Monday, 12 August 2013

Beads of Southeast Asia And the South Pacific

Hats are worn everywhere in Sarawak. One of the most elaborate is this sa'ong of the Kenyan Dayak group. It is embellished with appliqué designs in cloth and beadwork, and used by a woman as a sun-shade on ceremonial occasions. Southeast Asia is a mosaic of large and small land masses scattered over an enormous area of the South Pacific. Throughout history most of the region has been accessible to seaborne traders. Beads have been an important element in the region's trade for thousands of years.
Mainland Southeast Asia is a tropical subcontinent with rugged, forested highlands intersected by rivers. The fractured landscape has fostered cultural diversity: highland forest tribes, cut off by mountain ranges, have lived in isolation for centuries: people of the plains and river valleys, on the other hand, have maintained contact with the coast and participated in regional trade systems. Some of the lowland groups evolved into sophisticated states whose cultures were influenced either by China or by India (depending upon their proximity). This interchange was reflected in the name "Indochina," which now refers to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam but prior to World War II referred to the entire region.
An array of Southeast Asian islands, including Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, lie at the crossroads of sea routes linking India, China, western Asia, and Europe. Throughout this vast area, merchant seamen forged cultural links, carrying artistic styles from island to island and to the mainland. Their routes were determined by ocean currents and two monsoons (southwest from June through September, northeast from late October through late March). In this way, the peoples of Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines were significantly influenced by the cultures of India, China, and the Southeast Asian mainland.
Glass and brass bead bracelet from the northern Philippines.
Southeast Asian beads are as varied and fascinating as any in the world. As necklaces, beaded textiles, or even as individual objects, they were immensely important to all the region's peoples. Archaeological evidence indicates that beads were traded into Southeast Asia long before the arrival of Europeans. The "Indian red: or mutisalah, beads, made in south India, were sold in Sumatra by at least the first century B.C. (Bead Chart 901). Early sites also contain beads of agate, carnelian, crystal, and amethyst, stones found in substantial deposits in India and Sri Lanka. The beads themselves are made in a range of shapes and by various manufacturing techniques that closely resemble Indian styles. Early glass beads made in Southeast Asia were probably manufactured from glass scrap imported from the Middle East or the Mediterranean. "Roman-style" glass beads, particularly eye beads, may have been imported after the fall of the Roman Empire but before the twelfth century, and certainly before Europeans arrived in Southeast Asia.
Jewelry had a number of functions in the lives of premodern Southeast Asian island people, serving as personal adornment, protective amulets, and political badges of rank, as well as dowries, ceremonial exchange goods, and sacred altar objects for summoning spirits from the supernatural world. In Indonesia, Malaysia, Sarawak, and the northern Philippines, many layers of social and religious iconography were incorporated into jewelry, which was kept as ancestral treasure and family heirlooms symbolic of their owner's place in the world. 

Through various designs and colors, jewelry publicly displayed important ideas in the local systems of politics, kinship, and myth. The significant role individual beads (as contrasted with assemblages) had in certain Southeast Asian cultures is striking. On the islands, beads have been used singly in an array of cultural practices, ranging from celebrations of marriage to sanctifying new houses to insuring favorable harvests. Beaded textiles were also accorded high value, although generally not by the same groups.
Dowry necklaces of shell, agate, and glass beads from the lsneg tribe, northern Luzon, Philippines. Strands of antique beads possess their own genealogies and are heirlooms. Beads were important symbols in village life. They were used to strengthen political alliances and to protect warriors from natural and supernatural threats. Today, island tribal people continue to possess a detailed knowledge of each bead they own. A rare, ancient bead has a reputation similar to that of a precious stone or a fine antique in other parts of the work The history of each bead, its name and age, is understood. In Sarawak, older women can easily identify sixty or more different types of scarce, ancient beads."
Various Southeast Asian island cultures valued one bead over another. The Kalinga c the Philippines treasured agates, while some groups in Borneo and Taiwan preferred ancient polychrome glass beads. Mutisalah beads were admired everywhere. In the tropical climate, of much of Southeast Asia, organic materials, such as seeds or wood, quickly rot; durable, stone and glass beads were considered sources of strength and longevity. Among the Maloh tribes in central Kalimantan in Borneo, there were important myths about hazardous journey embarked on by brave heroes in search of particularly valuable beads. 

These same people tied beads to the wrists of couples at marriage, and when a new communal dwelling was built they placed beads in the holes dug for the structure's main posts. The Kelabit of Borne( called the mutisalah bead bau'u si' ada ("head of the ghost"), affixing two of them to the end of a sharpened stake that was placed in the ground near a rice field to insure a bountiful harvest."'
Sipattal, a chest ornament worn by the Isneg, mountain tribesmen in Luzon. The mother-of-pearl pendants and the shell and glass beads are strung with pineapple fiberThailand, on the Southeast Asian mainland, lay far from the Chinese and Indian set routes and thus remained culturally self-contained. Nonetheless, an enormous variety o beads continues to be excavated from the region's burial sites, indicating the importance o beads to the ancient Thai cultures. Archaeologists have found bronze beads dated between 1500 and 500 B.C., made during the Bronze Age. Stone beads, including carnelian, agate, gar net, and amethyst, were fashionable from very early times until at least the eleventh century A.D. Of particular interest are long, tubular stone beads referred to as "magic beads," which have a long history throughout the area (dating back to about 3400 B.C.) and eventually were copied in glass." While some of the beads were probably imported from India (with which Thailand was then closely associated), others were locally made. Although the extensive looting of archaeological sites has destroyed much information, evidence strongly indicates local stone bead manufacturing existed from a very early date. Etched agate and carnelian bead: with patterns far more common in Thailand than India suggest that Thailand may have beer another production center for these beads. Clay cylinders with deeply incised designs, rather: similar to western Asian seals, were found at the site of Ball Chiang and may have been worn as beads.
Glass beads from Ban Chiang, associated with pottery and iron tools, date to c. 300 B.0 Predominantly of opaque orange red (although one burial also contained a few translucent blue and yellow samples), the beads are probably of Indian manufacture. However, there speculation that Thai or Indian craftsmen living in Thailand may have produced some of these beads. Glass bead making, under Indian influence, definitely appears to have been under way in parts of Thailand by at least the tenth century A.D., especially along its western coast."
A Dayak beadwork baby carrier (ba), which holds the infant during the first months of life. Shells, beads, and the teeth of bears, crocodiles, and pigs animals with protective spirits are often suspended from the wooden carrier to make a rattling sound, which frightens away evil spirits. An even number of teeth, in this case four, indicates the infant is male. The design of the headed decoration sewn onto a carrier identifies the owner's social class: the baby carrier of a paran (leader and aristocrat) may be covered by an entire human figure in beadwork, while that of a paran iof (someone of slightly lower rank) will only have a partial figure in a stylized or abstract pattern.
Gold and silver beads from central Thailand date to the first centuries A.D., the period o Indian influence in Southeast Asia. Necklaces of beautifully crafted gold beads in various: shapes, including melon and cornerless cube, are associated with Thailand's Mon or Dvaravati period (A.D. 500-1000) as well as the classical age of Khmer art (A.D. 900-1200) in Cambodia, when Indian influence stretched across the sea.97 Carnelian beads from Vietnam dating to about 800 B.C.  Resemble those found in the Philippines. In both instances this ma) reflect early trade, probably through middlemen, with India.
Throughout the mainland and islands of Southeast Asia, there is a great similarity in beads from the most ancient times to the early twentieth century These beads in turn have counterparts in south India, Africa, the Middle East, Japan, eastern Europe, and the Mediterranean. Despite this objective evidence of a complex relationship between divers( manufacturing locations and widely scattered Southeast Asian cultures, there is little precise dating and documentation of manufacturing locations for many Southeast Asian beads reflecting the dearth of controlled archaeological field research in this area and in some of the source areas as well. Although some important bead research has been started in the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia, Southeast Asia offers significant potential for future investigations.
The Philippines
A money belt of red and black coral and shell beads and dolphin and human teeth, used as a bride-price in Malaita, Solomon Islands.
The earliest beads found in the Philippines came from a small cave at Lipuun Point, on the east coast of Palawan and date to the second millennium B.C. Made of locally available shell, stone, and jade, these beads were found with some of the earliest known pottery in Southeast Asia .
Between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 500, Philippine culture was virtually free of influences from outside Southeast Asia, although there was limited contact with other societies via trade. Gold, shell, and clay beads were made on the islands; carnelian, agate, black-and-white banded onyx and glass beads were imported from eastern India and jade from China. Burial sites from this period yield numerous monochrome glass beads, including small seed beads and mutisalah, all known to have been manufactured at Arikamedu and other south Indian centers. Large quantities of Indian-made stone and glass beads are found in the Philippines, but there is little evidence that they came through direct Indian-Filipino trade. The beads probably changed hands several times before reaching the Philippines. There was, however, direct Filipino contact with China and Thailand.
A succession of traders brought beads into the Philippines, including the Arabs, who dominated commerce in the Pacific from the eleventh to the seventeenth century They were joined in the tenth century by the Chinese, who, though they had been trading in the region for centuries, greatly increased their activities during the thirteenth century. In exchange for Philippine pearls, the Chinese traded gold, silver, jade, textiles, and porcelain, as well as glass beads. Twelfth- and thirteenth-century archaeological sites have produced a wealth of stone beads, as well as polychrome, melon, chevron, and small, monochrome glass beads introduced by Arab and Chinese traders.
Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers reported that beads were a common form of exchange in the Philippines. Wealthy Filipinos wore lavish gold jewelry, including necklaces of gold and glass beads. The earliest gold beads from the Philippines, dating to 500 B.C., have been excavated at Guri Cave on the island of Palawan. Sites dating from A.D. 1000 have yielded skillfully crafted gold beads, including some with granulation. Surprisingly, historical Philippine goldwork differs from that of other Southeast Asian islands, in contrast to the similarities between other artifacts.

South Pacific

A crown of porpoise teeth and glass beads from the Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. Since twenty teeth are currently worth about one U.S. dollar and the glass trade beads are a valuable cut-glass variety the crown represents considerable wealth in local terms.
The small, self-contained island societies of the South Pacific used outrigger canoes in sophisticated inter-island trading networks. Beads were an important component of these systems. Ceremonial gift exchanges cemented relationships between island populations. For example, the Kula ring, created by the Trobriand Islanders on the eastern edge of New Guinea, combined ethnically diverse and geographically distant peoples into an effective exchange sys-tem. Spondylus shell armbands circulated from man to man and from island to island in a counterclockwise direction, while necklaces of shell beads circulated in the opposite direction. Incentive to participate in the system was heightened by the possibility of temporarily possessing one of the more famous Kula necklaces or armbands. The Kula ring functioned as a network for trading food and raw materials, and the amount and sophistication of gifts demonstrated the donor's wealth and greatness, while placing the recipient in his debt.
The shell beads from Malaita Island in the Solomon chain, southeast of New Guinea, were among the most famous and beautiful in the South Pacific. To gain respect and influence in his community, a man accumulated wealth in the form of shell beads, which were especially valuable because so much work went into grinding and drilling them. A man gave many strings of shell beads as a bride-price to his intended's family. 

By lending shell beads to relatives who wanted to marry, a man placed them in his debt, assuring similar assistance when needed. A bead lender thus became a leader in his community" Although strings of shells occur in other parts of the Pacific, weaving the disks into patterns is typically Malaitan. Made from shell, teeth, and fiber, this jewelry was worn during feasts, weddings, and other special events to display wealth and social position. Glass beads, introduced through late eighteenth-century explorers, were never as coveted as those of locally made shell

Indonesia

A shell disk armband (aba gwaro) from Malaita, Solomon Islands. This example of the finest shell disk jewelry from Malaita was usually worn by men at feasts and weddings. The pattern is composed of strips of disks set at alternating 45-degree angles. The beadwork demonstrates symmetry balance, and a sense of restraint, as well as workmanship of extreme precision. Strings of shell beads are found throughout the Pacific, but red, white, and black disks woven into patterns are typically Malaitan. The same weaving technique was used for bracelets, anklets, belts, and necklaces.
Indonesia, the largest island complex in the world, stretches from the Malaysian peninsula to New Guinea. It includes Sumatra, Borneo, Java, and Sulawesi (formerly Celebes), as well as western New Guinea (West Irian) and thirteen thousand smaller islands. This extensive island chain has been exposed to the almost continuous influences of China, India, and Islam since prehistoric times, yet strong indigenous cultures also developed. Not surprisingly, Indonesia is a complex mixture of peoples, who have produced a rich and varied art.
Stone and glass beads were introduced to Indonesia by Indian and Chinese traders. In fact, Indonesian stone beads are identical to those manufactured at Arikamedu in India several centuries before the Christian Era, demonstrating the regions shared both finished beads as well as local craftsmen's interpretations of Indian styles. The earliest glass beads found in Indonesia are monochrome (predominantly yellow, blue, or green hues) and were made by drawn or wound techniques. 

Opaque red mutisalah beads existed in every region of main-land and island Southeast Asia, suggesting mutisalah beads were from a common manufacturing tradition but were a broadly shared cultural phenomenon." Pre-sixteenth-century European polychrome glass beads are extremely rare. Those that have been identified are generally eye, chevron, and zone beads. Ancient polychrome beads are highly prized by the Dayak of Borneo, the mountain tribes of the Philippines, and the Paiwan of Taiwan. In early twentieth-century Borneo, a slave could still be bought for a single polychrome bead.
A woven bead-work skirt from the Maloh tribe in Kalimantan. The beads have been woven into solid panels, although the Ma/oh may not have actually practiced the weaving of cloth. The ceremonial costume of the Maloh consists of a highly decorated short skirt, jacket, and headcloth. Maloh beaded skirts and jackets are decorated with motifs only they can identify. The geometric shapes represent familiar, objects from the Maloh natural world translated into designs that were derived from Islamic motifs.
The first glass seed beads were brought to Southeast Asia during the first century A.D. by Indian traders." These were used for both woven beadwork and embroidery especially in Indonesia. By the sixteenth century, European traders became the main source of seed beads. Textiles decorated with seed beads and used for ritual purposes were an important part of Indonesian culture for centuries. 

Indonesians believed in maintaining harmony between man and the cosmic order by performing sacred rites during most important undertakings, including negotiations for a bride, planning an attack, building a house, or planting crops. These rituals required elaborate music, food, costumes, and gifts, including beaded textiles which protected their owners against evil by pleasing the good spirits. Indonesians had a strong sense of the transformational powers of costume and therefore paid close attention to ritual dress. Beadwork, made of durable glass, was meant to give the wearer strength, especially when it covered the entire body.
Writer - Lois Sherr Dubin
Visit Also:

Round Beads 

Wooden Jewelry

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