Tuesday, 15 October 2013


The hornbill is a highly symbolic and important bird to many peoples in the numerous countries it calls home across the world. The most obvious case is the extraordinarily strong beak which is a symbol of power. However the characteristics and behaviour of the bird are simultaneously representations of the male phallus, the act of intercourse and the female mothering instinct. For the female of the species enclose themselves almost entirely within the nest with only room for the male beak to deliver food as it peers through.
Papua New Guinea - Here the hornbill plays a major symbolic role; it is associated with head hunting and the transfer of power. It also unites female and male characteristics important in initiation ceremonies due to the way in which the female hornbill walls herself in her nest with the male entering with only his beak is symbolic of intercourse, yet it is also a sign of nurture. In New Ireland territory they also act as carriers of the soul to the land of the dead.

Met Museum: Abelam people, Middle Sepik River Culture & Deutscher and Hackett: Nelikum Village, Maprik District, East Sepik Province
Ripley Auctions: Abelam People, Prince Alexander Mountains
Australian Museum: Malagan, Northern region, New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea, Pacific

Indonesia - In East Kalimantan province Hudoq ‘hornbill’ masks are worn during agricultural ceremonies and to welcome important guests. The Hudoq scares away evil spirits but also by clowning around they create the tears of laughter, these are believed to help water the newly planted rice. The mask is a unique morphing of many elements of Dayak mythology including the hornbill (celestial messenger of the upper  world), the dragon (symbol of the lower world), and an ancestor-spirit form. The Dayak, Iban, Kalani and Punani people of Borneo practice a cult of the hornbills, whom they consider messengers of the spirits and symbols of virility. These people make masks and collars from the wing feathers and bills of these birds. Dayaks believe that the souls obey only to two divine powers: the sky, whose image is the hornbill, and the land with water, symbolised by the infernal snake. 

Malaysia - The largest sculptures of the Iban people of northwestern Borneo are stylized images representing the rhinoceros hornbill (kenyalang), a large forest bird whose beak is surmounted by a hornlike projection typically depicted, as here, as a spiral form. In Iban religion, hornbills are associated with the upper world, and they were once identified with warfare and headhunting. In Iban cosmology, hornbills serve as intermediaries between the powerful deity Singalang Burong and the human world. Hornbill effigies receive offerings during the gawai kenyalang, a ceremony that in the past could only be sponsored by a prominent war leader or his descendants. They are also used in similar rites called gawai burong. At the climax of the ceremony, the sacred hornbill image, lavishly decorated for the occasion, is elevated atop a tall pole inserted through a hole in its body. Between ceremonies, it is preserved in the loft of the communal longhouse.

depepermuntjesknipper: Hudoq Dance Masks
Kenyalang - Malaysia (Borneo, Sarawak), Iban people
Tuntun Ragu carved hornbill
Hornbill carving, Borneo, Malaysia
Ivory Coast - In Seunfo mythology the hornbill was one of the five original beings, the first ancestor that founded humanity. They are used in the Lo and Poro society as symbols of fertility. Setien or Porpianong figures, when carved to represent procreation have their long hooked beaks touching their protruding stomachs that have been fertilized, therefore being the carrier of life and a symbol of continuity to future generations. The phallic beak and the pregnant stomach represent the dual forces of the male and female components.

Discover African Art: Senufo Porpianong, Lo and Poro Society & The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Senufo Poro (Sejen/Kasinge)

Nigeria/Niger - Nupe ‘burtu’ hunting masks use the heads of real hornbills. Of course they have the practical use of blending in with the environment yet also have supernatural functions. Firstly by imitating the prey the hunter becomes one with it, allowing him to impose his will on the creature he stalks. Secondly by using the powers of the local medicine man to credit the mask with supernatural or magical powers, use of the fetish was an active way of attempting to influence the outcome of the hunt.

Hamill Gallery: Nupe Decoy Birds, Northern Nigeria
Antiqua Print Gallery: Northern Nigerian Hunter; stalking game. Nupe, 1900
Burkina Faso/Mali - The Bobo people of the Dwo religion are creators of the Kuma (hornbill) mask. They can be used to represent great wisdom and the knowledge of secrets. The Bobo religion is based upon magical objects and figures that are kept in village and family shrines, masks are also numerous and sacred.

depepermuntjesknipper: Kuma Hornbill Masks, Bobo people, Dwo religion, Burkina Faso/Mali

China - In large species of hornbills (like the Asian Buceros), the bill and the helmet are made of a compact bone resembling ivory and ritual objects are carved of it. These bills, called ho-ting by the Chinese during the Ming dynasty, were more precious than gold, jade or ivory for this very reason. They carved the casques, or they made them into sheets, coloured them with the secretion of the preen gland, and made them into belt buckles for high officials. It was also common for Japanese netsuke to be carved from hornbill casques due to high malleability.

Chinese Hornbill Casque, circa late 19th/early 20th century
Icollecter: Chinese Hornbill Casque, circa late 19th/early 20th century

Monday, 23 September 2013

Pamphylia - Taurus Mountains & Oymapınar Dam

Taurus Mountains, Antalya
Our final venture during our stay in Turkey took the form of a stereotypical jeep safari. Admittedly I had a few reservations about a jeep convoy but it was okay. It was the scenic views that made the trip worthwhile with towering peaks of the Taurus mountains, pine forests and glistening turquoise waters. One of the highlights was the Oymapınar hydroelectric dam which forms the Green Canyon. We also had an inside look at a rural mosque and lunch by one of the many lakes.

Honey production in the Taurus Mountains
Large and mysterious bones in a pine forest in the Taurus mountains
Aqueduct ruins
Farming in the Taurus mountains
Oymapınar Dam
The lake caused by the Oymapınar Dam
Mosque in the middle of the Taurus mountains
Mosque interior & local lizard
Pine forests of Antalya
Goat herder, Taurus mountains, Antalya

Images by KLV

Friday, 20 September 2013

Elephants of Barotseland

'When the King is in court, he is an elephant in thorns.' Lozi proverb

Barotseland is situated in the western part of Zambia and is home to the Barotse/Lozi people. The name Lozi can refer to that specific people or a broader term of the 6 cultural groups it encompasses. The most famous annual event to take place in Barotseland is Kuomboka or 'to get out of the water' where the Litunga (King) journeys out of the Barotse floodplain and into the higher ground of Limulunga. This event reveals the significant symbolic embodiment of the elephant in Lozi culture for the barge of the King or ‘Nalikwanda’ holds an enormous black elephant. This exclusive association of the King with elephants has an extensive past as there are numerous examples of bowls, stools and other sculptures with varying degrees of stylisation. These items date back at least a hundred years. 

Image by Deanna Dent

Covered wooden bowl, Lozi, Zambia CLARKE & CLARKE Art + Artifacts
Lozi Elephant food bowl. Source
Barotse/Lozi (circa 1899) Michael Stevenson Contemporary
Quai Branly Museum 
Barotse/Lozi (circa 1899) Michael Stevenson Contemporary
Barotse elephant sculpture, 1905. Pitt Rivers Museum, Image by KLV

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Pamphylia - Kurşunlu, Perge & Aspendos

Kurşunlu Şelalesi


The Kurşunlu Şelalesi (waterfall) is within a national park northeast of Antalya city and is situated on a tributary of the Aksu river. The 400 hectare park is predominantly pine forest with several lakes and pools around the falls, making for a peaceful and scenic walk. It was the first destination of the day following a bumpy ride in a questionable coach, odd considering this was the only 'big brand' tour we actually booked. Regardless of how we arrived in Kurşunlu park it really is a stunning area and certainly deserved another hour at least, especially since many of the paths and walkways are so quiet in the morning.

A walkway around the falls
The Kurşunlu nature park features numerous pools and lakes
Green/blue waters around the Kurşunlu Şelalesi


Just south of Kurşunlu is the ancient city of Perge with remains dating back to the Bronze Age and excavation taking place from 1946.It certainly is a place of great intrigue though can be difficult to enjoy under scorching heat with little shade for the hours that we visited. The majesty of the gate or the intricacies of the bath system are both highlights though for me the everyday homes and shops capture my imagination the most. It was in one of these homes that we found a wild tortoise. After learning how the columns were made and an exploration of the impressive nearby stadium, we moved on to Aspendos.

Colonnaded Avenue
Columns near the Agora
The South Baths with guide Mehmed
Wild tortoise amongst the ruins
An example of the ancient shops/homes within Perge
Perge Stadium
Archways and Columns, Perge
River Aksu


Our final destination was the best preserved Roman theater in the Mediterranean, Aspendos. Where the Roman Coloseum is circular, Aspendos is semi circular however it is in far better condition. Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD) ordered the 7000 seat structure built with what is left of the aqueduct and city situated nearby.  The most impressive aspect is how intact everything appears to be with even some original colouring on the walls. This being said the amphitheater of Side was much more tranquil even in the afternoon where we were the only visitors, both Side and Aspendos amphitheaters are worth a visit.

 Images by KLV

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