Hidden Treasures: Arguments, vanity and enduring ingenuity

The Museum of Anthropology has over 45,000 objects in its collections, fewer than 10,000 of which are available for the public to view. The overwhelming majority of these are still semi-hidden throughout the nooks, crannies and drawers. Hidden Treasures is an ongoing column dedicated to finding some of the best-kept secrets that MOA has to offer.

Kawa Rigit (Orator’s Stool)

Located near the doors of the Multiversity Galleries, the Orator’s Stool sculpture catches the eye right away. Known as the Kawa Rigit in the language of the Iatmul people of Papua New Guinea, the carved wooden stools are a traditional form of settling arguments between individuals. The stool itself is never sat upon, rather the statue that accompanies it is seen as the guardian of the conversation. Whenever someone has a dispute, they can call upon the spirit for support by hitting the seat with a bunch of leaves. As long as they remain, the speaker holds the floor, while officiating elders progressively remove leaves as the argument continues.

Andrew Sandfort-Marchese

Chinese Bronze Mirror

Hidden in one of the many gallery drawers, this Han Dynasty mirror might confuse the casual viewer. To a modern individual, the dull black disk looks nothing like the shiny mirrors we are familiar with in daily life. In ancient times mirrors were prized possessions, expensive objects highly decorated on one side and obsessively polished on the other. One would hold the mirror to the light and catch their reflection on the surface, much like on the back of a spoon. They were often treasured to the point that they are commonly found buried with their owners. This particular mirror has some cool inscriptions and detailed decorations referencing the 12 Chinese zodiac animals in seal script. In the end, this dull little piece of tarnished metal has a peculiar way of reminding us how much can change across history, and how some things — like vanity — stand the test of time.

Andrew Sandfort-Marchese

Haida Horn Spoons and Bowls

The art of the BC First Nations is on full display throughout the MOA, and it is easy to miss some of the lesser-known artifacts hidden deeply in the Multiversity Galleries. One of these, the collection of Haida horn spoons, is remarkable in their construction and design. The horns of Mountain (Dall) Sheep were traded to the Haida, who boiled the horns before shaping them in wooden molds. After cooling, the outline and details were carved in with tough horn. The intricate carved handles often depict detailed animal heads representing families and important symbolic qualities. These spoons provide yet another example of the enduring ingenuity of First Nations artists.

Andrew Sandfort-Marchese

Hidden Treasures is an ongoing column, dedicated to finding some of the best-kept secrets that MOA has to offer. If you would like to contribute to Hidden Treasures, email culture@ubyssey.ca.