An Asian Bestiary | Deer
CARVING, MAN ON REINDEER
Catalog No: 70 / 8097
Deer enabled humans to survive in the harsh Siberian landscape by providing food, transportation, and clothing. The Koryak, living on the Kamchatka Peninsula of Siberia, treated reindeer with deep respect, as visitors to their villages who after a mutual exchange of goods – meat, hide, antlers, and transport from the reindeer – will return to their own home. Shamans transform into reindeer during sacred ceremonies as may be suggested by this carving. Reindeer pulled the sledge of a deceased Koryak to the funeral pyre, where they were slaughtered and sent accompany the deceased in the spirit world; their flesh was consumed by the community as funeral meat.

After a period of collectivization in Soviet times, Koryak and other Siberian reindeer herders have resumed more traditional herding patterns but this fragile way of life is jeopardized where children, who spend most of the year in town schools, spend less time mastering the skills necessary to herd reindeer in this harsh northern environment.
STAG MASK
Catalog No: 70 /10684
The Stag Mask is worn by the Tibetan Buddhist Monk to perform a Cham “Stag Dance” as part of a religious festival. When performed by several dancers, the stag dance banishes bad spirits in preparation for the New Year. A solitary dancer evokes the Buddhist story in which Saint Milarepa saves a deer from a hunter and his dog, enacting the deer’s gratitude to Milarepa for saving his life. The deer makes many other appearances in Tibetan Buddhist art and fables as a symbol of harmony, faithfulness, and peace. Berthold Laufer collected this mask from the Tantric Buddhist temple in Beijing in the early 20th century; similar masks are worn in performances today, both in Tibet and internationally.
 
DEER CATCHING DEVICE
Catalog No: 70.0/ 1083 B
This tool was used by hunters to capture deer on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (formerly Celebes). In the early 1900s, when Roy Chapman Andrews visited Sulawesi, he reported an abundance of Timor deer (Rusa timorensis), an introduced species. In The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer writes that after a hunt, hunters in the Poso district of central Sulawesi hung deer jawbones by the fire in their homes and spoke the words: “Ye cry after your comrades, that your grandfathers, or nephews, or children may not go away,” encouraging the deer’s soul, located in the jawbone, to lure the souls of living deer. Due to deforestation on the island, the Timor deer is now endangered.
TOY, DEER
Catalog No: 70.2/ 4763
Historically, deer are described and depicted in the art of Afghanistan as prey in the hunts of noblemen and historic figures such as Babur and Alexander the Great. This toy deer and leopard, collected by Dr. Louis Dupree in the mid-20th century, were made by Ghulam – a Tajik gardener, as toys that would be given to children on the last day of Ramadan, a time of celebration and feasting.
 
HAIRPIN, DEER ORNAMENT
Catalog No: 70.2/ 8083
Deer are found throughout the Indian subcontinent and have played a prominent role in the religious life and folklore of South Asia. In Hindu epics such the Ramayana, and the theatrical forms inspired by them, deer are used to teach a moral lesson as in in the court dance “Wounded Deer,” which promotes non-violence. More generally, deer represent innocence, gentility, and peace.

This metal deer was used as a hair ornament for an Indian woman to bind up her long hair in a plait or bun as a sign of her virtue. The engraved spots on the deer’s body suggest that it is a chital or axis deer (Axis axis), the most common deer species in India.
 
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