Tiger bells: various
are made of bronze. They differ from other bells because of several
they belong to the group of jingle bells or crotal bells:
they have a hollow, globularly shaped body in which a small pellet
of metal or stone is held (hence the often used term pellet
bell). When the bell is shaken, the pellet hits the inside
surface and thus the bell sounds. The bells have an opening, usually
a split in the lower side of the body which allows the hollow
body to act as a resonator. The hoop for suspending the bell is
very often square or rectangular, sometimes round, sometimes trapezium
characteristic that makes the tiger bells really stand out from
other bells is the design. It is evidently a face with large eyes,
a nose and a mouth or beak. My first association was that of a
frog's head. Later, on a catalogue card of the Ethnological Museum
in Leyden describing the bells on a baby
carrier from the Kajan in Kalimantan, I found a quote from
Prof. J J. M. de Groot saying that the face is a snake's
head. According to him the Chinese characters on the 'forehead'
could mean The Hing Company. He had seen these characters
on the bells of the Lanun
in The Philippines .
On other bells with the
face-design other characters can be seen. These characters are visible
on both sides, in the center of the top half of the bell. Very often
these characters were corrupted by the casting process or are just
meaningless scribbles. Around the characters and around the eyes
and nose one finds curls and curves.
'forehead' there is a Chinese character ,
the character Wang. It means 'emperor, royal' and is usually
found on Chinese representations of tiger's heads such as this
tiger bells on the back of the shaman's costume in the Musée
de l'Homme in Paris (now Musée Quay Branly),
France, were described as: Grelot; tête de tigre en
laiton (transl.Crotal bells, tiger's head, made of brass.
For the full description: click
1914 Russian ethnologist Sieroszewski quotes an explanation
of the meaning of the ornamentation on a shaman's coat. The
explanation was given by an old Yakut. About the bells on the
costume he said:
copper bells without tongues, suspended below the collar;
like a crow's egg in size and shape and having on the tipper
part a drawing of a fish's head. They are tied to the
leather straps or to the metal loops.
Wang character occurs since ancient times on bronze statues
of tigers, such as the statue from the Chinese Chou-period (appr.500
B.C.), and because the description of the bells in the Musée
de l'Homme clearly mentions the tiger's head, I decided to call
these bells tiger bells to distinguish them from other bronze
bells. But for reasons just as good they could be called fish bells,
frog bells or snake bells. However since I introduced the term tiger
bell in the first version of this report in 1976, it is now widely
used and occurs in many web pages (and even in a computer game although
the bell in the game is not a tiger bell). Therefore I will continue
to use the term tiger bell until it is more correct to use
Bronze statue of a tiger,
the Wang character on its forehead
Middle Chou (946 - 600 B.C.); collection: Freer Gallery,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
Courtesy: Orientations Magazine, April 1972
Tiger bells vary in shape,
size and design. The majority of the bells belong to one of four
type groups: type A, type B, type
C and type D. Some variations exist. Those
variations that are inspired by the tiger bell but miss one or more
of the typical characteristics are grouped into the Alternatives.
Alternatives are inspired by, or resemble type A bells and type
Type A tiger bells occur over a wide area and are used in many different
ways: as a dance attribute (Pakistan, southern
Philippines), as an amulet for adults, children
and sometimes animals (goats and sheep in Afghanistan,
cats with the Minangkabau in
Sumatra, horses in Sumba and Malta).
There is an evident link between tiger bells and shamanism. Shamans
in Kalimantan, Sarawak,
Mongolia, former Inner
Mongolia and South Siberia have type
A tiger bells on their costumes and attributes (while shamans from
Tibet and Nepal use
type B and type C tiger
bells). One shaman's costume of the Solon
with over 60 type A tiger bells of various sizes.
There are not very many records from mainland China.
The examples known are tiger bells from the 19th century, and a belt,
most likely from one of the ethnic minorities in southern China.
years new tiger bells have been produced, sometimes copies of old
type A tiger bells, sometimes variations inspired by the type A tiger
bell. These bells are produced for trade to be sold in local Chinese
communities and to tourists. So far they are reported in shops in
Singapore, New York,
Amsterdam and in shops on the
internet. In China there is at least
one industrial factory that produces several types of tiger bells,
some based on the type A bell.
Set of four bells, collected in China, Steyl Mission Museum
Type A tiger bells occur in many sizes, from about 2.5 cm. to about
4,5 to 5 cm. in width. Most larger type A tiger bells have a square
or rectangular hoop. Smaller type A tiger bells can have square or
reactangular hoops but also trapezium
shaped and even round hoops (see the shaman's
belt from Kalimantan). There is one report
of a tiger bell from the Iban, Sarawak, (see below) with a width of
more than 6 cm. Two bells, reported in China
and in South Korea are extremely large; these
are however exceptions.
bell with a width of 4,5 cm. Iban (Sarawak).
bell, possibly from China, has a width of more than 6 cm. This is
however an exeception.
Several type A tiger bells are probably locally made with variations
in the design (as in Nepal, Syria
and China). These variations
could occur because the producer did not recognise the Chinese characters
and considered them as meaningless, or possibly as floral motifs.
Because of the whiskers, the face on the Syrian bell and on one of
the Chinese bells bell looks more like a cat.
tiger bell with whiskers, probably from China
from the side the height of the bell is smaller than its width.
This sets them apart from the bells of type B and type C of which
the height is larger than the width.
side view of type A
Right: side view of type B
this group occur in large numbers on the southeast Asian mainland.
Until now there are reports from Thailand,
Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh
and Mongolia. In Thailand (Bangkok) these
bells are sometimes painted gold. They have the following characteristics:
Type B tiger
bells are roughly the size of an chicken's egg. The 'Wang'
character on the 'forehead', so typical for the A type tiger bells,
is missing. On the top half we can distinguish Chinese characters,
sometimes one, sometimes two. The round character here means 'long
life'. The surrounding curls and curves are not always there. The
hoop is always round.
Tiger bells of type B bells occur by the hundreds. In Bangkok they
can be bought in many handicraft and antique shops. They come 'from
the north' but it is not clear what place or region that is. It
is likely that these tiger bells are still produced.
Type B tiger bells are used in many ways. In the Tibetan market
in New Delhi (India) belts for yaks and
horses with 10 to 12 of these bells were sold. One shopkeeper in
Bangkok told me these bells were used as doorknobs. Nepalese and
Tibetan shamans wear these bells on a chain across the chest as
part of their costume. Type B bells of a smaller size are used as
dog bells in Tibet and northern
Size and dimensions
These bells are large, with diameters varying from about 3.5 cm.
to 4.5 cm. and heights from 3.7 cm. to 5 cm. or more.
of decorations on the 'forehead' of type B bells
Two Chinese characters
A circle shaped Chinese character
The Chinese character for 'long life'
bells are all from the Tibet - Mongolia area
These bells occur mainly
in Nepal and Tibet.
They have the following characteristics:
C type bell from Nepal
Type C bells have the
shape of B bells but are smaller. On most bells we see the Wang
character, although sometimes corrupted. In general the eyes
bulge more than the other types. Also the relief of the design and
the Chinese characters is thick and relatively high on the surface
of the bell. The hoop is always rectangular with rounded corners.
One handicraft shop owner in Kathmandu, Nepal,
told me that bells of this type were being produced in a workshop
in Dehra Dun (Uttar Pradesh, near the border with Himachal Pradesh,
Many of these bells are sold as souvenirs in handicraft and ethnography
shops. They occur in larger numbers on belts for horses and yaks.
On chest chains worn by shamans
from Nepal and Tibet, they are sometimes found together with other
Size and dimensions
The size of the C type bells is rather consistent: a width of about
3.4 cm. and a height of about 3.8 cm.
of decorations on the 'forehead' of type C bells
lines could be inspired by two characters. The remains of a
'Wang' chartacter are in the centre of the picture.
are clearly two Chinese characters.
These tiger bells are
only reported in Vietnam, Burma
and possibly Laos. Type
D bells are more or less similar to smaller type A bells. The Wang
character is missing and the design is less detailed. The bronze
of these bells has a dark, almost black patina. The bells are used
as horse bells (in Vietnam) and as a musical instrument (in Burma)
Horse bells, Fou tribe, Vietnam
are mainly variations on the type A bells and the type B bells. Some
of these variations could have been made locally for people who had
a need for them but were for some reason unable to acquire the original
bells. The majority is however produced in such large numbers that
they are types in their own right. See also: Alternatives
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