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19th C. Vietnamese Shaman's Iron Staff

Southeast Asia, Vietnam, ca. 19th century CE. A very rare example of an iron staff made by the nguoi thuong, the "highland people" of Vietnam (also know as the Dega, or the Montagnard). The staff has a curved upper handle with four thin iron bars wrapped around it to form an openwork globe; on each of these bars are round iron discs that resemble coinage from the region. This is capped by a zoomorphic finial - possibly a horse with rider, although corrosion to the iron makes it difficult to tell. Below the openwork globe is a long tang that broadens into an unsharpened blade, with two long flourishes hanging down from the guard. Size: 4.5" W x 19.8" H (11.4 cm x 50.3 cm); 21.5" H (54.6 cm) on included custom stand.

The nguoi thuong live in the far north of Vietnam, near the China / Laos border, in a landscape of lush, steep-sided mountains. The most traditional of these groups still wear hand-woven costumes. Until the 20th century, most of these groups practiced traditional religions, led by a shaman, an intermediary between the human and spirit worlds, often accompanied by ceremonial items like this iron staff.

Condition: Corrosion to iron surface as shown, with a pale orange patina on some of the surface. Excellent remaining form.

Provenance: private Los Angeles, California, USA collection

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