Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Height: 63.000 cm
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Africa, Oceania, Americas
Ojibwa, Great Lakes region of Minnesota, North
Algonquian style, before AD 1825
This cradle consists of a wooden board, a foot rest and a decorated hoop. It is said to have been collected on the Upper Missouri in the American West before 1825. It is of Algonquian style, probably Ojibwa in the Great Lakes region, although cradles of this type were used over much of the North American Woodlands.
The board is decorated with red pigment, pyrography (designs burnt on using a heated metal point) and incisions, some of which are heart-shaped. Toys and amulets were traditionally attached to the hoop, in this case bells and porcupine spines. These indicate that this baby's father was a successful fur trader, exchanging pelts and skins laboriously prepared by his wife for bells. On other cradles, toys have included duck feathers and crania, animal teeth, navel bags, Dream Catchers (charms that were meant to trap bad dreams) and little birchbark cones filled with maple sugar for sucking. The attaching cord might be quite loose so that the baby could slip the toys back and forth.
Newborn babies would be wrapped in moss or rabbit-skin nappies, with ash or powdered rotten wood as powder and deer fat as cream. A deer skin was put over the top, and the child would then be tied to the board. Cradles were particularly useful during the day, as they could be carried easily on an adult's back. They also kept children safe while adults carried out activities such as berry picking and wild rice winnowing nearby, the foot rest and hoop providing protection.
J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)