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American Indians are #NotHappy with Pharrell’s Elle magazine cover

The magazine has declared its July cover the singer-producer’s “best ever shoot,” but overwhelmingly negative responses from Native critics tell a different story.

Such backlash has precedent. The appropriation of the headdress — traditionally a symbol of authority and honor among Native peoples — for fashion purposes has a long and not-so-illustrious history.

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Jan Claudius De Cock

Statue of a Black Child

Flanders (c. 1704)

Stone Carving, 94.7 cm.

[Statue. Full-length, standing figure of a black youth wearing a crown in the form of a castle; a string of beads, feathers, and a medallion around his neck; a drapery around his loins and back; and leather sandals. His right foot rests on the back of a turtle. This may be an allegory of the continent of Africa.]

The Image of the Black in Western Art Research Project and Photo Archive, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University. see also: Blakely, Allison. Blacks in the Dutch World: The Evolution of Racial Imagery in a Modern Society. Indiana University Press. pp. 129–130

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Shaman’s Headdress

19th Century

This headdress of a “big” Evenk shaman (avun) made of steel was part of a full ritual costume worn by a shaman for very important rites and rituals. The structure of this headdress reflects its symbolic meaning and contains an archaic image of the model of the Universe. The hoop embodies the concept of the closed space of the world of people and solid earth. Two crossing arcs symbolize the parts of the world and the seasons. The cosmic vertical that reflects the sacral center of the Universe is embodied in the horns of the mythical deer that stands for the sun in the mythical beliefs of the peoples of northern Asia. The deer was one of the main characters in the myth about the celestial hunt and embodied the archaic concepts of the day and night and the cosmic order. The horns also symbolized the sacred deer – the helper spirit of the shaman, his draft animal that he rode to travel to other worlds. Long cloth ribbons embody snakes and lizards, the shaman’s powerful helpers that accompany him in his “travels” to the lower world. They also symbolize the sacred birch – the totem tree of the shaman. It is also associated with the World Tree that symbolizes the Universe as a whole and Axis mundi – the cosmic axis connecting the spheres of the Universe. Such ritual headdresses were conditionally referred to as “crowns”. (The VCM)

The Kunstkamera via the VCM

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Bird Hunters, Indus River | Mohenjo Daro, Pakistan

Photo & Caption by Randy Olson

The Indus river valley maintains some surprising remnants of its ancient culture.  A stone’s throw from the largest intact Harappan Site (Mohenjo Daro), Mohanis fishermen use the exact style of flat-bottom boat depicted in terra cotta and stone tablets 4,600 years old, and a group of bird hunters still practice a 5,000-year-old method of catching birds. Hunters tie pet herons to a hoop in the river, and then submerge to their necks in the water wearing masks made from real bird skins. They wiggle their heads to mimic a swimming bird and then grab any prey that lands nearby. We know this is the ancient method they used to hunt birds because there are artifacts that show bird hunting that go back to 3,300 BC.

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