The Dayak [Iban] and Their Shields (4)

Utaps and Dayak shields in general

Descriptions written at the end of the nineteenth century

Form, function and decoration

The art of protection: Indonesian shields in context

Pitt Rivers on Indonesian shields

Two Dayak shields in the Pitt Rivers collection, 1884.30.36 and 1884.30.37

Pitt Rivers on Indonesian shields

A letter from Pitt Rivers to Tylor
[P11 Tylor papers. PRM Archives. Letter slightly edited]


Aug 7 '98

Dear Mr Tylor

Thanks for your letter and the information contained in it. I am very infirm now, having had diabetes continuously for 17 years. I can hardly do more than go from room to room but I still keep working a little slowly. As regards the loop coil series, I think it must certainly have spread all over the Pacific Islands, China, and Japan from one source; also northern India, and Thibet, and the Malay peninsular; but not central India or Ceylon. New Guinea undoubtedly has the broken loop coil like New Zealand, but is not rich in the continuous loop coil which I still think the Earliest. I don't believe that it arose from the eye of the frigate bird but has been applied to it as so often happens when a recognised pattern is found suitable for the ornamentation of a particular form. It is common on the shields of the Dyaks of Borneo in two or three different stages. Whether there was ever any connection between these certain forms and early Egyptian and Hellenic forms appears to me doubtful. Perhaps you may have formed some opinion on the subject. There is no reason why there should not be. We know so little of the antiquities of Savage countries. I think the continuous loop coil must have been the Earliest and the broken loop coil a later version of it . It is true that Petrie finds the broke coil on the earliest scarabs but that only proves, I think, that scarabs were not the earliest things on which the pattern was drawn. V[ery] probably it was first used on the embroidery of dresses which have long since perished. That of course is problematical. The degraded or develop... [sic - ending illegible] version of it on the ornamentation of the Zuni vessels which I first saw on some of your specimens seems to me a very interesting ... [sic - word missing] and yet I can hardly believe that the widespread use of it together with the allied key pattern which is derived from it all over Central and South America can be accidental. The only way is to collect an enormous number of specimens of it from all parts and see if any reliable connection can be formed. Have you ever seen a specimen of it from Central India or Ceylon? I never have though I have looked for it for years. It was certainly used in the Buddhist temples of northern India.

I have rather changed my view as to the principle on which a small collection for a local anthropological museum, such as my present one is, should be collected. I still think the primary arrangement should be in divisions by arts and subjects and the secondary one within each large division should be geographical. But the primary divisions in a small local Museum should be broader. Thus instead of having a separate division for representations of the human form I make it Art and Ornament and make it include both realism and stylism and also the adaptation of animal forms to ornament which in my original collection I kept separate. Where sequences occur they can be shewn within the primary division and where a reference passes from one country to another the geographical sub-arrangement must be slightly broken. I have been making a very good collection of the Benin bronze castings. The best, I believe, out of the BM. They are extremely interesting as shewing a phase of art of which there is no actual record. I cannot quite make out whether the cire-perdue process came from Portugal. It does not follow that because Europeans figures are occasionally represented that it all came from Europe. Most of the forms are indigenous, the features are nearly all negro. The weapons are negro, the spear and sword blades with the ogee section [more sketches] which prevails nearly all over Africa wherever iron is worked is certainly present amongst the weapons in the hands of the cast bronze figures on the plaques. Did it spread from Benin originally? The modern Congo implements greatly resemble the ancient Benin ones and the inlaying of brass and copper is the same. Have you noticed that the head dresses of the Herero women (Ratzel part 16 p244 and part 19 p 471) closely resemble those of the Benin people shewn in the bronze castings? I have one of the actual coral headdresses from Benin with the coral rosettes and everything which exactly explains those shewn in the bronze casts. What the tags of the Herero women's caps hanging down behind are made of I don't know but I suppose beads. It seems to me that the bead anklets armlets etc of the Herero exactly correspond to the Benin ones that are made of coral. Has it occurred to you that your Tasmanian flints, the flat ones chipped only at the edge, that you shewed me at Oxford are exactly like Mr Harrison's chalk plateau flints that he considers pre-Palaeolithic and calls Eolithic. I wonder what your opinion about them is? Many if not most of the brown stained ones are certainly chipped at the edge but whether their position proves them to be earlier is another matter. They are making a large collection of them for the Maidstone Museum. Lubbock, I see, has taken them up. I am not sure that with all his political business he is able to devote sufficient attention to small scientific points. Evans and Boyd Dawkins were dead against their being earlier than palaeolithic the last time I spoke to them about it. I have not been to London for several years and am quite out of the way of talking to people on scientific subjects.

I have printed a fourth volume of my diggings of which I will send you a copy and the fifth vol is in progress. The tracing of a line of ..... [sic illegible] or trapezoidal bronze age carvings is I think a new point. They have hitherto been supposed to be Roman on account of their form but the evidence is very clear and they promise to be prolific.

So little has been done upon bronze age sites in England. With kind regards to Mrs Tylor. I hope you are better than you were. I trust we shall have the pleasure of seeing you here again when my new gallery at the Museum is completely furnished.


Yours very truly

A Pitt Rivers

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