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Updates an opinions
in chronological order (click here for latest update)

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1974 - 1996

How it started
The first time my wife and I noticed the tiger bells was during our stay in the Philippines (1973 - 1975). In 1975 we returned to Europe overland and visited several countries. In Thailand we found bells with the face-design but of a different type. At the Tibetan Refugee market in New Delhi (India) we found bells of the same type and with the same design as we had seen in Thailand. Our last stop was in Paris, France, where we visited the Musée de l'Homme. There I found four bells on a shaman's dress from the Tungus in North East Siberia. These bells were identical to the bells we had seen in the Philippines. I decided to try to find out the history of these bells.

Back home I corresponded with several museums in Europe and received several interesting reactions such as Ms. Inger Wulffs' report of a tiger bell from Kelantan (Malaysia). In 1976 I had the chance to work for six months in the Ethnological Museum in Leyden (Neth.). This gave me access to the depots and the library. That produced much new material: about 40 tiger bells, the majority from Indonesia, some on objects such as baby carriers, and several books with illustrations and sometimes descriptions of the bells.

Information came in slowly. However it became more and more clear that the history of the tiger bells was a story worth investigating. In 1980 I had the chance to work in Indonesia for a year. I accepted the job, not in the least because this gave me the chance to be in a region where I could continue the search for the tiger bells. My employer (an engineering consultancy firm) had employees and projects all over the world. Whenever I heard of a colleague going to an interesting place or country I gave instructions and pictures of the tiger bells. That first year extended to in total 10 years and many cases were added. In 1991 we went back to the Netherlands. During the early '90s the Internet became more and more accepted. It also became easier to create a website and to have your own domain. In 1994 I opened my first version of the website on the tiger bells. In 1996 the website was taken up into the Internet World Exhibition and won a, virtual, Gold Medal: the site was considered to be an example of how the Internet will be used in future scientific research.

Now follow in chronological order the most important opinions and events since the opening of the website, that contributed to the story of the tiger bells. Please follow the links in the text but, once you have read the case description, do not forget to click on the back-arrow to come back to this page.

Please note that all cases reported during the period 1975 - 1994 (that is befòre the site was published on the Internet) are all presented in the individual Reports.

January 1996

  • Yousef Lasi asks in what region of Pakistan tiger bells occur. He will try to find out if there is a link between the tiger bells and the Hazara, an ethnic group in Northwest Pakistan that arrived there in the 13th to 15th century, coming from Mongolia. Mr. Lasi did not follow this up but several years later the role of the Hazara people did become clear

  • Sisial points out:

    ...the frequencies of these tiger bells does not come as such a shock to me. Years ago, I hypothesized the existence of a single cultural group spanning much of Europe and Asia. Linguistic and cultural similarities can be seen in several fragment groups still surviving on both continents. (...) I can still remember a few of these groups: Turkic Mongolian, Tungusic, Finnic, Hungarian. Traces also exist in Korea and throughout Indonesia...

February 1996

  • Lynx suggests:

...my personal belief is that certain "Tribes" have certain "Totem" animals which are drawn to the community through the Shamans, or Medicine People.

  • Gerold Firl suggests:

    Regarding the patchy distribution of the bells, you suggested that such data might be useful for tracing patterns of ethnic history and migration. Let me remind you of an often-underestimated factor in cultural diversity: the need/desire of people to distinguish their group from neighboring groups. We see it very clearly within our own culture, as each subculture develops its' own identity- badges. Often they are relatively trivial: clothes, hairstyles, tattoos, speech patterns or dialects, for example. But this same human characteristic, when applied to traditional cultures, can have far-reaching, profound influence on cultural evolution. I would suggest that an understanding of the patchy distribution of tiger bells could best be understood, at least at the local level, with a style or fashion-based analysis.
    That is, we don't wear tiger bells because they wear tiger bells.

My comment (in short):

This does not answer the questions on the origin. Why would (in SE Mindanao) a Bagobo want to indicate that he feels related to e.g. a Mansaka and not to a Tagabili? Also, certain musical practices occur with the people with the tiger bell and not with others (e.g. the set of hanging gongs).

March 1996

  • Gerold Firl reacted:

  • That is interesting; the presence of tiger bells correlates with a particular type of gong playing. What other correlations can be found? How about dance styles? If tiger bells were used to accent a particular kind of dance, that may relate to larger patterns of religion and ritual.

    Reacting on the considerable age of the type A bells (possibly around 700 years): It is quite possible that major movements of peoples have taken place within the last few centuries. I hadn't really thought about how old these bells are; if they have been in the possession of the same people for 700 years, then they could provide a useful migration-tracer.

  • Joel Gazis Sax (BA Anthropology, Pomona College, Claremont California) referred to an article by Boas:

    Boas had in his collection hundreds of ivory needle cases created by Eskimo craftspeople. These were not mass-produced, identical artifacts, but showed many different forms. He (Boas) writes:

    The conclusion which I draw from a comparison of the types of needle cases here represented is that the flanged needle cases represents an old conventional style, which is ever present in the mind of the Eskimo artist who sets about to carve a needle case The various parts of the flanged needle case excite his imagination; and a geometrical element here or there is developed by him, in accordance with the general tendencies of Eskimo art, into the representations of whole animals or of parts of animals.... [If] we are to form an acceptable theory of the origin of decorative designs, it seems a safer method to form our judgment based on examples the history of which can be traced with a fair degree of certainty, rather than on speculations in regard to the origin of remote forms for the development of which no data are available. [Boas 1908]

    In other words, culture plays a big role in how people are going to take a basic object such as a tiger bell and turn it into something else. Or to even decide to use it at all! (Suppose people think that tigers are evil -- would they want to have objects representing their fear around?) The best way to find out why people have or don't have tiger bells is simply to do a little good ethnography, as the original poster sought in the first place. This data will always beat out the unsound and usually untestable speculations of certain reductionists.

    My comment: While the needle boxes were all unique products made by individuals, the tiger bells were most probably mass-produced by a small number of workshops in East Asia ( possibly just one workshop). These workshops produced for certain ethnic groups which had a continuous demand for these bells because of religious or other reasons.

August 1996

Vicky Quiritan wrote:
... by the way, I have seen these bells in Indonesia: on Bali (where I lived for one year) and in Jakarta...

January 1997

We received two new reports, one of tiger bells in Nagaland, Assam and another report of tiger bells and the Manggyan in Mindoro, the Philippines.

October 1997

Elisabeth den Otter reports a tiger bell, type A, collected during her trip in Burma.

April 2005

After eight years of relative silence we received three new reports on tiger bells. Two reports by Annemarieke Koch, from Bhutan, in October 2004 and from Syria in April 2005, and one report in February 2005 by Dolf Heubers with three tiger bells from Afghanistan. Later he donated the bells to me.

July 2005

After his trip (in June - July '05) to the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan Marcel v.d. Burg reports:

...I have received contradicting information and it is difficult to make any sense of it. Almost everywhere bringing up the subject has led to great surprise. No one had ever paid any attention to the bells. People were however very willing to think and remember but this did not always lead to consistent answers..

Read the rest of his report on the page on Afghanistan.

March 2006

Hans Brandeis (ethnomusicologist in Berlin) sent several photographs of two bells he has received from a relative from Mindoro (see the page on the Philippines). He also sent a picture of a horse or yak belt from India, in the Ethnography Museum in Vienna, see the page on India.

December 2006

Christine de Jong reported that several years ago she bought three small tiger bells in a store specializing in products from China, somewhere in Amsterdam.

In the Damstraat in Amsterdam we noticed an ethnic and curio shop that uses a tiger bell as a door bell.

The entrance of an ethno- and curioshop
in the Damstraat, Amsterdam

February 2008

Amy Amalzamar reported a sale on E-bay of a tiger bell from China, dating from the Kuang Hsu period (19th century). The bell has a very peculiar design which is very different from other tiger bells.

March 2008
In a paper titled 'Malang, Sufis, and Mystics', the author dr. Muhammad Humayun Sidky describes the arrival of shamanism in Afghanistan. Could there be a connection between the presence of tiger bells in the area and the Hazara people, and the arrival of shamanism? I'm trying to contact the author to hear his opinion on this (until now, 2015, without success).

Arnoud ten Haaft organizes and guides trekking and camping trips to remote areas in Northeastern Asia. He reports that he has seen several tiger bells attached to shaman costumes in the National Museum in Kyzyl, capital of Tuva. Now he is organizing a trip to Mongolia this summer. He has promised to keep his eyes peeled for tiger bells and report any interesting facts he finds. (2014: no reports received)

July 2008
In the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, Annemarie and Henk Orsel bought three tiger bells of different sizes. They donated one bell to me. The bells are of the A type and similar to the tiger bells seen among groups in Indonesia and other East Asian countries.

August 2008
On the website of 3Worlds - The Shamanism Website: a ritual whip, possibly from the Buryat

January 2009
In 2008 Toos Suyker and Jan Verdiessen had planned a cultural journey to Tibet. I had asked them to keep their eyes peeled for tiger bells. Unfortunately, due to personal circumstances the trip could not be made. Their friend, I. van der Meulen, did make the trip and brought back two examples of tiger bells type B and C. The bells were reported and photographed in 2009. Unfortunately no details were given.

January 2010
During the last several years, but in 2009 in particular, tiger bells were swhown and often offered for sale (using the name tiger bells) on Internet, Internet shops and E-bay. Unfortunately details are often missing; some tiger bells are clearly newly made and some are not tiger bells. Some of these cases are interesting. A tiger bell from Vietnam was taken up in this report. A tiger bell from China is of particular interest because of its size.

May 2010
While visiting a shop in the Chinese quarters of New York city (USA), Hendrik and Babs Wittenberg came across a basket full of new tiger bells. The bells are similar to a bell from China from the Qing dynasty.

September 2010

Marijke Verzendaal reported that she had seen a box with several dozens of tiger bells, for sale in the museum shop of the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam. The price was appr. € 10,- . She thought the bells were new copies, therefore she did not buy one.

Several years later, in spring 2014, I visited the same museum to find out if they still had these bells. The owner remembered that she had sold the bells and that she had procured them from Marcel van den Burg, who had bought a number of these bells in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So the bells were authentic tiger bells, and, as we know now, probably very old.

October 2010

While there were several reports and developments since March 2008 it slowly became clear that the number of reactions that reached us through the contact page of the website had come to a stand still. It turned out that the software used to protect the site from spam had not only blocked the spam but also stopped all other messages. Luckily a directory could be found where copies of the messages could be salvaged, be it without the appendices. We tried to contact everyone who had sent a message. Among the messages were several of importance to the story of the tiger bells. Among them:

Marco Hadjidakis
reported in March 2009 that he has several tiger bells and a small table or stool with a toli (a bronze disk) and several tiger bells, from a Mongolian (or Siberian) shaman.
In March 2010

Tom Ulbrich
and Bui Kim Dinh from Vietnam reported a tiger bell from Northern Vietnam. The bell's age was estimated at about 1000 years by an antique dealer and expert. Unfortunately the contact could not be re-established.

November 2010

In the television program Vrije geluiden (Free sounds) there was a performance by Hanggai, a group from China, playing music in fusion style, based on traditional music from Mongolia and contemporary pop music. The drum set featured, together with the usual contemporary cymbals and drums, a bundle of metal bells, clearly tiger bells.

The drummer behind his drum set

One of the bundles of tiger bells
Screen shots: courtesy VPRO 'Vrije geluiden'
and the group Hanggai

After Hanggai's performance in Groningen in december 2010 the group allowed that pictures were taken and an interview was given.

December 2010

While traveling through China Dolf Heubers found several 'very old' tiger bells in Xi'an.

Marco Hadjidakis
reported two B type tiger bells from Burma.

Prof. Ovidiu Oana
reported several bells in his collection: one alternative bell from Burma, one very small alternative bell from Thailand and two very old bells with some elements of a tiger bell.

January 2011

On a website with address:

an older version of the page on tiger bells in China from this report is copied (with some inaccuracies in the lay out). All other text is in Chinese. At the bottom of the page three icons of little hands making a peace sign and three icons showing a pair of shaking hands are placed. Could this indicate a positive reaction? This is the first sign of interest in the subject from China. Unfortunately the link does not work anymore.

An interesting article by Lancini Jen-Hao Cheng on the social status of various types of bells incl. tiger bells among the Puyuma of Taiwan suggests that tiger bells were made locally.

On E-bay, Internet shop Harmonic Healing offers several alternative tiger bells of the same variation as Prof. Oana's bell from Thailand.

On E-bay, the site of www.annarbornazarene.org, one tiger bell type A from Pakistan, dated 1600 - 1700 AD. and one tiger bell type A from Afghanistan, dated 1700 - 1800 AD
From the book Shamanism in Siberia by M.C. Czaplicka several paragraphs from the chapter The accessories of the shaman concerning the role of jingle bells are quoted.

February 2011

After I placed a post in the China History Forum with the question 'Have you seen this bell?', one forum member reacted with several examples of tiger bells in Korea.

Leonard Scicluna of LSC Metal Finishing in Qormi, Malta, reports that his firm frequently receives tiger bells from the local population for chrome plating.

Anthropologist Hendrik Wittenberg donated one of the bells he bought in New York to me. This allowed me to make new photographs that show more details.

June 2011

Although many questions about the tiger bells' history still need to be answered, the answer to the question 'Where do all these apparently new tiger bells that have popped up in various places all over the world come from?' is now clear: a large factory in East China mass-produces copies of various types of tiger bells.

September 2011

Harald Lux from Germany mailed:

I bought six tiger bells on the night market in Luang Prabang and two in Luang Namtha, Laos. If you gave me your e-mail address I would take pictures and send them...

See Mr. Lux' pictures and report on this link.

In 2004, while in China Claire Chantrenne, curator of the Music Instruments Museum in Brussels, Belgium, bought in China a bundle of four bells, of which two are tiger bells. The other two are not tiger bells but occur regularly on objects in combination with tiger bells.

On the Ethnic weapons forum on the website www.vikingsword.com I found a discussion on a Moro sword from Mindanao (The Philippines) with four bells of which two are tiger bells. For details click here. The kampilan (local name of the sword) is the same type of weapon I had seen in the publication Swords from Celebes. The group mentioned by author Foy, are the Lanun. The Lanun, or Ilanun, are a Muslim group living in Mindanao (and not in Sulawesi, formerly called Celebes).

November 2011

Dmitri Timoshenko from Tver (Russia) sent an e-mail, titled Hello from Russia. The message was short and intriguing:

Found two tiger bells in Tver region in November 2011. If you are still interested in them I can send you photos and give more details.

In December I received Mr. Timoshenko's report and photographs. While 'treasure hunting' in a potato field using a metal detector, he found two tiger bells. The potato field is located near Tver, about 150 km. north of Moscow.
This is the first case where tiger bells were found as an archeological find. Go to the page.

December 2011

Harald Lux from Germany who earlier reported his find of six tiger bells in Laos (see September) mailed three links to announcements of tiger bells and objects with tiger bells on E-bay:
The first is a necklace from the Middle East, from the 15th-16th century, with jade beads and a tiger bell, type A.
The second link leads to two type B bells from the Hmong tribe in Vietnam.

January 2012

Two incidents happened at the same time, triggered by Mr. Timoshenko's find of two tiger bells in a potato field in Tver (Russia):
  • In the Wikipedia Internet Encyclopedia I found a map of the Mongol empire at the height of its power in the 13th to the 15th century.

  • Dutch anthropologist Hendrik Wittenberg (who donated a tiger bell he found in New York, U.S.A.) reported that there is a striking similarity between the distribution area of the type A tiger bells and the Mongol empire at the height of its power in the 13th to the 15th century.

February 2012

Fred Wilkinson of the Nonsuch gallery reports a shaman's bell chain from Tibet. The chain is more or less similar to a chain from Nepal.

April 2012

Ching Dumanhug from Samal Island in the Philippines sent the following mail:

Hi, I have got same bells from our ancestors...they are the warriors and medicine man...am wondering where it comes from......am in the Philippines...samal island sama tribe.

Samal Island lies in the Davao Gulf, in South East Mindanao. The Davao area is home to several ethnic minorities that had and used tiger bells up to very recent times, and some probably still do. I have contacted Mr. Dumanhug by e-mail but the mail was returned as undeliverable. I hope that Mr. Dumanhug reads this and will contact me again.

Judith Beiner and Clifton McCracken of the Griffin Gallery in Florida (USA) bought a set of three tiger bells type B in Cambodia. This is the first report of tiger bells in Cambodia.

October 2012

Henk Orsel from Eindhoven (Neth.) reports that he has seen a documentary about a Roman Catholic missionary who meets a Mongolian shaman. Among the shaman's attributes two tiger bells are clearly visible.

February 2013

Thomas Roszel who lives in Jakarta (Indonesia) and visits Palembang regularly mailed to me that he has several tiger bells in his possession:
I have purchased the tiger bells in Palembang (Sumatra) where traditional divers found them in the deep of the Musi river. They were scattered over the bottom of the river. No other objects such as ceramics were near...
Mr. Roszel added several photographs. See the Indonesia-page.

I found some interesting information on the ancestors of the Iban, based on DNA research.

March 2013

Ms Elisabeth Luquin from Paris, France is an anthropologist who has worked in Mindoro, The Philippines. During her stay she had seen three type A tiger bells similar to the bells described by musicologist Hans Brandeis. She also reports a type C tiger bell.

July 2013

Harald Lux who in September 2011 and December 2011 reported several cases to the site, now reports about his visit to the Ethnological Museum in Vienna. There he noticed a bundle of mudang bells from Korea with one tiger bell. The bell is newly made as are the other bells; the object has been collected in the 21st century.

September 2013

Harald Lux reports a site DetectingWales.com presenting a small crotal bell with similarities to the A type. The bell was found in Wales, using a metal detector. Click here for the report.

December 2013 / January 2014

In the television-series O'Hanlon's helden (O'Hanlon's heroes, VPRO, the Netherlands), in the episode on Sir Richard Burton broadcast in December 2013. In the documentary his mausoleum in Mortlake (London) is shown. In one shot we see a string with four clapper bells and four tiger bells type A, described as camel bells.

Screenshot taken from the documentary 'O'Hanlon's heroes: Sir Richard Burton'.
Picture courtesy VPRO The Netherlands

On website http://godardgirl.com/?p=2071 a picture of the roof with four strings with bells is shown. Read more on the page on Great Britain.

April 2014

On E-bay a bundle of new Mudang bells from Korea is offered. We had seen bundles like these with bells without a design but this bundle has tiger bells attached.
On E-bay a manchet with bells from Korea is offered. The object is similar to the manchet from the Ethnological Museum in Vienna, and has two tiger bells type A attached.

May 2014

On E-bay a website on bronze mirrors from Mongolia and Southern Siberia showed several shaman costumes from Southern Siberia, Inner Mongolia and Mancuria. Three of them are presented here on the page on the linguist and anthropologist S. Shirokogoroff.

In May I visited the Hermitage museum in Amsterdam. Several years ago a friend, Marijke Verzendaal, had told me that she had seen a basket full with tiger bells in the museum shop. Unfortunately no bells were left but I found out the origin of the bells.

June 2014

On Flickr (Internet) I found several photographs of an Idu Mishmi tribesman holding a ritual object with two tiger bells type C.

Harald Lux reported two offers on E-bay of classic type tiger bells, case 1 and case 2.

Mr Lux also reported a website with Hmong boys hats from South China. One of the boys hats had two tiger bells attached...

...and a website, from Germany in the Indonesian language, selling Dayak curiosa. On offer was an unknown object (possibly 2 objects) with tiger bells attached.

July 2014

On E-bay several tiger bells were found that are worth mentioning:

August 2014

Anton Shatohin from Kazakhstan reports a tiger bell of an alternative type close to type A, which he discovered with a metal detector. The bell is the fourth archeological find, after Tver, Wales and Palembang.

October 2014

Dolf Heubers (Neth.) travelling in Japan, found a newly made copy of a type A tiger bell in the fish market in Kyoto.

This is the latest, and possibly the last rewrite. This is the best I could do with the material and sources now available. It is also the end of my quest for the history of the tiger bells. In comparison with the first internet version published in 1996, much has been discovered. However, I am very well aware that many questions remain unanswered and conclusions are based on, be it calculated, guesswork. Nevertheless history, and this history in particular, does not end here. Therefore I will keep this site open as long as possible in order to provide a home for new facts and ideas. So please continue sending me cases and ideas. Maybe this is not the last rewrite after all.

Fekke de Jager
La Condemaine
Nièvre - France

Additional contributions and references

March 2015

Peter Dekker of Mandarin Mansion gave us his explanation why the tiger head motif is so important in Chinese and Manchu art and folklore. Click here...

July - August 2015

In these months several things happened:

  • Through the website Pinterest I found a large number of old and new photographs related to shamanism and tiger bells. I downloaded several pictures of different types of costumes, often in good resolution. With the aid of several photo editing programs I could detect many more tiger bells in the pictures. For pictures of these costumes go to the page The Ultimate Costume.
  • Friends Walter Boer and Emmy van de Ven visited the National Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. I had asked them to try to make one or more pictures of the Solon costume in the exhibition. Unfortunately the costume wasn't there anymore. However they could buy a book in the museum store, Shamanic regalia in the far north, by Patricia Rieff Anawalt. In the chapter on Siberia, Ms Anawalt discusses several costumes and mentions the use of bronze-cast masks with shaman's costumes and dates these masks back to 1200 BC. For this subject, also see the page The Ultimate Costume...
  • While surfing the internet for information on bronze mirrors that appear in large numbers on shaman's costumes in combination with tiger bells and ordinary bells, I came upon a paper by Susan D. Costello, An investigation of early Chinese bronze mirrors at the Harvard University Art Museums with several interesting remarks on bronze production in ancient China and particularly on mass production of bronze objects using the lost wax process during the Tang dynasty. This led to a major rewrite of parts of the Observations and conclusions page.

September 2015

Wilmar Bliek from Ojén (urb. Mairena, Spain) reports two tiger bells type A. One was bought in Sarawak (Malaysia); the bell came from the Iban. The other bell was bought in Saigon (Vietnam) and was part of a bundle of different bells.

January 2017

A new, small type C tiger bell from Jodhpur, Rajasthan was reported and donated by Clare McGarva from Aunay-en-Bazois, France.


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