The Santal Collection

The Santal people is the largest tribal population in South Asia.

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Santal birdcage. Source: Museum of Cultural History

Living dispersed within the Hindu society in India and Muslim society in Bangladesh, the Santals maintain their own cultural tradition under precarious circumstances. This cultural tradition manifests itself in a wide variety of intangible heritage, but also in their material culture. According to Mohan K. Gautam (‘Reflections of a Culture’, reproduced below) the ethnographic collection established by Reverend Paul Olaf Bodding for the Ethnographic museum in Oslo is unique. It is not only the largest of its kind in the world, but is, according to Gautam, also ‘complete’ in the sense that it covers all or most spheres of Santal village life. Because of Bodding’s extraordinary expertise in all aspects of Santal culture, it is also unusually well documented. One interesting aspect of Bodding’s notes is that they show how many material items used by Santals on a daily basis were acquired through established relationships with non-Santal groups in the surrounding society.

Below we reproduce the original accession catalogue of the University of Oslo’s Ethnographic museum, now incorporated into the Museum of Cultural History. This accession catalogue is based on Reverend Bodding’s notes pertaining to each item, notes that unfortunately are lost. Translations of the catalogue into English and Santali (Latin and Ol Chiki) are also presented below.


Published Jan. 15, 2020 10:04 AM - Last modified May 31, 2022 7:30 PM