Saturday, October 29, 2011

My thrifted elephant and the myth of the upturned trunk

I am pretty sure I first read that Elephant figurines must have upturned trunks in order to bring good luck to the home from a Rachel Ashwell/Shabby Chic book. Over time I saw that advice repeated elsewhere. Bad news for me, because:

This elephant was a thrift store half-off day find. Determined to redeem my own little elephant, and downturned-trunk-elephants the world over, I poked around on the Internet hoping to find the original source of the trunk myth.

What I found were pages celebrating all things elephant, the Indian god, Ganesha, and Thai and American sites that debunk the trunk-up thing. The lucky elephant motif has its roots in British colonialism and American's love of anything "exotic". The white elephant was rumored in the early 20th century to be the mark of Indian royalty. From Lucky Mojo:

"This "trunk up" belief has no apparent origin in Africa, India, or South East Asia where elephants are native, but is widespread in the USA, and many Asian and African amulet and statuary makers now produce trunk-up elephant statues for American buyers. It may have originated in the west-British and Irish belief that a lucky horseshoe must face upward or "the luck will run out.")"

In spite of elephant figures having their roots in colonialism and cultural appropriation, elephants can still symbolize all sorts of good things. The endangered elephant certainly deserves our love and respect. After all: "That’s because it’s not the trunk, but the elephant’s size and its ability to use its immense strength with gentleness and intelligence that has endeared the creature to man for centuries." (source)

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