thailand, bulletproof vest, protection, magic, symbols, moesgaard museum, de etnografiske samlinger, ethnography, collections, museum, aarhus, denmark

Protective measures: Bullet proof vest from Northern Thailand

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Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East, South America

Sometimes, we just need that bit of extra protection. To ward off evil spirits, protect us from accidents and jealousy, and to shield us from harm when we throw ourselves into perilous situations… For thousands of years, we humans have carried amulets and sacred objects, been tattooed, gone through rituals, and uttered certain words, all in order to protect ourselves from harm.

In many Middle Eastern countries, as well as in Greece, India, and parts of South America, people fear the ‘evil eye’, a form of curse, cast through a malevolent stare. People protect themselves from the Evil Eye through charms, tattoos, hand gestures, slogans, and, perhaps most famously, with the help of the Turkish ‘nazar’; the iconic blue, white, and black glass ornament, which can be found hanging over doors, in offices, car windows, and incorporated into jewellery and charms.

nazar-amulets-8712816996088mkg

Nazar souvenirs. License: Public Domain

The faith in such protective measures can be overwhelming. The Ugandan rebel force The Holy Spirit Movement, which, led by rebel leader and spirit medium Alice Lakwena, fought the Ugandan army in 1986 and 1987, were known for their alternative military tactics. They walked into battle in cross formation singing hymns, and when Alice had anointed them with sacred oil, they believed themselves to be bulletproof. And though they did suffer heavy losses, and were eventually defeated by the Ugandan army, their tactics did in fact, according to some sources, prove to be surprisingly effective.

And maybe that is also the purpose of the ‘bulletproof’ vest, which was the inspiration of this blog post? We do not have much information about it, except that it was collected in 1970 in Northern Thailand, and that it is made from cotton and covered in signs and diagrams meant to make the wearer bulletproof. The 1970s saw both peasant revolts and communist insurgencies in Thailand, so no wonder that someone felt that they needed to do something out of the ordinary, to shield themselves from harm.

//Sophie Seebach

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