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. Because of the round, closed shape
these bells are also called crotal bells or, because of the
pellet: pellet bells. 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 SE 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 in actual use for the first time in 1974, in Mindanao,
Southern Philippines. They were used by several ethnic groups, as
dance bells and amulets.
1975, in the Musée de l'Homme in Paris (France, now
the Musée Quay Branly) I noticed several bells on
a shaman's costume from the Tungus, an ethnic group in SE
Siberia (now better known as Ewenk). These were almost
identical to tiger bells I had seen in the Philippines.
I found the enormous distance between the two locations, SE Mindanao
and SE Siberia, intriguing. When discussing this with friends and
experts the very first suggestion for this large distribution area
was invariably: trade. From the very first moment I found this idea
too easy. With the growing number of observations I became more
and more convinced that trade was only one of the factors. I 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 how they are used.
A tiger bell on a shaman's
costume from SE Siberia
Collection Musée de l'Homme, Paris
this informal research in 1975. Not being an anthropologist I
had to start from scratch. Soon I found out a number of things.
The most striking finding is that some groups have bells with
this design by the dozens and sometimes even hundreds while other
groups within the same area, sometimes neighbors, do not have
one single tiger bell. Examples are several minority groups in
SE Mindanao, several Dayak groups
in Kalimantan, and ethnic groups in
SE Siberia. This to me was an indication that trade could not
have been the only distribution factor. Trade is too indiscriminate
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 having tiger bells and those nòt having
tiger bells 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 in large
numbers at the extremes of the distribution area: Siberia,
Insular SE Asia, Russia
and Turkey. In between we find tiger
bells of varying age, the majority possibly younger than those
in northern Asia and SE Asia, 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 have called this type of tiger bell the classic
of these classic tiger bells differs per group. They are used as
a part of the special dress for shamans such as those from Kalimantan
and Siberia. Other groups use them as
a necklace, as a dance attribute or as animal bells.
tiger bell in a wooden yak bell, from Burma
link 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 and over a long period of time, possibly 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
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. Even an expert on Siberian shamanism
as the late S. M. Shirokogoroff,
who had seen and described many shaman costumes often decorated
with dozens of tiger bells, did not mention the face-like motif.
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,
China, Korea, Singapore,
Mongolia, SEE Siberia, Tuva,
Northwest Pakistan, Afghanistan,
Russia and even in Malta
(Grt. Britain). Also, I found that there are distinctly different
types of tiger bells, and variations within these types.
silver prayer mill, from Tibet
Since there is little
literature on this subject and since I couldn't, and cannot,
visit all museums and libraries I had, and still have, to rely
on observations by others. All these years, traveling friends,
colleagues and museum curators have helped. By presenting my
search on the Internet I have reached more people and more 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 certain ethnic groups to their movements over
the Asian continent. This would mean that the tiger bells could
be a tracer. It would also set he age of the oldest
tiger bells at around at least 1000 to 1100 years.
In the following
pages all information found until now is presented. I recommend
the following sequence:
are many links in the various
pages that bring you to additional
pages with more information.
The links (in
blue) are shortcuts that bring you to a page or another relevant
paragraph within or outside the site. After reading, you can
go back to where you came from by clicking the back-arrow (the
arrow pointing to the left) of your browser or at the bottom
of each page. In many pages you will find new links that bring
you further to relevant paragraphs or pages. Clicking on
the back-arrow always brings you back to where you came from,
even to the very first click.
When the search progressed it became more and more clear that
there is a close relation between tiger bells and shamanism
in various forms all over Asia. This search tries to reconstruct
the history of the tiger bells and their movements over the
Asian continent. It is not a study on shamanism. If the
reader is looking for information on shamanism, there is a wealth
of information on the Internet. A good start is this link to
of the pictures and texts in this study were found on Internet.
Whenever available I have given all credits I could find. When
in doubt I have contacted the author, publisher or photographer
to ask permission for use of their work. However much of the
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