VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Sword, weapon
ME1909.21.0119
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

The material culture of the indigenous groups of Taiwan is not well represented in Western museum, and these group are among the least studied by modern anthropologists (though cf. Cauquelin: 2004). Their culture, then not of the least linguistic importance as an interface between mainland Asia and the island world of Oceania, is now well recognised. In the descriptions of encounters with them much attention is paid to the institution of headhunting, though rarely well understood. The present object provides an example of this interest in what was considered an exotic and awe-inspiring institution. It acquires added importance because of the contextual information that goes with the object.

History of the Object
It was acquired in 1907 on Taiwan (or “Formosa”, as the documents from that time state) from a Paiwau man, by the Umlauff collector Mr. G. Makahara (Nakahara?). Its history before then is not known, but it had evidently taken part in the ubiquitous warfare that characterised relationships both between and within the indigenous groups of Taiwan, also including taking heads as trophies. An excerpt from a letter from Mr. G. Makahara (Nakahara dated Hozan, Formosa 16 February 1907 provides an idea of the conditions under which the collection was brought together. It also reveals some values adhered to by the collector: “I have just returned from travelling and collecting in the Hongo and Paransha districts of the Atayal group of savages. At Paransha we met with a great disaster. We were attacked at night by the Atayals . I had five policemen and a number of friendly savages with me. Three of my natives were killed and had their heads taken, and we had our swords and knives taken from us. However, we managed to escape in the dark. The boundary of this savage group is now surrounded by a cordon of policemen, who keep watch day and night. These Atayals with the Ami are the two most cruel groups of savages in Formosa”.

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Type
Weaponry 
Materials
Iron, wood, feather, human hair, colour pigments. 
Measurements
Width 5 cm Length 62,5 cm  
Creator name
Not known 
Creator date
Probably 19th to early 20th century 
Where it was made
Taiwan 
Geography
Taiwan 
Time period
AD 19th century ~ AD 19th century 
Creation date
19th Century; probably 
Function
This sword belonged to a man from the Paiwau, one of the indigenous groups on Taiwan, from whom it was acquired by a collector for Umlauff, the major ethnographic trading house in Hamburg. Taiwanese indigenous groups were known and feared for headhunting and this particular sword had evidently been used in such activities. The sword is made of iron while the handle and scabbard are made of wood, which have been coloured black. The latter are richly decorated with carvings depicting human figures, which in turn have been coloured red. Attached to the scabbard there are some feathers and a tuft of human hair, the latter is coloured red. 
Acquisition
Acquired by a local collector Mr. G. Makahara (Nakahara?), who in 1907 visited a number of indigenous groups on Taiwan purchasing objects for the ethnographic trading house Umlauff. Umlauff then published a simple catalogue of collections for sale, then also including objects from a number of other areas in Oceania and Africa. The whole collection was bought by the Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm, where it was accessed in 1909. It contained 149 objects from the indigenous groups of Taiwan. Purchasing objects from trading houses like Umlauff was one way in which ethnographic museums in the West at the turn of the last century could acquire objects from areas with which they did not have direct contacts of their own. Umlauff could sometimes offer more or less complete inventories of the material culture of “attractive” cultures or ethnic groups, even organised as dioramas. In this case an assortment of separate, even unrelated objects was acquired by the Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm. 
Copyright
© Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm 
Acknowledgements
Tony Sandin and Ann Olsén of the Museum of Ethnography for providing and adjusting photographs. 
Owner
Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm 
Museum
Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm 
Credit line
Dr. Josiane Cauquelin, Paris; for discussions about the object and for her book: Aboriginies of Taiwan. The Puyuma from Headhunting to the Modern World. Routledge, London 2004 Text Håkan Wahlquist 

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