Rhino horn for medicines, from Tibetan Shaman's costume, collected in Bhaktapur, Nepal, 1986
This rhino horn held medicines. It was part of a Tibetan shaman’s costume. It attached to a belt or scarf around the waist. Shamans are believed to hold the power to cure disease by contacting the spirit world. They often enter a trance-like state to discover why a person has fallen ill, and how they might cure it. Their costume marks them as an important person in the community. Their physical appearance also impresses or intimidates spirits.
A shaman ritual is just one medical tradition used in Tibet and Nepal. Others include biomedicine and Sherpa traditions. This costume was collected by a private collector while travelling through Kathmandu valley in Nepal. The collector literally bought the costume off the man’s back and donated it to the Science Museum. The costume was bought from shaman who had travelled weeks to attend the Tibetan festival of Bodhnath. This takes place at the Great Buddhist Stupa (monument) in Kathmandu.