FIERCE FRIDAY

FIERCE FRIDAY

Fierce Friday: Marc Garanger's Femmes Algeriennes 1960

In 1960, at the end of the Algerian War, photographer Marc Garanger was posted with the French Army in the small Kabylian settlement of Ain Terzine, one of the 'regroupment villages' into which mountain dwellers had been forced to keep members of the resistance from communicating. It was soon decided that these resettled people should carry mandatory identity cards as is the case in France; Garanger was tasked with photographing each of the 2,000 Berber and Muslim villagers over a period of ten days. The resulting portraits of the women in particular have formed a powerful record of that conflict. 

The villagers had never come into contact with Europeans or, presumably, cameras. The women were forced to remove their veils for the photographs, exposing their hair and protective tattoos, and to sit on a stool in front of a whitewashed wall while a strange man standing only three feet away pointed a strange instrument at their faces. The looks they gave it are their own extraordinary account of their feelings and experiences.

Algeria gained independence on 5 July 1962.

Facial tattooing such as that visible in the images is an ancient practice among Berber people, which has waned with the influence of Islam but is now more commonly replicated using temporary means such as henna. The tattoos, each of which has a specific meaning, offer protection from the Evil Eye and from spirits who might possess the wearer, being placed at points on the body where they might otherwise enter. 

Jewelry is traditionally a central element of Berber women's cultural identity and the large and numerous pieces worn feature a mixture of precious stones such as turquoise, amber and coral, glass beads, silver, coins and enamel. A noted contemporary Berber jeweller is Karim Oukid Ouksel, whose highly intricate filigree and enamel pieces reflect the motifs of typical Kabylian textiles and objects, as well as evoking their originating culture.

FIERCE FRIDAY

FIERCE FRIDAY: WAKHAN KYRGYZ

I have been entranced by this image since I first saw it, some time ago now, and by many other wonderful photographs of the Wakhan Kyrgyz taken by Matthieu Paley on his various expeditions to this most isolated part of Earth.

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This group of nomadic Kyrgyz used to roam across central Asia, until political divisions of the land they inhabited forced them into the Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip high on a plateau in extreme north-eastern Afghanistan's Pamir Mountains, days' journey from any other settlement. With drastically limited access to healthcare, education and widespread opium addiction, the population of around 1000 continues to decline due to emigration and general hardship. A third of Kyrgyz women in the Wakhan will die in childbirth, while a similar proportion of children will not live beyond five years.

Happily, by the time this picture was taken, this little girl had made it to seven. Her name is Marbet, and her bright-red cheeks are a result of watching over sheep for hours in the harsh cold. She wears the red headcloth and six braids of unmarried girls; when she marries she will join her husband's family, possibly far from her own, don the white headcloth of a wife and wear fewer braids, hung with silver ornaments. A Kyrgyz woman will cost any potential suitor 100 sheep, this animal being their basic unit of currency. A yak is worth around 10 sheep, a well-bred horse 50. A camel is more valuable than any.

While Kyrgyz men dress very sombrely, their women — and the interiors of their yurts — are lavishly decorated in richly patterned cloths primarily of red. The women also adorn themselves with a variety of items either intended as jewellery or repurposed as such — multiple necklaces, ring and brcaelets; buttons, watches, coins, keys, seashells, even nail clippers are hung about them as decorative additions. 

All images in this post are copyright Matthieu Paley/National Geographic.

FIERCE FRIDAY

FIERCE FRIDAY: MIDSUMMER SÁMI

Ok, so not that fierce perhaps, but a strong look all the same from this young Sámi woman from Jokkmokk in northern Sweden, to celebrate the recent summer solstice.

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Midsummer is understandably a big deal in Scandinavia, where long, light summers make up for equally long, dark winters. Sweden in particular is well known for its solstice celebrations, which typically involve a lot of folk dancing in traditional costume, quantities of strawberry meringue cake, and customs like the one above, where a young woman will pick seven different flowers to place under her pillow on Midsummer night and dream of her lover.

Of Finno-Ugric origin, the Sámi are the only formally recognised indigenous people of Scandinavia, occupying parts of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and western Russia known collectively as Sápmi. Though best known for subsistence by reindeer herding, they also practice fishing, fur trapping and sheep herding. 

Known as duodji, crafts are central to Sámi culture, as is gákti, their traditional costume in which pattern and colour vary according to the wearer's origin, marital status and even family. Consisting largely of wool felt, fur and cotton, the most typical colours used are strong reds, blues, yellows, greens and white. Most gákti are heavily decorated with embroidery, ribbons and pleating, and the most distinctive items are their ornately embellished and strikingly shaped gloves, hats and boots.

At the other end of the seasonal spectrum, Jokkmokk is known for hosting a 400-year-old annual winter festival involving traditional dance, food and reindeer races.

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FIERCE FRIDAY: SAMBURU

This week features our first professionally fierce Fridayer, this very put-together Samburu warrior photographed by Johan Gerrits.

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The Samburu live semi-nomadically in north-central Kenya, raising principally cattle but also sheep, goats and camels. Their name comes from the Maasai word 'samburr', referring to the ubiquitous leather bag used by the Samburu; though closely related both ethnically and linguistically to the Maasai, their own word for themselves is Lokop or Loikop and its meaning is disputed among them.

Samburu culture is a gerontocracy, meaning that elders rule. After a boy's circumcision ritual at around 14 years, he becomes a junior moran or warrior for seven years. Following an elaborate, mass graduation ceremony, he spends a further six years as a senior moran, before becoming an elder and being allowed to marry. 

The Samburu are also called the Butterfly People by neighbouring groups, for the colourful cloth with which they wrap themselves. They are well known for their intricately beaded adornments, including colossally layered collars which play a rhythmic role in traditional dances (see video above).

Rebecca Lolosoli is a Samburu woman renowned for her work towards women's rights in her community. In 1990 she registered the Umoja Uaso Women's Group to create employment for women who had been abused or mistreated, through sales of beadwork and other goods. Following threats from men, she established Umoja, a women-only village to house these women. 

Banner image by Eric Lafforgue/Getty Images.

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FIERCE FRIDAY: KHAMPA

It's party up top for this week's Fierce Fridayer, a Khampa nomad from between Litang and Xiangcheng in China's Sichuan province.

Khampas are so named for their homeland, the historical region of Kham which takes in large parts of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Sichuan province, as well as smaller areas of Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces. Though usually designated as part of the 'Tibetan Nation' ethnic group, the Kham region alone is home to 14 groups culturally and linguistically distinct from one another and from the wider classification. 

Khampas are nomads and usually herders, and are reputed to be warriors as well as accomplished horsemen. This latter skill is celebrated each summer with horse racing festivals across the Tibetan plateau, including a prominent one in Litang, Sichuan province. Given the isolated nature of many Khampas' lifestyles, these festivals are an important means of maintaining cultural continuity and of establishing a socio-economic hierarchy among the group. Increasing tourism around the festivals is also an important income source for many Khampas.

I was lucky enough to attend such a race outside Zhongdian one summer a couple of years ago, and I will never forget the feeling of being so immersed in an event central to another culture. Above are some images from that festival.

Main image by foto_morgana on Flickr

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FIERCE FRIDAY: DAYAK

My grandmother certainly doesn't look like this, but I'm glad somebody's does. This most excellent older lady is of the Dayak Kenyah tribe from Kalimantan — the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo. 'Dayak' is really a loose umbrella term imposed by Europeans to describe over 200 groups indigenous to Borneo and sharing certain distinguishing cultural traits.

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This woman's drastically elongated earlobes mark her out as a highly respected elder, though the practice of weighting earlobes to achieve this effect is waning among younger Dayak. It has been said that the practice, begun when a child is very young, originated to better distinguish humans from monkeys, thus it was often confined to Dayak nobility, and was considered an important element of beauty in women; the style of jewellery worn could also indicate its wearer's rank. 

The Dayak are known to file their teeth to points and traditional tattooing is extensive, the three most common types covering the feet, hands and thighs. These indicate both nobility and maturity and are also thought to 'light' the way to immortality, thus the greater the number worn, the better the way will be lit for their wearer; the Dayak Kenyah, of East Kalimantan, used to follow animist beliefs before a mass conversion to Christianity in the 19th century.

Other Dayak female attire includes a short woven cloth attached with coins and bells at the bottom end, a rattan or brass ring corset, long scarf or beaded top cover, high silver comb, bracelets on the upper and lower arms, and buah pauh 'fruits on hand'.

Over 170 languages are spoken by the Dayak, but as these die out, so much of the knowledge specific to this culture dies with them.

Image by Tuwing Tahkang on Flickr.

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FIERCE FRIDAY: YUROK

And we're back. This week's choice of strong look is inspired by two weeks' travel through the Oregon and California wilderness and specifically, a stay at the Historic Requa Inn, at the mouth of the Klamath River on the far northern California coast. The surrounding land was the traditional home of the Yurok Indian people and the Inn itself stands within what is now the Yurok Indian Reservation. It is run by Jan Wortman, a woman of Yurok ancestry who grew up on the Reservation.

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The principal currency of the Yurok was the Dentalium mollusk shell, and multiple long strands of these are worn by the woman above to display her wealth and as a form of adornment. Basket weaving is also central to Yurok crafts, and the rounded and geometrically patterned basket hat she wears is typical of this culture.

As is legible in the image, the woman shown is Lucy Thompson, who in 1916 published the book To The American Indian: Reminiscences of a Yurok Woman, with the intention of preserving her people's culture and experiences and enlightening white settlers, to one of whom she was married. It went on to receive the American Book Award some decades later.

FIERCE FRIDAY

FIERCE FRIDAY: SHIPIBO

Things have gone quiet on the Folk Ark corral while I've been travelling this week, but it would be a poor start to the weekend indeed without a strong look to kick Friday into gear. Today it's a magnificent Shipibo woman with her face adorned by characteristic Shipibo patterns, a septum ring with metal disc and multi-stranded choker beads. 

The Shipibo are indigenous to areas along Perú's Ucayali River and through gradual intermingling with another indigenous group, the Conibo, are now properly known as the Shipibo-Conibo people. Some of their more renowned traditions include ayahuasca shamanism and the creation — by women — of beadwork, textiles and especially pottery decorated with graphic, labyrinthine patterns in white, red and black. Textile patterns can have much wider colour variation.

Young Shipibo girls are initiated into the creation of the patterns by their female relatives, who squeeze drops of juice from the berries of cyperus articulatus (piri piri) into the child's eyes so that she will be able to envision the designs. Various possible interpretations of the designs include their being a mapping of Shipibo cosmology; stylisations the skin of the anaconda, an animal sacred to them; representations of a fundamental energy field revealed during ayahuasca ceremonies; or a mapping of the Amazon River system. In any case it seems safe to say that the patterns are strongly linked with Shipibo beliefs on the cosmos, the importance of balance to human and environmental health, and the visions revealed to them through ayahuasca ceremonies. 

This photograph was taken in 1962 by Thomas Hoepker, a photojournalist at that time working for Münchner Illustrierte und Kristall

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FIERCE FRIDAY: YAZIDI KURD

Hello and welcome to Fierce Friday, designed to kick off your weekend by celebrating the universal language of strong looks.

I think you'd have to agree that our first fierce face is pretty well up to the task: this impressive human is a Yazidi man photographed in about 1930. He sports the characteristic Yazidi braids and moustache, which men are forbidden to cut; under his shirt would be a gerîvan, an undershirt with a round neck opening whose white colour is an important symbol of purity in Yazidi culture. 

The Yazidi are an ancient Kurdish religious group whose beliefs resemble aspects of Zoroastrianism, Mesopotamian and other neigbouring religions but are in many respects unique. Yazidism is monotheistic, believing in one creator God who entrusts the world to seven holy beings or Mysteries, of whom the most significant is Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel. Because the Yazidi believe themselves to be direct descendants of Adam alone, they do not intermarry with other cultures and do no accept converts, in order to preserve this line.

Though traditionally concentrated in Iraq's northern Nineveh Province, large Yazidi communities have existed in Armenia, Syria, Turkey, Georgia and now, increasingly, in Europe, following heavy persecution in their native lands.

Image via La Petite École on Tumblr.