Vietnamese ‘Babao’ (Eight Treasures) Processional Standard
Place of Origin: Vietnam
Date: 19th Century
Overall Length: 470mm
This bronze ‘Babao’ processional standard is from Vietnam and dates to the mid-to-late 19th century. Its name is derived from the fact that these standards usually depict one of the eight precious things in Buddhism, also known as the eight treasures, or ‘Babao’ in Chinese. Similar examples are illustrated in line drawings on at least six occasions in Volume Two of the 1906 book by Henri Oger, Technique du People Annamite(1) (Mechanics and Crafts of the Annamites). Each of the polearms illustrated are labelled Babao 八寶 (eight treasures) followed by what they are depicting—for example, a conch shell (Buddha’s thoughts). In the third volume of the same book the author illustrates a traditional procession where three such polearms are carried in front of a palanquin and also labelled Babao.
This polearm probably depicts musical gongs: a ministerial emblem and a symbol of a just and upstanding life. A double-edged sword extends from the mouth of a horned and bearded dragon, the sword having a central disc in the shape of a stylised coin intended to represent wealth. Two large discs, chased identically on both sides into eight segments, are decorated in alternating textures. A central, raised area is decorated with a flower and a key pattern around the circumference. The wheels probably represent drums or gongs (Chinese ‘lo’), with bulbously tipped drum-sticks attached. Further brass attachments fashioned as streaming ribbons add to the attractive and striking overall effect this polearm would have achieved when held aloft in a Vietnamese procession. It is mounted on a contemporary black base, red pole and copper collar.
(1) The Annamites are the people of the French protectorate Annam (1883–1948) which encompassed the central region of Vietnam. Before the protectorate’s establishment the name Annam was used in the West to refer to Vietnam as a whole.