Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People
Faces of Ainu
Ainu means "human" - Ainu means "us"; the Ainu of northern Japan call themselves by a name that asserts their identity. An intensely spiritual culture, the Ainu believe that living and non-living things are kamuy (gods visiting the earthly world.) Their culture has roots stretching back more than ten thousand years. Recent DNA research shows that they are descended from the ancient Jomon people of Japan. Physically, the Ainu differed from Japanese and other nearby Asian peoples in language and especially in appearance; their eyes were deep-set, their bodies muscular and hairy. Over the centuries, the Ainu have maintained their sense of what being Ainu means through beautiful craftsmanship, a rich oral tradition, and complex rituals. This exhibit is the first to celebrate both the contemporary expression of Ainu ethnicity and the experiences of the Ainu past.
Room 1 introduction credits:
Hunter in Mountain Clothes
Ainu Woman of Urap
Ainu Man of Urap
Ritual use of the ikupasuy
Ceramic Figurine (replica), Final Jomon
Wealthy Sakhalin Ainu
(3) Object QTVR w/captions
1. Bear Effigy Vessel - 360 (replica)
Matsunorikawa Kitagishi site, Rausu, Hokkaido
2. Duck Effigy Flute (replica)
Japanese National Important Cultural Property
This Inaw was carved specifically for the Ainu exhibit at the Smithsonian by Masahiro Nomoto.
(3) Objects w/captions - Stills
1. Killer Whale Effigy (replica), Middle Jomon The Ainu know the killer whale (orca) as the god of the sea (repun-kamuy). In the past orcas were both feared and revered as the most powerful predators in the ocean. Although they endangered fishermen, they also drove whales ashore into human hands. This sculpture was probably used for rituals involving this animal; it dates from the Middle Jomon period (3,000-2,000 B.C.) and was found at the Kikyo-2 site. Hakodate, Hokkaido. Effigies of bear, deer, and turtles also date to this period.
Kikyo-2 site, Hakodate, Hokkaido
2. Ceramic Figurine (Final Jomon)
The Historical Museum of Hokkaido
3. Bone Spoons (replicas), Epi-Jomon
Esan site, Hokkaido
1. Commentary on Ainu Origins by Curator William Fitzhugh
"This room is called "Faces of the Ainu" and it deals with the diversity of Ainu people. When Japan opened to the west in the 1860s Westerners were really surprised to discover people in Hokkaido among the Ainu culture who looked very much like Caucasians. The question of the origins of the Ainu, the biological origins of the Ainu is still very much up in the air. For a long time it's been thought that they were related to Caucasians because they looked very unlike the Mongoloid peoples. Today DNA testing has been done and despite some evidence that there is some sort of non-Mongoloid features in the Ainu, in another words perhaps some Caucasian or central Asian, there still is no definite answers to the questions of their origin. Some people think see the relationships to North American Indians, to Alaskan Eskimos, some even to Southeast Asians. So although they are definitely not related to Korean and Japan biological origins they look like some late Paleolithic peoples who became isolated at the end of the ice age and who occupied these islands and who later on were sort of swamped by invasions of Mongoloid related peoples. So they are really a special and distinct racial and biological group that has long, long roots in the area."
2. Commentary on Archeology by Curator William Fitzhugh
" Ainu origins have been investigated archeologically for many years, and we have a few materials here that represent some of the precursors to Ainu culture including Jomon materials which is one of the old cultures of Japan seen here and some Okhotsk culture materials in the next case. It's a very spiritual culture and these spiritual features of the art are expressed in pottery and bone and wood. (And) we see here a Jomon figure, a really beautiful piece with a lot of curvilinear designs on the clothing that look kind of similar to the kind of clothing designs that Ainu people wear today even though this is 4,000 years ago. And another piece here really represents the kind of mystical, spiritual, nature of their culture. This may be otter, or may be flying duck we're not quite sure. It's some sort of transformational figure. But it seems to have been used in a ritual context as was this mask and the ceremonial bear. The mask was found at an old cemetery site. It was found on the surface of the ground so we think that it may have been used as a kind of an emblem on a post marking a cemetery."
3. Commentary on Origins by Curator Chisato Dubreuil
"Hi. My name is Kitty (Chisato) Dubreuil. I'm co-curator of the Ainu exhibition, "Ainu, Spirit of a Northern People". Why are we interested in the Ainu at the Smithsonian Institution in the United States? That's really an interesting question. Because the Ainu have been a mystery race, our origin is still a mystery. Our language is isolated. And looking at this old archival photograph, [the] Ainu look completely different from Japanese. Some of the scholars consider Ainu as the "Lost Caucasians." And so [we are] organizing this kind of exhibition to raise the questions and hopefully we can give some kind of answers for the visitors."
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