Friday, August 13, 2010

Peer into the Past at The Secret Museum of Mankind

Once upon a time there was very little mass production. The peoples of the world were more isolated than connected. They designed and made their own clothes. They lived their own cultures. Mass media either did not exist or had little influence. People of the world today are more homogeneous in appearance and culture than they realize despite all the focus on differences.

The rise of photography in the nineteenth century allowed the cultural and ethnic diversity of the past to be captured. An amazing archive of photos from around the world depicting ancient cultures, ethnic groups, and even primitive tribes people is available at The Secret Museum of Mankind.

The Secret Museum of Mankind was created from a book published without credits or copyright in 1935. The home page describes the book's contents as "a book to gawk at by flashlight under the bedcovers." The plentiful photos of naked native women made it appealing to adolescents apparently. Now it offers an unfiltered look into the past around the world.

The modern reader may be offended by the frequently racist commentary attached to some photos, but the text remains informative because it tells you who you are viewing and where they lived.

Divided among the regions of America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and Oceania, you can spend a great deal of time browsing these galleries. Imagining the many ways people used to live is fascinating for me.

Explore these examples to see what I mean:

She has stood, until weary of attracting attention, by a wall in Biskra, this geisha of the Sahara, with her hard-won dowry of gold and silver adorning her person. She can sing Arab love-songs, play flute, hautboy, and zither, and dance more seductively than girls of any other tribe. Her skill in making cigarettes and coffee is famous, and all her charms and accomplishments are for hire.

Dwelling in the valley of the Pangoa river, this Indian belongs to one of the many subdivisions of the Campa tribe, widely distributed over the Amazonian basin. Keen hunters, their only weapon is the bow, and unlike some of the other tribes they use no poison on the arrow. In his sleeveless gown of wild cotton, and plumed coronal, he shows a certain nobility of feature and of character.

Wearing numerous heavy earrings, this Garo woman believes that after death the devils who wait to devour her soul will fight instead for the rings, while she makes good her escape