Portable Bamboo Butter Tea Churn (Mdong Mo) with Engraved Silver Mounts
early 20th century
height: 26cm, diameter: 10.3cm
This butter tea churn (mdong mo in Tibetan), most probably from Tibet, and certainly from the Himalayas, comprises a single bamboo segment with silver bands and a silver covered cover. Its relatively small size suggests that it was made to be portable and the fine silver mounts suggest that it was made for a Tibetan aristocrat or similar. Two silver rings on either side allowed the churn to be secured whilst travelling.
The engraving on the silver includes key-fret borders, scrolling foliage and repeated bat motifs, suggesting that the artisan was Chinese.
The tightly-fitting cover unscrews allowing the tea to be poured out once churned with butter and salt. The cover has a hole through which the churning stick could be inserted for churning.
Butter tea was made from tea leaves, boiling water, yak butter and salt. The tea leaves would be boiled with water for as long as half a day. The tea would then be tipped into a container such as this example, and churned with salt and yak butter to make an oily, dark beverage.
This churn has obvious age; the bamboo particularly has a good patina. Overall, it is a pleasing, curious object.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 1197
to see other Tibetan & Himalayan items.