|Toda model house, PRM 1900.78.2 © Pitt Rivers Museum|
I started my research by having a look at the model houses and the current information the museum has on them. Several were from the Toda people (a small indigenous group in the Nilgiri Hills in India); many brass models were from Sumatra in Indonesia (at least some being from the Minangkabau people); a few models were from the Ainu people in Hokkaido, Japan; and finally one model – which reminded me of a North American tipi in appearance – was from the Khanty people (who are also referred to by several other names in texts about them), living in Siberia.
As not all of the database entries for the models had reference photographs, I also got to experience how these were taken – the objects were carefully positioned against a plain light-grey background with a scale in centimetres placed in front of them to indicate how large the objects are. Taking the photographs, I had to aim to not distort this scale with the angle of the camera. Once these photographs are linked to the appropriate record, you will be able to see what the models look like, as well as read about them, using the online database.
|Khanty model house photographed with scale bar, |
PRM 1915.50.73 © Pitt Rivers Museum
Looking for books on houses from around the world, myself and my supervisor, Zena, had a browse of the Pitt Rivers’ Balfour Library, and with the help of the librarian tracked down a couple of books. These only had small sections of relevant information, however, so I used the internet (particularly JSTOR and Google Scholar) to find academic journal articles on the groups the model houses were from. I also browsed Google Images and Wikipedia to find recent photographs of the homes to see if the styles still existed unchanged today or had changed or disappeared over time (all of the models were donated between 1900-1924, so were all at least 93 years old, some at least 117).
|Ainu model house, PRM 1900.78.2 © Pitt Rivers Museum|
I think there is a tendency to view indigenous peoples as wholly separated from other societies, living uninterrupted by country’s governments. Or, alternatively, gone – semi-mythical people of the past who are no longer in existence today. Researching these groups in the present day and in relation to others in their countries helps to disperse these distorted views and myths, and shed light particularly on how energy consumption often has a disproportionate impact on indigenous groups despite these groups gaining the least from this consumption.
For example, in one of the articles I read there was a recent photograph of a traditional Toda temple, which included a sign in English ‘NO ADMISSION (TEMPLE)’. This suggests regular interaction with English-speaking tourists. Government policy can also have a dramatic impact on the lives of indigenous minorities. For example, the lives of Khanty people has been greatly impacted by Soviet policy. There have been various projects to try and assimilate the Khanty into mainstream Soviet culture and most of their land from the 1960s onwards seized for a petroleum deposit.
|Minangkabau model house, PRM 1960.5.22 .1 © Pitt Rivers Museum|
In other areas of my research I read about construction and materials used, and the significance of certain elements of the dwellings and their locations, usually having both practical and religious reasons. For example, traditionally Ainu houses have only one window which is used for sacred purposes only – weapons are passed through it to be blessed for a hunt, and food caught during this hunt is then passed back through the window. The window is always positioned facing upstream as this is believed to be where the Gods reside. For the Khanty, river systems also have religious importance, believed to be created by divine ancestors who protect family hunting areas.
I would like to see the model houses placed alongside contemporary photos if the Museum is able to secure the copyright for these images (or find photographs without copyright).
Lisa Hiwasaki, ‘Ethnic Tourism in Hokkaido and the Shaping of Ainu Identity’ in Pacific Affairs, 2000 (on JSTOR)
Peter Jordan, Material Culture and Sacred Landscape: The Anthropology of the Siberian Khanty
Contemporary photographs of the Khanty (more can be found by searching ‘Khanty’ or ‘chum’ – the Russian name for the Khanty tent – on Google Images): Click this link and this one for two examples.
George Lugosi, ‘Mathematical Tourism in Siberia’ in The Mathematical Tourist, ed. Dirk Huylebrouck
Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, ‘Ethnicity without Power: The Siberian Khanty in Soviet Society,’ in Slavic Review, 1983 (on JSTOR)
William A. Noble, ‘Toda Dwellings and Temples’ in Anthropos, 1966 (on JSTOR)