headhunting, skull, philippines, moesgaard museum, de etnografiske samlinger, ethnography, collections, museum, aarhus, denmark

Head-hunter Skull: Trophy from the Philippines

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Asia

Head-hunter Skull: Trophy from the Philippines

A man is killed in the mountain-forest region near Banawe in the Philippines. His killer was of the Ifugao tribe, but the murderer victim did not know his killer. Many years later, his skull was collected as an ethnographic artefact by Tage Ellinger and sent to the Danish National Museum.

Violence is by many regarded as the most banal thing, a dehumanising act where the killer needs to see his victim as less human in order to carry out the kill. The Ifugao tribe in Puitaw near Banawe used to practice head-hunting up until the end of the 1970s. They would go hunting for heads, not because they saw their victim as less human than themselves, but because the kill would be a way to show that they had the ability to act upon the world, even though they had to carry out the uneasy task of killing another human. It was therefore important that the victim kept his identity as human. In this sense, violence according to the Ifugao only makes sense if it is difficult. One is left to wonder what made Tage Ellinger collect the skull. Was he collecting the head of a man; a human being or was he collecting another piece of dehumanised ethnography?

Tage Ellinger was a Danish zoology professor who worked in the Philippines from 1950 to 1959. Ellinger collected several ethnographic materials, which can be seen at the Danish National Museum. In his memoir, Solen går ned i øst, he writes about his stay among the Ifugao and his encounter with the Danish anthropologist Kaj Birket Smith on board the expedition ship “Galathea”. He also writes about how the meeting led him to start collecting ethnographic material and document the life of people living in north-Luzon, Palawan in the Philippines and the Sulu Islands.

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//Malthe Barnkob Lehrmann

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