Seer's amulet

Object of the Month - February 2019

The artefact of the month is a amulet made of small bones, which belonged to an Ovambo seer named Noa Kaukungwa. It became a part of the National Museum’s ethnographic collection in 2015 together with a donation of artefacts made by Felm (former Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission).

The artefact had entered the possession of Felm as early as 1932. It was acquired in Ovamboland in the area of current Namibia by missionary Emil Liljeblad, who worked for Felm in South West Africa in 1900–1908 and 1912–1919.

The original owner of the artefact, seer and healer Noa Kaukungwa born at the turn of the 1860s and 1870s, converted to Christianity in middle age and at the same time gave up his seer equipment.

An old handbook of the Mission Museum speculated whether the small pendant is made of the bones of a child. The speculation reflects ignorance and suspicion against a foreign “heathen people” and its customs. Later on, the bones were identified as belonging to an animal, most likely feline or canine predator.

The strength and characteristics of animals have been harnessed everywhere as forces of beliefs and religions. Noa Kaukungwa’s amulet and other artefacts made of animal materials will be displayed in the TRACES exhibition opening on 5 April 2019 in the pop-up lounge of the National Museum of Finland.

Pilvi Vainonen

Seer's amulet. Photo: Ilari Järvinen, Finnish Heritage Agency.