All posts tagged: british museum

A History, in objects

Captain James Cook landed on the east coast of Australia in 1770. The landmass he alighted on was larger than the continent of Europe. For the next more than one hundred years, the British would rule the land as a series of colonies, which would eventually join together to become modern-day Australia in 1901. But the country’s history goes back much further than Great Britain’s involvement. People are believed to have lived in Australia for between around 40,000–60,000 years. The first people to arrive were the Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. They came by boat from nearby islands that are now known as Indonesia. Each Aboriginal group settled in a different area of the country and had its own languages, laws and traditions. They lived in diverse environments ranging from lush rainforest and desert-like landscapes to inland rivers, islands and seas. They lived off fishing and hunting, and invented tools like the boomerang. However they never farmed. Their religion is known as the Dreaming, and art and music was important to them. The cultural habits of …

Musical cure

The kissar is a 19th-century lyre from northern Sudan, traditionally used at ceremonies to eliminate possession by spirits, considered mental illness in some parts of the Middle East. An enormous kissar adorned with coins, charms and beads is currently on display at the British Museum, and gives us a fascinating insight into the cultural practices of the region. The kissar would have been played at weddings by a singer and spirit healer. It would also have been used at cults known as Zār ceremonies, and the trance dances which took place during these ceremonies. Zār ceremonies, which remain popular in the region to this day, were designed to calm the restless spirits of the possessed in Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. The ceremonies are typically viewed, not as exorcism, but as a means for women to form a social bond and communicate more openly in conservative Muslim societies. To continue reading about the traditions of the Sudanese lyre, check out the July/August issue of The Kurios. Music, celebration and healing: the Sudanese lyre is on at the British Museum, London, until …