Friday, 2 September 2016

Indigenous collections discussed at the IIC Conference in Los Angeles (12 - 16 September 2016)

At least 5 papers at the upcoming IIC Conference in Los Angeles (12 - 16 September 2016) relate to indigenous collections and/or ethnography. The presentations take place in the morning of Friday 16 September - during the session 'Exploring Commonality: contemporary art and ethnographic collections'. Here are the titles and authors. Drop by if you are around LA. Note that you can pay for one day only!
  • Stigter, Sanneke; Autoethnography as a new approach in conservation
  • Lane, Robert Lazarus; Wdowin-McGregor, Jessye; This is so Contemporary? Mediums of exchange and conservation
  • Henderson, Melinda Jane Tomerlin; Nakamoto, Tanya; Dialogue in conservation decision-making
  • McHugh, Kelly; Gunnison, Anne; Finding common ground and inherent differences: Artist and community engagement in cultural material and contemporary art conservation
  • Peters, Renata F.; The parallel paths of conservation of contemporary art and indigenous collections
  • Hornbeck, Stephanie E.; Moffett, Dana L.; Altered surfaces, taking the long view: Applications of ethnographic conservation practices to the conservation of contemporary art
Click here to see the full programme.

Monday, 4 July 2016

New data about Brazilian Indigenous Peoples

The Brazilian Digital Atlas 2016 has a thematic section ("Caderno Temático: Populações Indígenas) focused on Indigenous Peoples. The study is based on the 2010 Census and reveals Brazil as one of the countries with the highest socio-cultural diversity of the planet: 900,000 people, 305 ethnic groups and at least 274 languages. 57,7% of of them live in Indigenous Lands, the rest are in urban areas.
However, the study shows the strong trend of 'retomadas', when people return to their regions of origin and claim the demarcation of these territories - many come back to lands that are in the crux of conflicts or in the process of being regularized (such as in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul).

Petition against the imminent appointment of general Roberto Peternelli to president of FUNAI

Do you work in the educational or cultural sector? Then please sign this petition against the imminent appointment of general Roberto Peternelli to president of FUNAI (National Foundation for the Brazilian Indian, a governmental institution that is supposed to protect the interests of Brazilian Indigenous peoples).
The general is affiliated to the Social Christian Party (PSC), part of the evangelical bench of the Brazilian Congress and explicit representative of anti-indigenous parliamentarians who praise the period of the civil- military dictatorship (1964 to 1985).
During this period, at least 8,350 Brazilian Indians were killed as a result of direct action or omission of government agents. However, the National Truth Commission Report (CNV) indicates that the death toll may have been much higher.
General Peternelli represents the interests of the evangelical and ruralist (read powerful landowners and agribusinesses) benches that work against the rights of indigenous peoples and are trying to change the Brazilian constitution so as to be able to have more control over Indigenous groups, their culture and their lands.

Click here to sign the petition or copy and paste the link below:

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

An Idiong Wooden Double Rattle (K.0018 from the UCL Ethnography Collections)

Top view of the rattle.
K.0018 is a wooden double rattle that belonged to the Idiong society of the Ibibio culture in Nigeria. The rattle is shaped like an hourglass, with two hollow bells that are attached together by a solid cylindrical wooden handle. Inside each of the bells, two short wooden sticks are tied with unwoven plant fibre strings, which are secured in a small hole. When the rattle is shaken, these wooden sticks make noise as they hit the edges of the bells.
Sketch of one of the bells showing its hollow interior and the wooden sticks. The linear marks indicate the direction of carving.
The rattle was carved out of one piece of hard, pale wood with a thin, flat-faced tool. The four wooden sticks were likely cut from branches. The outside of the rattle was then painted with a dark red substance, which is probably a plant resin that may be mixed with a pigment. The wooden bells of the rattle act as resonators that intensify the rattling sound (Tsoumis 1991, 204). Also, the curvature of the bells and the rattle’s painted surface enhance the sound quality (Tsoumis 1991, 204).

The collections record states that the rattle was donated by Mervyn David Waldegrave Jeffreys, an anthropologist and colonial district officer (British Museum 2016a). It was likely donated sometime between 1945, when UCL’s collection was established, and Jeffreys’ death in 1975.

This rattle symbolizes the Idiong secret society, which is a group of medical practitioners (Jeffreys 1930, 53). K.0018 is probably an Ekput rattle, which is an Idiong rattle that has a very similar design (Akpabot 1975, 16). Ekput is played in Idiong ritual music to worship their ancestors’ spirits and their god (Akpabot 1975, 16). Clearly, K.0018 has cultural, social and spiritual significance. This rattle also has educational and scientific value because it is a unique object in UCL’s Ethnography Collections.

Overall, the rattle is in a good, stable condition. There are no missing parts and little evidence of deterioration in the wood. There are some deep scratch marks on the bells and a hole in one bell, but these are not worsening. Tiny flakes of paint occasionally come off, although in general, careful handling does slight or no damage. The paint has also faded in some areas and there is significant wear on the handle and edges of the bells. There are also distinct lines of wear on the top and bottom of the bells along the area that is contact with the surface on which the rattle rests. The plant fibre strings remain strong. The rattle is stable enough to continue being used in the teaching collection.
Detailed view of the flaking resin.
(All photographs taken by author.)


Akpabot, S., 1975. Ibibio Music in Nigerian Culture. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

British Museum, 2016a. Prof M D W Jeffreys (Biographical Details). Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Mar. 2016].

Jeffreys, M., 1930. Notes and Reports on the Ibibio. [Manuscript] London School of Economics Archives, International African Institute. London.

Newman, R., 1998. Tempera and Other Nondrying-Oil Media. In: V. Dorge and F. Howlett (eds.) Painted Wood: History and Conservation. Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute.

Tsoumis, G., 1991. Science and Technology of Wood: Structure, Properties, Utilization. New York: Chapman and Hall.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Assessment of a likembe: K.0025

(Left) Front of likembe. (Right) back of likembe.
A likembe is a hand held African instrument played by depressing and releasing the keys or lamellae. This likembe has eight lamellae made of long, thin pieces of wood or cane of different lengths. The lamellae are lashed to a wooden board using plant material and the board has been attached to part of a turtle shell which acts as a resonator – a rare example of such use. There are two wooden or cane bars placed beneath the lamellae on either side of the lashing and two circular sound holes have been drilled: In the wooden board and in the turtle shell. The join between the wooden board and the shell is filled with a loop of plant material which has then been covered with a dark brown adhesive into which bead fragments have been set.
Diagram showing components of the likembe.

The likembe is part of the lamellophone family which is abundant across most of sub-Saharan Africa. These instruments have been made and used in a variety of different ways and first began to appear at the time of the colonisation of the Congo at the end of the 19th century (Willaert 2011, 63-64). Lamellphones are often associated with the colonisation as they were played to accompany those on trade missions to pass time and keep rhythm (ibid). They were also used socially in every-day situations as well as is rituals and divination 9 Berliner 1978, 14-17). Some lamellophones could also be symbols of status or be reserved for use during a certain ritual (ibid).

Lamellophones were made by the person who would play them (Brincard et al 1989, 75) and as such have a very personal connection to the owner. This instrument has been created with great care and there is evidence of repairs possibly being made by the original owner.

This likembe has suffered many losses of the dark adhesive which has become desiccated, resulting also in loss of some bead fragments. The turtle shell has lost two and half scutes and the remaining scutes are lifting from the bone in areas. There is evidence of previous attempts to consolidate the dark adhesive and scutes. The wooden board is stained and scratched, with surface dirt gathered beneath the lamellae. The lamellae exhibit use wear at the ends which are played. One lamella is loose and the far right lamella is missing where the plant material has broken. Another lamella has split across its length at one end and looks to be made from a different material to the others.

Diagram showing damage of likembe.

All images by the author. Please do not use without permission.


Berliner, P., 1978. The Soul of Mbira: Music and Traditions of the Shona People of Zimbabwe. London: University of California Press.

Brincard, M., Bourgeois, A., American Federation of Arts, 1989. Sounding Forms: African musical instruments. New York: American Federation of Arts.

Willaert, S., 2011. The growth of an ‘exotic’ collection. African Instruments in the Musical Instruments Museum, Brussels (1877-1913) in Annual Meeting of the International Committee of Musical Instrument Museums and Collections: CIMCIM 2001 – Tervuren: Reports. [Online] Available at [Accessed 27/03/2016]

This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2015-16), one of the core courses of the UCL MA  Principles of Conservation. As part of their assessed work for this course, students were asked to investigate objects from the UCL Ethnography Collections at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Here they present a summary of their main conclusions. We hope you enjoy our work! Comments are most welcome.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Two sets of picture postcards from Formosa

This consists of two sets  of picture postcards depicting Formosa under Japanese rule, in the forms of albums. They are currently stored in the Material Culture Room in the Anthropology Department, UCL. 

The first set, accession number Z0001a, is a concertina folded album, with hard, decorated, black fabric covers and grey, wood-ground paper leaves. It mesures 23.5cm long, 19cm wide and 4.8cm high, and consists of 45 leaves (90 pages) and 107 postcards. The postcards were mounted on both sides of the leaves  (two on each side). The album is in good condition except of some  abrasion on the surface and the yellowing of the postcards. 

The second set, accession number Z0001b, measures 24cm×18cm×4.5cm. It consists of 50 leaves (100 pages) and 163 postcards. Z0001b has blue fabric covers with Japanese-themed figures and the words ‘绘枼書’ (postcard) painted on the surface. The inner leaves are brown, probably acidic, suggesting that the paper is in a marked deterioration process.  The paper turned so fragile and brittle that the leaves exhibit large amount of tears, losses and detachments caused by creasing or handling. The postcards from this set are also mounted on both sides of the leaves, with two on each side. The major damage of the postcards is yellowing due to the deterioration of the paper bases. Some of the postcards in this volume have written inscriptions, stamps and seals.

These postcards were printed in Japan in the early 20th century. They were probably transported to Taiwan and collected by the family of Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell, Jr., who worked in Sin-Lau Hospital in Taiwan from 1900 to 1923. After that, the albums are assumed to have been donated to the Presbyterian Church of England, in which the father of Dr. Maxwell, Jr. served. In 1972, they became part of the United Reform Church collections when the Presbyterian Church of England was merged. And then the branch of URC in Marchmont Street gave them to the Library of Anthropology Department of UCL. The two volumes are of great historic and research value, especially for individuals or organizations interested in Formosan history and Presbyterian history. The picture postcards depicting the historic scenes of Taiwan are important visual documentations for ethnographic research. The association between the objects and the Maxwell family, who are important for Presbyterian and medical development in Taiwan, increases the objects’ significance to Formosan history.
The front cover of object Z0001a

The leaves and postcards of object Z0001a

The front cover of object Z0001b

The leaves and postcards of object Z0001b

The written inscriptions on the back of a postcard

The hand-coloured postcard 

This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2015-16), one of the core courses of the UCL MA  Principles of Conservation. As part of their assessed work for this course, students were asked to investigate objects from the UCL Ethnography Collections at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Here they present a summary of their main conclusions. We hope you enjoy our work! Comments are most welcome.

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