Black feng shui cat, £5.50
Length: 37.000 cm
Width: 2.500 cm
Collected by Neil G.
Gift of Mrs B.Z. Seligman
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Ainu, early 20th century
From Hokkaidō, Japan
An Ainu woman's secret
Sacred girdles are said to have been worn by Ainu women from puberty onwards. These belts were never to be seen by men and only rarely by other women of one's mothers family, their secrecy reinforcing their ritual significance as powerful amulets to ward off misfortune and disasters, such as sickness or fires. Unusually, through the help of his Japanese wife and with the free medical advice he gave the Ainu, Neil Gordon Munro was able to obtain information about the ritual belts at the time he lived in Hokkaidō in the 1930s. He recorded this belt as attributed to Fuchi, a female fire deity associated with household hearths. Fuchi is also a mediator between humans and other deities in some ritual ceremonies.
This is one of a number of belts that Munro acquired, and he also odered copies of some belts. Made from a kind of hemp fibre, the girdles vary in the design of the tags at the end of the cord and in the way each woman folded the cord round her body, a way of doing things she inherited from her mother or other older women.
Munro's interest started when he first visited Hokkaidō in 1898 and the products of five decades of collecting of objects and information can be found in museums in Britain and Japan.
W.W. Fitzhugh and C.O. Dubreuil, Ainu: spirit of a northern peo (Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., 1999)
J. Kreiner (ed.), European studies on Ainu langu, Monographien aus dem Deutschen Institut für Japanstudien der Philipp-Franz–von-Siebold-Stiftung, Band 6 (Munich, Iudicium, 1993)
B. Ohlsen (ed.), Ainu material culture from the, British Museum Occasional Paper 96 (, 1994)