Distribution and use|
Distribution and useType A
Tiger bells type A have the widest distribution area. They occur in almost all East Asian countries.
In most regions and with most groups, these bells are related to shamanism and magic.
With those groups that use the A type tiger bells for animals, these animals have a special religious (dogs in Tibet) or supernatural (cats with the Minangkabau) status. With the Karen (Chang Mai region) and in one case in Burma, A type tiger bells seem to be used for animals without any supernatural connotation.
Large numbers of type A tiger bells are found in South East Siberia and Outer Mongolia where they are only used by shamans. These bells are also very common in insular Southeast Asia, such as in Sarawak. The Iban and Bidayu dayak use these bells as amulets. In Southeast Mindanao, tiger bells are used as amulets and dance bells. Only the Iban Dayak have the largest variation of type A tiger bells, with diameters up to 6 c.m. New tiger bells are found in Singapore and probably in China.
Tiger bells type B have a smaller distribution area, restricted to Thailand, Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet, probably Laos and Mongolia. The bells are very common and mostly used as animals bells, for yaks, horses and cows. In Nepal, Tibet and N.E. China , B type tiger bells are used by shamans. In Thailand the bells could also be used as door knobs.
Tiger bells type C are found in Nepal, where they are very common, and posibly in Tibet. These bells, tied to belts and chains are used by shamans, and for animals. The bells are still produced in India (Dehra dun, Rajpur).
Until now, tiger bells type D have been found in Vietnam, Burma and probably Laos. They are used as horse bells (Vietnam, Laos) and as a musical instrument (Burma).
There are no reports of occurrence of any type of tiger bell in the Koreas, Bhutan, Cambodia, Tuva, Japan.
One antique dealer in Singapore (Tiepolo's mr David Mun) said that the bells were not older that 600 to 700 years and probably from the Han dynasty.
One antique dealer in Klaten (East Java, mr. Om Bram) had a small A type tiger bell. Its origin was the T'ang dynasty, about 500 AD. That would set the bells' age at about 1400 years.
Ethnographica, curio and antique dealer Eddy Lauren in Legian, Bali, stated that the tiger bell, from Timor, was from 'before Majapahit', about 1300 AD, so older than 600 years.
One antique dealer in Nanking sold one tiger bell of a rough A type and said that the bell was from the Kuang Hsu dynasty which ruled from 1875 - 1908.
One Tagakaolu tribesman said that the tiger bells in posession of the group were 'older than fifty years'. The estimate gave more an imrpession of a very long time than an accurate estimate.
Type A like bells are still being produced in Peking.
No one could give an age estimate of these bells. These bells are very common in Thailand and possibly in Tibet and Nepal, and occur in large numbers scattered over East Asia. Some of the bells look new. That makes it likely that they are still being produced.
The tiger bells type C occur in Nepal and Tibet. No one could give an estimate on the age of the older bells. Type C tiger bells are still being produced.
No age estimates are known. Many bells of this type look heavily worn and have a black patina. This indicates a considerable age, probably comparable with older type A bells.
There are many variations in the design and the quality of these bells. They were produced with the 'lost wax' process, probably using molds and stamps. Because of the sometimes large concentrations and the wide distribution area, the A type tiger bells must have been produced in large numbers, probably many thousands, over a long period of time. This would explain the many variations: even using molds or stamps, the lost wax process could not guarantee identical products: molds wear out, stamps are made again and again from copies made of copies. However the basic motif has remained remarkably unchanged.
Type A bells larger than about 2.5 c.m. have different sides, notable in the characters and minor differences in the design. The smaller A bells have identical sides.
Tiger bells were produced in batches using the 'lost wax' process. Through time, different molds were used: the type A tiger bells from Pakistan, East Kalimantan and Taiwan are almost identical; the bell from the Bahau Dayak is identical to the Kaudern bell from Sulawesi.
Some bells look new, others are roughly finished. With some bells the motif has changed, the brass lines are of poor quality, hoops are rough, not centered or round instead of rectangular. These things indicate mass-production with at times less strict quality control. Production has continued over centuries, probably until recent times. As with other brass objects, production centers were probably not only in China but also in other places. Because of the large numbers present it is very likely that there were production centers in Southeast Asia, N.E. China (Manchuria) and probably in the Yunnan-Laos-North Thailand area.
New type A like tiger bells are made in one or two workshops in Peking.
Although these bells are very common on the mainland it is not known where they are produced. There are indications that they come from North Thailand. As with the type A bells, there are many variations. A few characteristics are consistent: there is no 'Wang' character, on the forehead we very often see a round Chinese character (probably 'prosperity'), sometime two characters.
These bells vary in quality and design, from very good to very clumsy. Type C tiger bells were probably not produced in Nepal or Tibet but in Northern India (Uttar Pradesh, Himachalpradesh). New type C tiger bells are said to be produced in workshops in Dehra Dun and Rajpur (Uttar Pradesh, India).
When and where these bells were produced is unknown. Unlike the A, B and C bells, these bells are probably not made anymore.
Other observationsIn the Philippines, no tiger bells were reported in Northern Luzon and with other groups in SE Mindanao (such as the T'boli, Atta, Tiruray or the muslim Maranaw, Maguindanao and Tausog). Groups in Mindanao which have tiger bells also practice a different kind of gong chime playing technique: the gongs are suspended on a vertical frame, while groups such as the muslims and the T'boli play the gong chime on a horizontal frame.
In Sarawak, no tiger bells were reported with the Kelabit Dayak and the Melanau Dayak. In Kalimantan, the Ngadju are one large Dayak group without tiger bells.
In the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia (Sarawak), ethnic groups which have these bells are all descendants from a group sometimes called the Proto Malayans, in other sources they are referred to as the 'Ancient Peoples'. However not all 'Ancient People' have tiger bells.
Tentative conclusionsType A
These bells are the oldest bells. They were produced probably from about 1200 A.C. until the last century. New variations of type A are still produced in China.
Large concentrations of type A tiger bells in N.E. Asia indicate that production started in that area. Because of following migration waves and changing locations of groups with a preference for these bells, production started at other places, such as in S.E. Asia and possibly in the Yunnan - Laos - Chang Mai region.
Tiger bells were produced in batches by the 'lost wax' process. Molds were probably used: the type A tiger bells from Pakistan, East Kalimantan and Taiwan are almost identical; the bell from the Bahau Dayak is identical to the Kaudern bell from Sulawesi.
Type A tiger bells are still present in large numbers with some groups at the extremes of the distribution area ( S.E. Asia, East Siberia, Outer Mongolia, Pakistan).
They are strongly linked to shamanism and magic. The bells were used as amulets, both by shamans and ordinary people.
Where tiger bells type A were not used for religious purposes (shamanism, amulets) but for animals, the animals have a special status: dogs in Tibet, cats with the Minangkabau, horses on Sumba, Timor, and with the Karen.
The peculiar pattern of ethnic groups which have these bells, scattered over East Asia, combined with factors such as the strong link with shamanism, the age of the oldest type A bells (about 700 years old) and the fact that the preference for these bells is not shared by other, sometimes neighbouring, groups, could imply that trade has played a minor role in the distribution of tiger bells (at least with the type A bells) over Asia. It makes it more likely that groups which have tiger bells, have a common origin and took the bells with them to their new locations. Because of the large numbers of tiger bells type A reported and possibly still present, this region of origin could be in N.E. China. Through time new production centers were established in various places such as S.E.Asia and Southern China. It is possible that the ethnic groups bronze casters belonged to did not use tiger bells.
These tiger bells are very common. Their distribution area is considerably smaller than that of the type A tiger bells. These bells are mostly used for animals and probably sometimes as ornaments in the house (as a doorknob). Shamans in Tibet, Nepal and N.E. China probaby use these bells in their costume.
It is not yet posible to estimate the age of the oldest type B tiger bells. Probably these bells are still produced.
Type C tiger bells are very common in Nepal, and occur in Tibet. They are still produced in India. As with the type B bells, it is not yet posible to estimate the age of the oldest type C tiger bells.
Type D tiger bells have a distribution area limited to Vietnam, Burma and probably Laos. Their use seems not to be linked to religion: as a musical instrument, on horse harnesses. The oldest bells are probably as old as the type A bells (about 700 years) old but that has to be verified.
EpilogueProbably some of you might think that the above mentioned tentative conclusions are not based on enough solid observations and proof. You are right. The area is so vast, and the data are so scattered that the basis for a solid hypothesis is still far away. On the other hand, the peculiar distribution pattern, the strong links with shamanism and the age, probably about 700 years, make the tiger bells, and the A type bells in particular, objects intriguing enough to give them more attention than just another line in a footnote.
Therefore we hope that you will help us further with more information, more observations, more photographs, etc. Until now our call on the Internet has led to a small number of serious reactions. We hope that there will be more in the future. Hope to hear from you!
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Reports of tiger bells in various countries
Description of various types of tiger bells
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Table of distribution and use
List of illustrations