Feature: Bronze Drums and their Motifs

© David Richardson

Dong-son drums and the motifs found on them have fascinated several OATG members. Chris Buckley has conducted a phylogenetic analysis of warp-ikat motifs, including a comparison of the geometric figures found on mainland and island Southeast Asia textiles with those found on Dong-son drums. He found little or no overlap. In particular, the hook and rhomb motifs characteristic of Southeast Asian weaving that are often claimed to be Dong-son were not identified on Dong-son bronzes.

For further information on the spurious link to the Dong-son culture see the work of OATG members David and Sue Richardson here. They show the differences between the sophisticated motifs found on the Heger type-1 Dong-son drums found in Eastern Indonesia and the anthropomorphic figures found in local weavings. They have also written on the anthropomorphic figures found on moko drums here.

Being welcomed to a village on Alor by Mama Agus Fanmalai of Suku Marang. The function of this clan is to connect the people with their ancestors. © David Richardson.

Hourglass-shaped bronze drums called mokos are still in use today on the island of Alor in the Indonesian archipelago for ritual celebrations and as part of the marriage exchange. Ownership of certain types of moko conveys social status. The majority of them probably came from north-east Java. In 1916 the government conducted a registration of the mokos on Alor and at that time they numbered over two thousand. This number is probably conservative as many people would have hidden their mokos to avoid registering them.

They are also occasionally found on sale in the local market. These drums come in a variety of different sizes and were probably brought to Alor by Makassarese and Chinese merchants. In the past they were used as  a medium of exchange – just like a currency.

A moko drum for sale on the bazaar. © David Richardson

Indeed the provincial museum in Kalabahi, the capital of Alor is called the Museum of a Thousand Moko – however we have never counted to see if there really are 1000! This museum also has a fine display of textiles, including some made of barkcloth, and weaving equipment. Their collection of baskets is also strong, and ceramics include a VOC plate.  

Leaflet from the excellent Museum of 1000 Moko

On Wednesday 20 February 2019 at 17:15 Anna Karlström, a researcher in heritage studies at the department of art history/conservation, Uppsala University Campus Gotland, will give a seminar on bronze drums at SOAS, London. Below is the information on this seminar, provided by the SOAS website.

“Bronze drums were produced and used within animist traditions, in a pre-Buddhist era almost three thousand years ago. Dong Son culture, bronze age, early civilisation and sophisticated art production are concepts that most scholars within Southeast Asian archaeology and art history immediately think of when bronze drums enter the academic discussion. The drums have been, and still are, examined primarily as prehistoric artefacts or pieces of art and categorised according to established typologies. Archaeologists and art historians are looking into distribution patterns of the drums through which trade, exchange and cultural contacts can be traced, as well as production methods, techniques and iconography. Little attention has been given the fact that these artefacts constitute a living heritage, and that they are still being produced and used in various ways for different purposes all over Southeast Asia. In some contexts the drums are still parts of animist traditions, in others they have been incorporated into Buddhist traditions and religious practices, linked to cultural heritage politics, identity and nationalism. In this presentation, the transformation of bronze drums as heritage is examined through a case study from Vietnam, but also related to other examples from mainland Southeast Asia.”

This event is free, but registration is required.

Location: SOAS Russell Square: College Buildings Room 4429

 

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