What are tiger bells?
bells are bronze jingle bells. Jingle bells are globularly
shaped, hollow and have a metal or stone pellet inside which produces
a sound when the bell is shaken. Tiger bells stand apart from other
bells because of the peculiar design on the surface: a stylized
tiger's head. Very often the hoop is rectangular. On the top half
of the bell's surface, one or two Chinese characters and some curls
and curved lines are often seen. Detailed information is on the
page Various types.
view of a tiger bell from S.E. Mindanao (the Philippines)
Bells with this design
occur all over Asia, from Indonesia
to Siberia, Turkey
and the Middle East. They come in
different sizes and shapes, and there are variations in the design.
The face, a tiger's head, is however
very consistent. That is why I call these bells tiger bells.
these bells for the first time in 1974, in Mindanao, Southern Philippines.
They were used by several ethnic groups, as dance bells and amulets.
in the Musée de l'Homme in Paris (France, now the
Musée Quay Branly) I found several bells on a shaman's
costume from the Ewenk, an ethnic group in S.E.
Siberia. These were almost identical to tiger bells I had seen
in the Philippines. I found the enormous
distance between the two locations intriguing and decided to try
and find out more about the history of these bells: how old they
are, how they came to be where they are, where they were produced
and where and how they are used. Not being an anthropologist, I
had to start from scratch.
A tiger bell on a shaman's
costume from S.E. Siberia
Collection Musée de l'Homme, Paris
this informal research in 1975. Since then I have found out a
number of things. The most important finding is that some groups
have bells with this design by the tens and sometimes hundreds
while other groups within the same area, sometimes neighbours,
do not have one single tiger bell. Examples are several minority
groups in S.E. Mindanao, several
Dayak groups in Kalimantan, and ethnic
groups in S.E. Siberia. This has led to the assumption that trade
could not have been the only distribution factor. Trade is too
indiscriminate a factor to explain this obvious preference by
some groups. Could it be possible that some of these groups already
possessed tiger bells before they reached their present location?
If so, this could link those groups wìth the tiger bell
and those withòut the tiger bell to various migration waves
in Asia. It could also mean that tiger bells found with these
groups are very old.
tiger bell on a child's ankle, Bahau Dayak, Kalimantan
Another striking fact
is that the bells with the tiger's head design as we see it on
the tiger bell from Mindanao (the Philippines), occur at the extremes
of the distribution area: Siberia,
Insular S.E. Asia, Russia
and Turkey. In between we find tiger
bells of varying age, the majority possibly younger than those
in northern Asia and S.E. Asia, and with many variations
in shape, size and design, although all are clearly tiger bells.
The tiger bells as we see them in the Philippines and in Siberia
have the most consistent and complete design; they are probably
the oldest bells as well. Therefore I call this type of tiger
bell the classic type.
of these classic tiger bells differs per group. They are used as
an amulet by shamans from Kalimantan
and Siberia. Other uses are: a necklace
or a dance attribute. Other types are used as animal bells.
bell in a wooden yak bell, from Burma
with certain ethnic groups could indicate that the tiger bells are
old. On the other hand, some of these bells are evidently newer
than others. This indicates that these bells must have been produced
in large numbers, over hundreds of years. In fact, they are still
being produced. There are at least several workshops producing tiger
bells of different types: in Peking, in Dehra Dun (Northern
India), and in China.
made in Peking
Finding the answers
I was collecting information in various museums and institutes,
I found that, although many people had seen all kinds of bronze
bells, very often they had not recognized the tiger bells as being
different from other pellet bells. Those who had noticed the particular
design were satisfied with the observation that these bells were
apparently of Chinese origin. Yet, the number of observations
is vast and there are now reports of tiger bells in the
Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand,
Korea, Singapore, Taiwan,
Outer and Inner
Mongolia, S.E Siberia, Tuva,
Northwest Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Russia and even Malta.
Also, I found that there are distinctly different
types of tiger bells, and variations within these types.
silver prayer mill, from Tibet
Help, from you
Since there is little
literature on this subject and since I cannot visit all museums
and libraries I had, and still have, to rely on observations
by others. All these years, travelling friends, colleagues and
museum curators have helped. By presenting my search on the
Internet I have reached more people and institutes. With all
this help I found more information to support the
conclusion: that the presence of the tiger bells makes it
possible to link ethnic groups to their movements over the Asian
continent. It would also set he age of the oldest tiger bells
at around 800 years. This would mean that the tiger bells could
be a migration tracer.
In the following
pages all information found until now is presented. I recommend
the following sequence:
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F. de Jager