Thursday, November 25, 2010

Revealed! - The Mystery Wooden Object's Secret Identity!

"Now let's see who the Mystery Wooden Object really is!"
"Why it's old Mr. Wilson - the caretaker of the amusement park!"
"Yes, and I'd have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you meddling kids..."


Oops! Sorry, that was from the Scooby Doo edition of this post - don't know how that snuck in here...

Okay - are you ready?

(Click here first if you haven't read the previous two relevant posts)

The Mystery Wooden Object (MWO) is...

...a Pakistani Cow Amulet! Yes! What?

Congratulations Regis! You are the clear winner:
"Looks like a cow bell. Maybe that darker square insert in the back holds the "bells" inside. Or an ornament to put around an animal's neck."How did you come up with that anyway? Email me your address and I'll send you your prize!

Okay, so when Kaija called me, she had just been to a little store back East, which she describes as being a "woodsy/crafty/chotsky with a smattering of international groovy stuff" type store. While perusing the goods, she came up short in front of a small tray full of MWOs! The accompanying signage simply stated, "Pakistani Cow Amulets."

Here's what she saw:

Well, after talking to Kaija, I called the store to pump them for information. They didn't really have much. About all they knew was that they were some kind of amulet worn by cows to help keep them safe. Hmm.

Armed with this new knowledge I called Uncle Google and had a long, long chat. It took awhile, but here's a summary of what I found out:

(And remember - "It's on the internet, so it must be true!")

Mostly associated with the Swat Valley in Pakistan (but covering a much wider region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, at least according to some sources) these amulets are believed to protect and identify livestock - possibly cows, but more likely goats or sheep. They are worn around the neck of the animal. Some are very simple, with no carving and just the hole at the top for the cord to pass through. Others are carved in ancient patterns (said to be Buddhist designs by one source). Still others go to a higher level of protection - incorporating a small chamber containing a prayer or blessing from a local religious leader. Apparently, after the animal is slaughtered, the amulet is used on another animal - which means some of the amulets are very old. Types of wood mentioned were cedar and rosewood.

Well, that explained just about everything I (we) had noticed about the MWO. I was right about the wear pattern inside the through mortise, only I was picturing it upside-down with the rope or fabric at the bottom, while in reality the amulet hung from the cord, not the other way around. And the square of wood in the back was not a cut off tenon - it is the plug to the hollowed-out chamber. Cool!

Kaija graciously went back to the store and picked up a few of the MWO's cousins for me. Here is a set of "reunion" photos:

You can see the range of details. Only one has a plug. Only two have any carving - one with a triangular design (upper left - the same one that has the plug) and one with a simple series of kerfs cut in the sides (lower left - five kerfs on one side, and six on the other). One has almost the exact same shape as my original, but no plug, no carving and is generally more "rough". In fact, all of these seem a bit more primitive than my first one.

Of course, I have a ton of new questions. Who makes these? Are they made by a specialist (town woodworker or carver?), or by the church, or are they made by the owner of the livestock? What kind of wood is it? It sure doesn't look like cedar (well, N. American cedar isn't really cedar anyway, so how would I know?) or rosewood. Are they still being made/used? How did these end up here? Why weren't they reused? How old are they?

If you have any insight, please post a comment. But for now, I'm satisfied - and the MWO is no longer a MWO. It is a Pakistani livestock amulet.

Finally, I have no idea if these things really work, but it just might explain the increased frequency of this kind of occurrence at our house:


  1. LOL Here Moose, here moose... I have this amulet for yooooou.

    Good Thanksgiving story you have there Dan. Thanks for disclosing the mystery.

  2. OK, first I want a photo of you putting an amulet on a moose (last photo of Dan . . . alive),
    and secondly when are you going to pop open the plug????

  3. I would stay away from the moose, I hear they eat woodworkers!

    It would be interesting to see the prayer inside, but unless you can get that block out without damaging it, I'm not sure you should try... also it might be sacrilege you'd have to check with your local Pakistani cattle herder.

    Are there other mysterious wooden objects for us to ponder?

  4. As Dave Barry would say: "Pakistani Cow Amulet" would be a good name for a rock band. ("Yo! I'm Barry Blitzkreig, drummer for PCA...")


  5. re: "Apparently, after the animal is slaughtered, the amulet is used on another animal"

    Re-using the "protection amulet" on another animal, post-slaughter: Eh -- I dinnae think it worked, lad...


  6. Steve - You're welcome!

    Mark - No way am I getting close enough to a moose to put an amulet around its neck!

    As for opening it up, I don't plan on it. I think I prefer that small mystery to remain intact.

    Philip - Well, I don't know about woodworkers, but they do, essentially, eat wood :)

    I think it would be hard to get the plug out intact, and I don't want to damage the amulet. Plus, I think it is best to respect the intentions of the maker, who certainly didn't plan on some galoot in Alaska messing with his creation.

    Other wooden mystery objects? Hmm. Let me see...

    Gye - Nice! Both. Actually, I think the prayer/blessing was replace for the new animal - which of course begs the question what about those that are still sealed? PCA - Epic Fail.

  7. I'm currently in Afghanistan, next time I get a Talibananna I'll ask him...

    Best Regards,
    Albert A Rasch
    A Chronicles' project: Building a Pirogue


Comment Moderation has been turned on - too much spam! Bummer.

I will get an email notification and will approve any appropriate comments ASAP.