|(fig.1). Women’s beaded headband (J.66), 51cm (circumference), Material Culture Room, UCL Department of Anthropology, Material Culture Room. London (Photograph by author).|
The headband was created by the Hadza, and later collected by James Woodburn, sometime between 1958 and 1961 (Woodburn 19th March 2016, pers. comm.). The Hadza are a tribe of 1000; they live in Northern Tanzania nearby Lake Eyasi (Marlowe 2010, 17-18). The Hadza are hunter-gatherers; they survive on hunting meat, gathering honey and berries (Woodburn 1970, 11).
The headband provides a glimpse into the everyday life of the hunter-gatherer Hadza. Headbands were frequently used by the tribe as a form of body art and were worn during rituals such as the mai-toh-ko, which (even today) celebrates “female puberty initiation” (Marlowe 2002, 250).
The primary ingredient of the headband, the glass beads, possesses its own story. Glass beads were not made by the Hadza; they were imported from Europe (Carey 1986, 10). They were acquired by the Hadza from other tribes and Europeans by means of “an obligation to share” and distributed within the tribe via lukocuko, a gambling game (Woodburn 1970, 12; 2005, 23).
Upon the return of James Woodburn to England, in 1962, the headband became a teaching resource at the newly established material culture studies department. During this time the headband also became one of the first objects to be donated to the UCL Ethnographic Collection (Woodburn 19th March 2016, pers. comm.). Today it is still housed at UCL and is available to researchers and students across the university (ucl.ac.uk).
Evidently the headband comprises a rich history; throughout its life it has acquired meanings which are not only imprinted on its material essence but also exist intangibly in the minds and texts of those who created, collected, studied and used it.
The headband is formed of translucent blue, opaque blue, red, white and striped (blue and white) beads. Multiple rows of single coloured beads form rectangles; there are seven blue, six white rectangles and one red rectangle. There is also a small section composed of striped (white and blue) beads. A fine white border is provided for each beaded rectangle using white beads. The headband is a complete loop. The headband is 51cm in circumference and 3cm tall.
The headband is evidently a fragile object. It is made of organic threads, either animal tissue or inner bark fibre, and possibly glass beads (Woodburn 19th March 2016, pers. comm.). The threads are weak (fig.2) and comprise white deposits which may be mould (Caneva et al. 2003, 12-14; Carrlee and Carrlee 2011) or alkali constituents which have rubbed off the surface of the beads (fig.3) (Lougheed 1986, 111). The majority of the beads comprise a grimy/oily substance as well as white accretions on the surface (fig.4 to fig.7). These symptoms resemble the beginning stages of glass disease (Carroll and McHugh 2001, 28; Fusco and Speakman 2010, 3; Lougheed 1986, 110; Werner 1966, 45).
|(fig.2). Close up image of the headband (J.66), taken via DinoLite Visible Spectrum Camera, demonstrates the fragility of the thread (photograph by author).|
|(fig.3). Close up image of the headband (J.66), taken via DinoLite Visible Spectrum Camera, showing white deposits/blooming on the threads (photograph by author).|
|(fig.5). Close up image of the headband (J.66), taken via DinoLite Visible Spectrum Camera, showing white glass beads. The beads are dull and appear to have an oily/grimy substance on the surface (photograph by author).|
|(fig.6). Close up image of the headband (J.66), taken via DinoLite Visible Spectrum Camera, showing blue (opaque) glass beads. Note the excessive amount of dirt which has accumulated inside the severe crack in the bead (photograph by author).|
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Woodburn, J., 2005. Egalitarian Societies Revisited. In T. Widlok and W. G. Tadesse (eds.), Property and Equality Volume I: Ritualisation, Sharing, Egalitarianism. New York and Oxford: Berghahm Books, 18-31.
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.