserkamo Monastery in Ladakh and a sandpainting by Navajo medicine man Fred Stevens Klah.

Another member of the group - who couldn’t be present at the Horniman - was descended from Rinchen Lhamo, a Tibetan woman who had married diplomat Louis Magrath King, probably the first Tibetan-British marriage.

In 1925 they moved to England and Rinchen Lhamo wrote We Tibetans (Seeley Service, 1926), one of the first books written by a Tibetan about Tibetan culture to be published in English. Sadly, in 1929 Richen Lamo succumbed to tuberculosis and died at the age of 29. She is buried in Hildenborough churchyard, alongside her husband.

It was fantastic to welcome the group to the Horniman and gather their perspectives on our Tibetan collections. You can find out more about our work with London's Tibetan Community in the video below.

Football: the Global Game

Political geographer David Storey tells us how football reflects complex connections between people, place and identity.

As a political geographer, my interest in football conveniently dovetails with my academic interests in territory, place and identity.

Football can, with some validity, be regarded as the ultimate global game.

Colonial connections partly explain its early geographic diffusion while its growing contemporary popularity is bolstered through global media coverage and merchandising relating to international teams and European club sides.

Football's popularity is most likely linked to its flexibility; it requires little in the way of expensive technical equipment. Some open space, imagination and improvisation are all that is required.

Balls can be manufactured out of almost anything allowing young people to play on patches of ground virtually anywhere.

Football is one medium through which the global and the local intersect.

The children kicking an improvised ball may dream of stardom. Indeed, recent decades have seen African countries make some impact on the international stage with five African teams competing in the 2014 World Cup finals, and two (Algeria and Nigeria) making it through to the knock-out stage.

South Africa's hosting of the 2010 tournament certainly promoted interest in the sport on the continent but also sparked external interest, seen in the publication of an array of books on football in Africa.

To an extent, football puts places on the map.

Senegal's historic win over France, the former title holders, at the 2002 World Cup is a classic example of a country little known to many attaining David and Goliath style victory, a feat all the more resonant for the Senegalese as it came at the expense of their former colonial power.

Football in Africa remains bound into wider global processes, and players are increasingly part of a global sports labour market. The out-migration of young footballing talent to western Europe (particularly France and Spain) is a growing phenomenon.

On the one hand, such routes to migration are the result of historical, linguistic and colonial connections. But increasingly, transnational scouting systems, football agents, and the growth of academies in African countries (who act as conduits of talent to European clubs) encourage more diverse movements to places such as Russia and Ukraine.

While the rewards of a top-class career prove enticing for many, the reality for others may be radically different. Not everyone becomes Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba or Ghana's Michael Essien. There is serious concern over the fate of teenagers some of whom find themselves alone on the streets of European cities after failing to sufficiently impress an elite club.

The migration of talented footballers clearly has negative consequences for the development of football in Africa, as the best players seek better wages and greater fame outside of Africa.

Another dimension to this loss of talent is the number of players born in Africa, or of African parentage, who represent European countries in international competition.

One of the world's great players, Eusebio, who died recently, although forever associated with Portugal and SL Benfica was actually born and brought up in Mozambique.

A long history of migration means that many French teams of recent years have featured players of African origin. Most notably Zinedine Zidane and Karim Benzema - both born in France to Algerian parents.

Flexible and fluid

While the incorporation of these players reflects a more multi-cultural French society (a phenomenon decried by the French far right) some might wish they wore the colours of the familial homeland. The current multi-ethnic Belgian team features players from a range of immigrant backgrounds such as Marouane Fellaini, whose father was a Moroccan footballer, and Romelu Lukaku whose father played for Zaire (now DR Congo).

Alongside this, something of a reverse process is taking place, as countries take advantage of more flexible regulations. Algeria has effectively reclaimed many sons of its diaspora. The majority of players in its current World Cup squad were born in France to Algerian migrant parents.

This highlights the fluidity and multi-layered nature of national identity in football today. Belgium’s captain, Vincent Kompany (born in Brussels to a Congolese father and Belgian mother) recently declared himself to be both 100% Belgian and 100% Congolese.

This transnationalism has also given rise to the intriguing phenomenon of siblings playing for different countries. The Berlin-born Boateng half-brothers lined up against each other at the current and previous World Cups. Kevin Prince Boateng plays for Ghana (their father's birthplace) and Jerome represents Germany where their mother was born.

Football reflects many of the complex connections between people, place and identity.

The enjoyment experienced by Malian children kicking their makeshift 'ball' is mirrored in recent days as fans have taken to the streets of Marseille's old port area in displays of public jubilation for the Algerian team success in the World Cup. In that same place, a few years ago a billboard poster of Zidane (the son of Algerian immigrants) was prominently displayed, hailing the local sporting hero of France’s national team.

Goodbye Africa, see you in 2018

Johanna, who curates our Africa anthropology collections (and is a passionate football fan) gives us a glimpse at Africa, football and our collections.

Yesterday saw Africa's last hopes for World Cup glory with the defeat of both Nigeria and Algeria in two characteristically nail-biting games. A terrible shame in my view. Both games taken to the wire as exciting and creative football lost out to defensive play and predictable set-pieces.

But then again, I am biased. Goodbye Africa, see you in 2018.

Normally, I would not advocate causing intentional harm, but nothing made me happier than reading about Nana Kwaku Bonsam, the Ghanaian witch doctor responsible for Christiano Ronaldo’s knee injury.

In an interview on the Kumasi-based Angel FM, he described how he had spent months manufacturing a spirit called Kahwiri Kapam to work on Portugal's demise. It looks like it worked, though sadly not to Ghana's benefit. At least Ronaldo will be less pleased with himself now his team has been sent home, along with our own collection of not-quite-up-to-the-mark heroes.

Football is everywhere in Africa.

I spent the weeks leading up to the World Cup in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where taxis are adorned with hand-painted signs promoting the drivers' Premier League team, usually Chelsea and, for their sins, Manchester United.

Children play football as soon as they can walk and, when they are older, save up to purchase tickets to watch games in small, packed rooms, with tiny old TVs powered by generators.

I crammed in to watch Brazil comprehensively beat Panama in a friendly, with Chelsea's Willian's final goal met with raucous cheering.

Sierra Leone's own team, the Leone Stars, failed to qualify so many Freetowners chose to support England, sharing our frustration as the hopefuls faffed about on the pitch in their fetching white kits to no avail.

Our collection includes objects that highlight Africa's love of football:

This beautiful football from Uganda is made from locally-sourced materials. Its outer surface consists of carefully woven banana leaf fibers which are tough enough to withstand even Lionel Messi style shots at goal.

Another Ugandan football made from twisted banana leaves. This one is even tougher than the above. I wouldn’t want to take this one on the head!

African wax cloth designers make new patterns to commemorate important events. This example from comes from Mali and commemorates the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Mali played their first World Cup qualifying match in 2000, but have as yet failed to get through. Fingers crossed for 2018!


Refugee Week at the Horniman

On Saturday 21st June, children from Action for Refugee Lewisham’s Rainbow Club performed music they had been practicing with Fairbeats! for museum visitors. The Horniman has worked with Fairbeats! many times in the past – they have real expertise at teaching music to children.

This year they had something special planned. One of the mothers from the group, Josephine Chukwujekusu, taught the children an Igbo song, called Nne, Nne or Mother, Mother.

This song tells of a girl who walks to the well to collect water carrying a heavy and expensive clay pot. As she leaves, her mother tells her to be careful and concentrate so she doesn’t break it.

On the way back the girl is distracted by her friends, she trips and the pot smashes. In the song, she asks what should she do: should she run away or go home and face her mother?

In preparation for the Refugee Week event, the group visited the Horniman to look at some clay pots in the Hands on Base and come up with inspiration to make this banner to hang behind them during the performance.

On the day, Josephine and the children performed the song to a large audience at the Horniman. The day also featured brilliant performances from the children on ukulele, fife and singing plus wonderful headdresses created especially for the occassion. Well done to all the children who took part!

#MuseumMatch kicks off at the Horniman

As World Cup knockout stage gets started this weekend, we're taking to Twitter to share some of our collections from the competing countries in the run-up to each match.

#MuseumMatch pairs up some of the most interesting, intriguing or inspiring objects from our stores and asks our followers to pick the one they'd like to find out more about.

We'll share each pair and count the responses for 90 minutes, announcing which object gathered the most interest at the end and revealing a little more about both.

On Friday 27 June we'll be sharing objects from countries playing this weekend, starting with a Brazil and Chile #MuseumMatch in the morning, followed by the weekend's 3 other pairs.

We'll be sharing more #MuseumMatch pairs over the next two weeks as the World Cup knockout stages continue.

Head on over to Twitter to follow us and the #MuseumMatch hashtag to join in.

Five Go Collecting: Chinese influence in Cuba

Martin is one of the five modern-day collectors selected by the Royal Anthropological Institute to take part in the Horniman Collecting Initiative. Here he blogs about the commission of a new object for our Anthropology Collections.

I first applied for the RAI Horniman Collecting Initiative so I could work with a Cuban priest of Chinese descent who is, among many other things, a gifted Lucumí bead artist.

Lucumí (also known as Santería, also known as Regla de Ocha) is one of the most prominent religions in Cuba. It is characterized by its recognition of both Catholic saints and West African (Yoruba) deities known as orishas.

My research has shown that there is not only Catholic or European elements to the orisha, but also significant Chinese ones.

Like other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, Cuba recruited more than 125,000 young Chinese men through indenture following the collapse of slavery. They began arriving from 1847 to work on the sugar plantations. By sharing the same living and working spaces with people of African descent and mixed-race heritage, their cultures met and mixed. Many stayed permanently and intermarried.

I am interested in how these Chinese immigrants and their Afro-Sino Cuban descendants influenced Afro-Cuban religions. These Chinese influences have not been subject to any serious academic attention before. My research explores the lives of contemporary Afro-Chinese priests and practitioners, their collective memories and related material culture.

Many of the orisha priests I interviewed of Chinese-Cuban descent are also skilled artisans. They produce captivating religious artifacts that blend West African and Chinese art forms and crafting techniques. Stunning wooden sculptures and beadwork pieces frequently adorn orisha shrines and altars in the Lukumi religion.

José Francisco Ung, Omi Atorunwa, also known as ‘El Chinito de Regla’ lives in Havana and is has been initiated as an orisha priest for more than 47 years. I approached José and had asked him what item he would like to make for the Horniman’s collection.

I wanted José to decide what object he felt he would like to contribute. He decided that he would like to make objects related to his protective orisha, Yemaya, a deity of the sea and of motherhood.

Over a couple of days, José sketched out a few designs for possible items. Among the candidates, one of them was a beaded and lidded urn. The vessel is used to house the consecrated emblems of the orisha following priesthood initiation. It is also is the focus of worship and sacrifice.

José came up with four different designs, each distinct, and whose symbolism is related to the worship of Yemaya.

Unfortunately, the beads needed to complete such a project are not available in Cuba. After I left, I purchased the beads and they have now made their way back to José so that he can finish his piece for the Horniman’s collection.

I am returning to Cuba this summer and will further document the process of making the piece selected for the museum, as well as delivering it to the Horniman itself.

My next post will follow after my trip to Cuba. I look forward to sharing with you what José has crafted.

Stag Beetle Rescue

It's not every day you get to handle rare wildlife, but a few of our staff members got to do just that as they helped an impressive male stag beetle out of a sticky situation.

Our troubled insect was first spotted crawling between the cacti in our new Extremes Garden display.

Stag beetles spend most of their life as larvae, hidden in dead wood while they mature for up to 7 years. We already know they live in our Gardens, as larvae and adult beetles have been spotted down on the Nature Trail although it is rare to see them out in the open.

If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the beetle is trailing a piece of matted hair or cotton. Although we didn't notice at first, the material was tangled around the beetle's legs.

It wasn't long before he found himself attached to one of the spikey specimens planted in the gravel, leaving him vulnerable to any passing predators. Animal Assistant Rhianna jumped in with some scissors to cut him free.

The material was firmly attached to the beetle's joints with dried mud, tying its legs together and making it impossible to walk. Rhianna carefully picked it off piece by piece to avoid damaging the delicate legs underneath.

Having the beetle in our hands meant an excellent opportunity for some passing visitors to get a close look at this rare animal, and talk a little about the species.

After making sure he was now able to walk freely (and after everyone managed to get their photographs) we planned to leave beetle in a safer spot with a little more cover.

However, he had other ideas, and quickly took himself off in the air.

Hopefully to stay away from sticky mud and dangerous human rubbish.

If you think you've spotted a stag beetle in our Gardens, or anywhere else in London, be sure to fill in London Wildlife Trust's Stag Beetle Survey. The trust provides lots of information about how to recognise these beetles, their importance to wild habitat in Britain and what's being done to protect them.

Community Symposium 2014: Families and the Museum

Last month the Horniman's Community Learning team held their annual symposium, this year focusing on what we offer to local families. Rachel updates us on what went on.

The idea behind our Community Symposium is to invite local service providers and community organisations to come in and find out more about what the Horniman currently does, while we get some ideas about what we could do to support their work.

This year we wanted to concentrate on building links with organisations that provide services for families. We had a good turn out, with representatives from organisations such as Homeless Families Support Team, The Children’s Society and Parental Mental Health Team.

To start the day we introduced the family programme at the museum. This is a busy and popular public programme - the majority of it free - that includes all the regular holiday and term time session such as Nature Trail Discovery, Art Makers, Hands On sessions, storytelling, the Busy Bees group and much more.

We hope there is something to interest everyone, and you can check out what's coming up next in our Calendar.

We also ran 3 workshops giving an overview of the museum. Julia took people around the galleries to see all the family-friendly displays available, such as Nature Base, while Rose introduced the Gardens and demonstrated the variety of family learning activities you can enjoy here.

Participants also got to go into the conservation studios and meet members of the Anthropology department – Robert , Fiona, Tom and Sarah.

The curators had selected objects that they felt represented the experience of families around the world, and used these as the basis for a discussion about the way these experiences resonate with local families today.

A particular favourite was the Inuit Sealskin Parka (Object no. 6.12.65/594). Robert pointed out how the hood has enough room to carry a child aged up to 3 years old on the mother’s back whilst she went about daily work.

This led to discussions about our own cultural ideas of ‘attachment parenting’, of childcare and working mothers and of the different resources that cultures put in to bringing up healthy and happy children.

We hope that everyone who attended this year's Symposium learnt something about how their group can benefit from our work.

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