Sunday, 3 April 2016

"Kelaguko: Hadza child medical necklace J0065" assessment report

The object at hand is a handmade necklace from the UCLAnthropology Department Material Culture teaching collection, collected by James Woodburn’s during his time in Tanzania and later donated to UCL. It comes from the Hadza tribe, described today as the last hunter-gatherer society of the world. In his book “Hunters and Gatherers: the material culture of the nomadic Hadza”, Woodburn states that the necklace is called kelaguko by the Hadza people and is used for medicinal purposes, and lists it under the “objects which are worn to treat illness or to give protection against illness and other dangers” category.
The ‘kealguko’ necklace

The necklace is made of three main elements: 238 white, orange, red, and blue beads, 13 tubers, and organic/plant thread. The beads are in different colors and shapes, which might indicate that they were handmade. The 13 seeds/tubers are different in shape with various indentations on the surface. The manufacturing technique of this necklace seems to be simple; a twisting of some plant fibers in order to produce two-ply thread. This was likely followed by the insertion of the beads and the tubers, which were probably still fresh and easier to poke. The tubers, described as “wooden beads” on the Collection’s website, were identified as “Dry Cyperus alternifollius subsp. flabelliformis” by Woodburn, without any referencing. However, the mentioned species does not appear to be the same as the tubers in the necklace because it has a very different shape and that plant does not even produce tubers. The tubers may well be Cyperus esculentus, which produces edible nuts known commonly as ‘tiger nuts.’

Left: One of the tubers in the necklace. Right: ‘Tiger nuts’ ( 

The significance of the necklace is highlighted by the fact that it belongs to a very small ethnic group –less than 1000 people-, which is being threatened by the country’s urbanization, and is also a relatively old object, given that it was collected nearly sixty years ago. Although it was described as a "child medical necklace", the picture below shows an adult wearing the same necklace, which could indicate that the necklace was significant for children and adults alike.

 (left: Adult wearing kealguko necklace (Source:Original People: Land, culture, history and destiny. 2007. Right: Child wearing kelaguko necklace (Woodburn 1970, p. 54)

The condition of the necklace seems to be stable although it needs urgent attention. To start with, the thread is extra long at both ends and the knot has been, making the threads fragile and brittle. The blue, orange and red beads are in slightly better shape than the white beads, which have a rough surface with a ‘sandy’ texture, indicating what might be a ‘glass disease’, given the visible deterioration of four white beads. As for the tubers, all 13 have unidentifiable white spots on them, which makes it essential for the necklace to be checked at least once every six months.

Figure 1 - Close-up showing thread, and (left) image from Florian 1990 showing two techniques of twisting the thread

Pictures showing a close up of white and possibly soil traces on thread (see Diagram 3 for more)

Selected references:

Florian, M. et al. 1990. The Conservation of Artefacts Made from Plant Materials. The Getty Trust. Princeton University Press.

Lougheed S. 1987. In: Deteriorating Glass Beads on Ethnographic Objects: Symptoms and Conservation. Symposium 86: the care and preservation of ethnlogical materials: proceedings. Canadian Conservation Institute: Canada.

Woodburn, J. 1970. Hunters and Gatherers: The material culture of the nomadic Hadza. The British Museum. London.

p.s. all photographs were taken by the author unless otherwise specified. 

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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