Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Secret Museum of Mankind – A Collection of Strange & Secret Photographs of Tribes from Across the Continents

Published in 1935, The Secret Museum of Mankind is a mystery book. It has no author or credits, no copyright, no date, no page numbers, no index. Published by "Manhattan House" and sold by "Metro Publications", both of New York, its "Five Volumes in One" was pure hype: it had never been released in any other form.

Advertised as "World's Greatest Collection of Strange & Secret Photographs" and marketed mainly to overheated adolescents, it consists of nothing but photos and captions with no further exposition. This was not a book published to educate, but to titillate (literally)— it's emphasis was on the female form and fashion, and it featured as many National-Geographic-style native breasts as possible. But anything lurid, weird, or just plain unusual is fair game.

The tone of the commentary is dated, and uniformly racist in the extreme, often hilariously so. It reads like the patter of a carnival sideshow barker, from a time when the world was divided between "modern" Europeans and "savages". The photos were taken from the 1890s through the early 1930s, with period commentary to match. This was the era of eugenics before it acquired a terminal taint thanks to Nazi Germany.

See below for a selection of images that show "the magic and mystery in queer lands where the foot of a white man has rarely tread..."

IN THE FANTASTIC DRESS OF THE NOTORIOUS STRAW BOYS


During the early years of the nineteenth century sections of Ireland were overrun by one of the many terrorist gangs that have from time to time existed there, known, from their peculiar but effective grass masks, as the Straw Boys. Through these masks they could see without being recognized, and their habit of dressing as women added to their grotesque appearance.


EMU MAN PERFORMS THE TOTEM


With a head-dress representing the sacred totem of his group, this man is working magic that is to make emus abundant for the hunters of his tribe.


AMAZONIAN HUNTER PROUD OF HIS METAL SPEAR


Besides bows and arrows, most of the forest Indians use the spear as a weapon of the chase. The shaft is of stout wood and the point or blade is usually of chonta palm, which is almost as hard as metal. A few spears are found with metal blades, probably taken centuries ago from the Spanish pioneers, and naturally are highly prized by their fortunate possessors.


BURLESQUE DISGUISE OF BASUTO GIRL-BRIDES


Initiation ceremonies are generally held before any young people can be admitted as members to adult tribal society; likewise before marriage the girls of Basutoland carefully observe a period of initiation. After receiving a new name each neophyte is whitewashed, blanketed, and masked, and in this guise undergoes many rites.


FLORAL MASKS HIDE THE BLUSHES OF SOME BULGARIAN BRIDES


All the bride's artistic taste is centred in her head dress; be she poor or rich, she endeavours to make it as gorgeously ponderous as the strength of her head will allow. Fortunately, this gigantic floral burden and cap of coins are not worn for long but are soon replaced by the popular, and certainly more effective headdress — the simple wreath of flowers and leaves.


GROTESQUE TERRORS THAT CONFRONT A WEST AFRICAN YOUTH ON THE OCCASION OF HIS COMING OF AGE


Awe-inspiring ceremonial attends the most important event in tribal life — the admission of the young men into the full rights of manhood. In South Kukuruku the initiation is performed once every three years by members of the Eliminya Society. They wear uncanny, somewhat insect-like masks with pendant tassels — always jealously concealed from the uninitiated and from women — a kind of tunic of loose cords, and crested helmets of palm-fibre.


FULL RASP FACE PATTERN


This grotesque face pattern in ridged flesh is known as a "full rasp." The man could only be photographed asleep; he fled the camera as witchcraft.


FUZZY WUZZI WOMAN OF THE WEST


Her way of gumming her hair over a great light framework connects her with the Beja Nile race and the Baggara Fuzzy Wuzzies who were broken at Omdurman.


GILYAK WOMAN HAPPILY BURDENED


Of uncertain palaeasiatic origin the Gilyaks inhabit the north of Sakhalien Island and the lower Amur region of East Siberia. The peculiar length of the fingers and roundness of the face are noticeable in this mother with her triple ear-rings.


ON THE THRESHOLD OF MANHOOD


Ceremonial masks attain the acme of the grotesque in New Guinea. This astonishing confection is worn by boys in the Gulf Division when being initiated into manhood.


"GOLDEN RAIN" OF DANCING SOUNDS FROM A MEXICAN MARIMBA


Like all Latin peoples, the Mexicans are exceedingly musical, and the Mestizos and Indians are also intensely fond of music and song. In the numerous plazas delightful music, excellently executed, resounds throughout the evening hours; the musician's masterly command of their instruments and the originality of the compositions supplying true "concord of sweet sounds."


MEN OF THE "NEVER NEVER LAND" IN TOTEM ATTIRE


They have spent hours in decorating themselves in colours and birds' down. The tufted sticks rising from the heads of the men in the second row are in the nature of "nurtunjas," or totem poles, and have much magical meaning. Some snakes seem to be the totem of the group, that is to say, the divine animal ancestor that produced human children.


NGOMBE CHIEF


This Ngombe chief displays a strange scar arrangement; more interesting is the man himself, with strong face, alien master of Congo country, famous for initiative.


IMPOSING FIGURE CUT BY AN OVRA DANCER IN FULL REGALIA


Secret societies are a feature of native life on the West Coast. In November, when the dry season begins, members of the Ovra Society among the Ebo of Benin perform hidden magical rites for the good of the community, and then, masked and dressed in marvellous attire, and wearing enormous hats of parrots' feathers, emerge to perform a public daylight dance.


FISH-FACED WEED-ROBED CELEBRANTS OF GHOULISH RITES


At specific dances and at initiation ceremonies, costumes are worn which represent various legendary and mythical figures, the precise significance of which has not been ascertained by ethnologists. These horrible fish-like masks, framed in white feathers, are used by the tribes along the Gulf of Papua.


SISTERS OF A REMOTE TIBETAN NUNNERY IN WIGS, BEADS AND BRACELETS


It is rare indeed for such folk to see a camera. Living in complete isolation in an isolated land, difficult to access, the nuns of Tibet's religious houses have perforce to keep themselves strictly to themselves. The aged women wearing caps are lay sisters, old almost beyond humanity and inhumanly dirty. The rest are full-fledged nuns. These must shave their heads and assume great mop-like wigs. The largest of these matted coverings conceals the bald head of the abbess seated in the centre and wearing at her throat a charm-box studded with turquoises.


FINAL ORDEAL BY ROASTING IN THE INITIATION OF YOUNG BEARDS INTO TRIAL SECRETS


As a lad, the aborigine is tortured and mutilated by his elders in the early rites of initiation. When he is a grown man, he undergoes an ordeal of fourteen weeks of endurance, ending with a double roasting. He lies on a log fire for five minutes. The fire is then made hotter, and down he goes for another five minutes, rapidly twisting about to avoid serious burns. At middle-age there is even another severe test.


PRINCESS NICOTINE


Burmans smoke as soon as they can toddle. In the palace, this small princess's home, the cheroots are rolled in the white inner bark of the betel tree.


OLD KAITISH WOMAN KNOCKING TOOTH OUT OF YOUNG GIRL TO MAKE HER MORE ATTRACTIVE


All the girl's teeth were sound, but the men of the tribe had lost interest in teeth extraction as a magic mystery, and instead of making it a male privilege, as tongue-piercing still was, let women, and even girls, have their teeth knocked out. And they were keen on it. The tooth, having been loosened by pressure with a stick, is being knocked out with three sharp blows. Afterwards, the girl danced with pleasure!


MISTRESSES IN ALL ARTS OF FASCINATING MEN


Mulatto girls of the Ouled Naïls are works of art. Their hair and eyebrows are dyed blue-black. Their carmine lips and red nails are, like their picturesque coifs and rich and varied jewelry, additions to the tar-brush tint of skin. The cigarette is but an item in their sophisticated charms.


HAULING TWO TONS OF HIPPO MEAT HOME TO THEIR VILLAGE


Women of the Kavirondo tribe, inhabiting the north-east end of Lake Victoria, are most enterprising. They pursue agriculture, herding, hunting, and fishing with their menfolk, and are their tribe's only "medicine-men." The flesh of some wild animals is greatly esteemed by the Kavirondo, particularly that of the wild cat and leopard; plucky and dextrous hunters, the fiercest hippopotamus and largest elephant invariably succumb to their traps and spears


SAVAGERY'S BLUNTED BLADE


Not long ago the axe of the Zomba headsman spread terror in the Shiré highlands. Now Zomba town is the capital of the British Government of Nyasaland

(All 564 pages from the five volumes of The Secret Museum of Mankind have been scanned, transcribed and uploaded HERE)

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