The Manau – A Festival celebrated by the Kachin community of northern Burma (Myanmar)

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Manau is a kind of traditional festival celebrated by Kachin people. Kachin Land is situated in northern Burma. Nowadays, Kachin people also live around the world as diaspora communities. The manau festival and Kachin people are intrinsically connected – there are manau festivals wherever there are Kachin people and wherever there are Kachin people there are manau festivals.

In April 2014 I visited the ‘Triangle’ area of Kachin Land. This is the area between the Mali river which comes from the northwest and the Nmai river from the northeast. These two rivers converge at Myitsone, some 30 miles north of Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin Land. On that trip, an experience that has stayed with me was a conversation I had with a Kachin elder about manau. We talked about why Kachin people celebrate manau and the important traditions or customs that it is necessary to conduct before holding a manau, and so on. I also noted that although holding a manau used to be the exclusive right of chiefs and governors, nowadays manau can be celebrated by all citizens.

At Brighton Museum & Art Gallery there is a small display in the World Stories Young Voices gallery called ‘Celebrating the Manau’. It explores the meanings of manau and how manau is important to the younger generation as well as to members of Kachin diaspora communities.

Regarding the manau celebration, one thing stands out in my mind and motivated me to write this post. Recently a group of online users and some elite Christian Kachin leaders have called for the end of the manau tradition. They argue that manau is an animist tradition and should be rejected now that many Kachin people have become Christians. They believe manau brings poverty and creates obstacles for a civilised society. Some even say that manau is like a curse on Kachin people. Yes, it is true that the manau festival is based on the traditions of animism but should we reject manau simply because it is not a Christian tradition? Are there proven cases that show that manau has brought poverty to the Kachins? We need to consider the important role that manau is playing in contemporary Kachin society. Manau is not only a valuable and unique tradition, it is also one of the most important identity symbols of the Kachin community. In fact, manau traditions should be conserved as an UN Intangible Cultural Heritage scheme due to the turbulent social and political history of Burma which has disrupted many other cultural forms. It is important to appreciate the culture of any particular society in its fullness and to look beyond narrow ideologies.

Gumring Hkangda, Curator, World Art

Treasures of the Booth Museum

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north pole plantsIn the herbarium archives at the Booth Museum sits a rather nondescript, leather cloth bound box, containing 9 trays of pressed plants. Embossed on the cover are the words ‘North Pole Plants’. The label attached states an old accession register number, and ‘no particulars of donor or date’ on the label.

Whilst researching items for a forthcoming exhibition, we took this item out of the cupboards, and decided it would be a very nice addition to the displays, but were disheartened to read the label. On showing it to our writer in residence, Mick Jackson, he asked to see inside, and there was a label stating ‘With Mr Bell’s compliments…’ and a note which read as follows:

34 specimens of plants, grasses etc. gathered by Thom Bell Esq. Surgeon of the Fury at the time of the first expedition to the North Pole by the Fury and the Hecla.

34 specimens of plants, grasses etc. gathered by Thomas Bell Esq. Surgeon of the Fury at the time of the first expedition to the North Pole by the Fury and the Hecla.

With Mick’s interest in polar exploration and my own interest in naval history piqued, we set about finding out a bit more on the subject. What was revealed was an extremely interesting story which has elevated this object from a non-descript part of the herbarium to one of our most historically important objects.

The Fury was the ship commanded by Sir William Edward Parry as leader of his second expedition in search for the North West passage, and exploration of the Arctic. He had previously commanded the brig Alexander in Sir John Ross’ Arctic expedition of 1818, where he was frustrated by Ross’s decision to turn back after following the coastline of Baffin Bay, and not making any new discoveries. On their return to England, his protestations led to him being given command of HMS Hecla, a 375 tonne bomb vessel converted to arctic exploration and accompanied by the smaller 181 tonne gun-brig HMS Griper.

HMS Hecla passing an Iceberg in Baffin bay during Parry’s first voyage.

HMS Hecla passing an Iceberg in Baffin bay during Parry’s first voyage.

Both ships were outfitted with 3inch thick oak hull cladding and set off to chart a route through Lancaster Sound, in search of evidence of the Northwest Passage. They travelled far past Ross’ furthest point of navigation, and managed to reach 600 miles west of Lancaster Sound. This was the furthest anyone had navigated into the Arctic at that point, and entitled the crew to a £5000 prize. The thought of this prize money probably helped the crew get through the 10 months they spent trapped in winter pack ice before they could return to England.

HMS Fury and HMS Hecla in winter ice at Igloolik, 1822-23.

HMS Fury and HMS Hecla in winter ice at Igloolik, 1822-23.

For the second voyage the slower Griper was replaced with the Fury, a ship identical to the Hecla. Parry moved command to the Fury. This second Parry expedition was aimed at finding a passage through the North West end of Hudson Bay, and through the Frozen Strait which the navigator Christopher Middleton had found impassable in 1742. The expedition continued until they reached a narrow channel of water, which remained blocked with ice. This strait marked the furthest point of the voyage, and was named Fury and Hecla Strait, after the ships. It wouldn’t be passed by any vessel until an icebreaker forced its way through in the mid 20th century.

The area of exploration

The area of exploration

The note states that Bell joined this expedition, however the crew lists for the voyages don’t show Thomas Bell joining until the third expedition in 1824. On this occasion, Parry retook command of the Hecla, and Commander Henry Parkyns Hoppner took command of the Fury. As on the previous voyages the crew were under orders to collect as much natural history as possible, and carry out numerous scientific studies as a ship of research. The appendix for the account of the third voyage shows that many of the botanical specimens were credited to Lt. James Ross on the Fury, so our object is likely the personal collection of Dr Bell. Parry himself wrote about and was cited as the author of a number of plant species they discovered during the Arctic voyages. The plants in the Bell collection are therefore some of the earliest collected examples of these plants, collected soon after Parry’s type specimens.

Plants collected by Thomas Bell on voyage of Hecla and Fury, 1824-5

Plants collected by Thomas Bell on voyage of Hecla and Fury, 1824-5

Unfortunately, this was to be Fury’s final voyage as she was damaged by winter ice, and was abandoned at what is now known as Fury Beach, on Somerset Island. Hoppner was found to be at no fault at his court martial, and the abandoned supplies and lifeboats helped a number of future shipwrecked polar explorers, including Admiral John Ross, whose nephew lt. James Ross had been a crew member on both arctic voyages of the Fury.

This object provides a link to a number of other famous polar expeditions and personalities. James Clark Ross, the young lieutenant onboard Fury would go on to map the coast of Antarctica, and the Ross Ice Shelf is named in his honour. The collection also links to Sir John Franklin, leader of the ill fated Franklin Expedition. During Fury and Hecla’s first voyage, Franklin was leading an overland expedition to the Arctic, and planted a flagpole and letters for Parry at the mouth of the Mackenzie. Under one of Bell’s specimens is a note stating:

‘A mushroom upon which Sir John Franklin was obliged to depend in the polar regions in the first expedition of the Fury and Hecla’

‘A mushroom upon which Sir John Franklin was obliged to depend in the polar regions in the first expedition of the Fury and Hecla’

This at least indicates that the collection was put together in its existing display box several years after the voyage, as it was not until 1829 that John Franklin was knighted. This makes sense as the box is rather cumbersome to carry around the Arctic, even on board ship.

As for Thomas, there continues to be some mystery as to how his collection came to be at the museum. An ancestry website does have some information on his future. He went on to become a surgeon on board convict ships heading to Australia, and made six voyages during the 1830s before settling in New South Wales and becoming a doctor. Did he donate his collection before leaving for Australia, or did a relative donate it at a later date. Hopefully some correspondence or record in old registers will reveal more.

Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences

Exciting visitors at the Booth!

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DSC_7989We had an extra special visitor this week at the Booth. As a designated collection, the Booth Museum holds an internationally important natural science collection that is regularly used in scientific research. We were recently contacted by Canterbury Christ Church University who, in partnership with the Sussex Peregrine Study, were looking for Peregrine falcon specimens to sample for DNA analysis. The purpose was to see if they can determine if our current wild populations are descended from native British individuals remaining after their populations were decimated first by human persecution, as then from the use of pesticides, or the result of migration across the channel from European populations.

As per our appointment, Dr Nicholls and Mr Franklin arrived bright and early Monday morning to set about taking samples from our collection of Sussex peregrines. This sampling involved taking a small piece of one of each birds foot pads which DNA could later be extracted from back at the lab.

DSC_7992

Fascinating in itself, and both human visitors are thoroughly nice chaps, however they were overshadowed by the third member of their party. On her way to a new breeding programme was the lovely lady pictured below:

Peregrine

For research and enquires of any sort, please contact us.

Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences

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