An Asian Bestiary | Water Buffalo
PAPER SCROLL, PAINTED BUFFALO & PEACH
Catalog No: 70 /11457
This Chinese scroll tells the popular story of King Wu of Zhou who, after his defeat of the Shang Dynasty in 1046 BCE, released his army’s horses to Mount Hua and, as pictured in this painting, let his Water Buffalo rest in Tao-Lin. Because Water Buffalo carried food and supplies for King Wu’s army, by releasing them, King Wu demonstrated that the war had ended and peace had begun. This story comes from Shang Shu, or Book of Documents, a classical text traditionally dated to the 3rd or 4th century AD. Many of its stories, including the tale of King Wu of Zhou, have been retold and portrayed in various works of art.
MODEL BUFFALO CART
Catalog No: 70.0/ 2449
Capable of carrying large amounts of goods and people, Water Buffalo were socially and economically important in Thai society through most of the 20th century. Carts drawn by water buffalo were a major mode of transportation in early 20th century Thailand and a cart like this one would have been pulled by two adult buffalo while a driver stood in the center. The curved style of the side rails may also have served a functional purpose, providing extra leverage if the cart were stuck in mud. Although it is the size of a toy, this model cart was probably made for display, either as a curio or in public expositions where it could stand in for a less-portable life sized model.
 
TOY, WATER BUFFALO SHAPE
Catalog No: 70.0/ 8670
Children in the Karen culture would have played with this toy Water Buffalo, an animal that was associated with wealth, abundance, and spiritual well-being. Essential to agriculture, with wide feet ideal for walking through heavily irrigated rice fields, Water Buffalo were so important to agriculture that less prosperous families would rent them from wealthier neighbors in order to plow their fields. Because agriculture was highly ritualized in Karen culture, this animal also played an important role in ceremonial practices.
BELL
Catalog No: 70.2/ 3293
In rural Pakistan, landowners decorate Water Buffalo (Bubalis bubbles) herds with amulets and bells to indicate their wealth and social status. A brass bell, like this one, would have been fastened by a rope around the buffalo’s neck, also serving the practical purpose of keeping the herder aware of the animals’ movements. Water Buffalo are prized for their hides, milk, and meat, but primarily raised for their milk, which is rich in fatty acids and proteins. Milk can be made into butter, cheeses, and yogurts, products so important to the Pakistani diet that, in the mid-20th century, several government farms were devoted to researching more efficient ways to produce buffalo milk. Because they are so valuable, Water Buffalo are only killed and eaten on ceremonial occasions.
 
POWDER HORN
Catalog No: 70.3/ 1440
In the highlands of Vietnam, Laos, and Southwest China, the Water Buffalo was an important part of Hmong warfare technology. This powder horn was carved from the crescent-shaped horn of a buffalo and would have been used to carry gunpowder. For several centuries, Hmong people crafted their own handmade gunpowder weapons, including flintlock rifles, cannons, and other accessories, continuing into the 1960s, when the United States provided modern weapons during the Vietnam/American War. The hides, horns, and bones of the water buffalo were not only used for warfare, but were also used for divination in magical and ritual practices.
 
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