Archive for the 'African Tribes/Cultures/Countries' Category

Object: Egyptian Amulet

Figure 1 Amulet of Egyptian God Bes from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Amulet of Egyptian God Bes from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

C/1987/7/15
Amulet of Bes
Egyptian
Unknown Date
Materials: Faience (fused glass)

This small amulet depicts the Egyptian God Bes. In ancient times, Bes was very important to pregnant women, mothers and children. He was a god of protection against evil spirits and creatures that wanted to do harm to families.

The god Bes is unlike many of the other Egyptian gods in several ways. He is usually shown as forward facing, which is a very rare trait to see in Egyptian art. Most Egyptian art illustrating humans or gods depicts their subjects in profile view, where the shoulders and upper body of the person or god is shown from the front, the nose is easily distinguished, and both feet can usually be seen. Ancient Egyptians painted in this manner so they could be as accurate as possible when recreating the likeliness of an individual as well as emphasizing what were seen as the most important features of a person or god.

Figure 2 Cosmetic Jar with Egyptian God Bes, photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Figure 2 Cosmetic Jar with Egyptian God Bes, photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Bes was one of the only dwarf gods worshiped in ancient Egypt. He was very ugly in appearance, with bulging eyes and his tongue sticking out. This strange depiction was in order to scare away evil and poisonous creatures. His legs are commonly shown as being bowed outward, and he is often shown wearing the skin of a large cat such as a panther or a lion. He also always wore a feather headdress, which is another uncommon trait to see in images of Egyptian gods. By being a dwarf, wearing his unique outfit, and being shown as facing forward, some scholars believe he originated from a culture other than Egyptian. Before being incorporated into the Egyptian pantheon of gods, it is guessed that he may have been an African deity of some sort.

Ancient Egyptians believed amulets had to be made in a specific way in regards to the material and the shape. Magic contained in an amulet could be figured out from the form, the materials, what colors were used, and several other attributes. By creating the amulet based on these specifications, the amulet was supposed to grant the wearer’s wish when using it. Amulets could be carried or be worn in many different ways such as on a bracelet, a necklace or a ring. Similar amulets were often also included on the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptians to assist the deceased and guide them into the afterlife.

This amulet from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History provides some interesting insights not only into the origin of the Egyptian God Bes but also into the use of amulets in ancient Egypt.

[Katelyn Williams]

Resources:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/art/whatisaeart.html

http://www.livescience.com/507-ancient-egyptians-held-dwarves-high-esteem.html

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/egam/hd_egam.htm

Object: Chi Wara Headdress

Figure 1    Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali, Africa from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali, Africa from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/2014/3/5
Chi Wara Headdress
Bamana
Africa, Mali
Materials: Wood, metal, fabric

This wooden African headdress was made by the Bamana people from Mali. It is 43.25″ tall, 12.25″ long, and 2.75″ wide. The headdress represents a stylized antelope with elongated curved horns and open mane. Red cloth and metal trim are attached to the face, and a dark brown patina covers the surface. There are four holes on the base of the headdress used for attaching the headdress to a raffia covered basket and the head of the wearer.

The word chi wara translates to “farming beast” and is an extension of the Bamana deity associated with creation. For the Bamana (also known as the Bambara) who live in the dry savanna of west central Mali, farming is held in high esteem as the noblest profession. Tyi wara, or chi wara (also tyi ouara) is a dance for a supernatural being that is half man and half antelope. Tyi wara is the one who taught Bamana people about agriculture. Tyi wara was the son of the first woman and tilled the soil even as a baby, transforming weeds into millet and corn. He helped man to be prosperous farmers, but man became wasteful and careless in their farming. So, Tyi wara left them and buried himself in the ground. The Bamana are agrarian, and they are dependent on the success of their harvest. Now the headdresses are worn to call on Tyi wara’s aid for a successful harvest, and the name chi wara has come to be associated with an exceptional farmer.

The headdresses are worn during performances that depict male and female antelopes that symbolize the relationship between man and woman and between the earth and the sun. Art in Africa consists primarily of wood sculpture, with the majority being less than 200 years old since wood deteriorates easily from exposure or destruction. The chi wara sculpture is a zoomorphic headdress made of wood carved into a stylized antelope whose head and horns are exaggerated while the body is minimalized. It is also comprised of metal and segments of cloth. The unique chi wara headdress comes in variations depending on time and place created. Masks are worn during agricultural ceremonies when there is need of water for the crops to grow.

References to the Bamana are seen as early as the 18th century, and Bamana is identified as an ethno-linguistic group of the Mande people of Mali. Islam has encroached on the traditional religions in many areas of Africa, but the chi wara headdresses are still in use today. Bamana age-based fraternities, called tons, structure much of community life. Overall, this Chi Wara headdress made by the Bamana people of Mali provides insight into an interesting cultural tradition and a fascinating group of people.

Take a look at this video to see a Chi Wara dance:

[Samantha Hayes]

References

Azeez, Olaomo A. 2011. Indigenous Art of West Africa in Wood Global Journal of Human Social Sciences 11(2) Global Journals Inc. USA

Bickford, Kathleen E. and Cherise Smith. 1997. Art of the Western Sudan. African Art at The Art Institute of Chicago 23(2): Pp. 104-119+196 The Art Institute of Chicago

Crowley, Daniel J. 1976. Images from the Ancestors African Arts 9(4):73-74 UCLA James S. Coleman, African Studies Center

Dombrowsky-Hahn, Klaudia. 2012. Motion Events in Bambara (Mande) Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 33(1): 37-65 De Gruyter

Goldwater, Robert. 1960. Bambara sculpture from the Western Sudan Museum of Primitive Art University Publishers : N.Y.

Hanna, Judith Lynne. 1973. African Dance: The Continuity of Change Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council 5: 165-174

Imperato, Pascal James. 1970. The Dance of the Tyi Wara African Arts 4(1) Pp. 8-13+71-80 UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center

Object: Brass Weight

E/1957/26/19
Weight for measuring gold
Ashanti (or Asante)
Africa: Guinea Coast: Ghana
Ca. 15th-19th Century
Materials: Cast Brass

This African object is a weight made out of brass that was used for weighing gold dust. It is very small, only 1.5” long by 0.75” wide, and it was cast, or molded, to look like the body of a beetle.

The “Gold Coast,” located on the Gulf of Guinea in Africa, has long been known for the large quantities of gold found there. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in this area in the 1400’s, but they were soon followed by the British, Dutch and other European explorers. The British seized the area in 1867, forming the British colony known as the “Gold Coast.” Between the 15th and 19th century, gold dust served as the primary currency for the West African country of Ghana, particularly for the Ashanti (also known as the Asante) people. Most households had their own set of weights and scales so that they could conduct their own transactions. These interesting little weights were made in a variety of shapes and sizes including  geometric shapes, animals, plants, and even common household items such as a stool or a hammer.

These tiny weights were made in a really interesting way. They were first formed out of beeswax. This beeswax was then covered in clay, which was allowed to dry and harden. It was then placed into a fire, where the beeswax melted out, leaving a hollow form in the clay. Then, molten brass was poured into this clay mold, and, as it cooled and hardened, it took on the shape of the original beeswax form. The clay was then broken away so that the solid brass weight emerged completely finished. This method, known as the “lost-wax” method has been used for centuries in many cultures around the world. This particular beetle weight from the Ethnology Collection, however, was created using an unusual adaptation of this method. Instead of creating a shape out of beeswax and then covering it in clay, a real live beetle was covered in clay. Once the clay dried and hardened, the dead beetle was burned out of the mold, leaving an impression of the insect in the clay. It was then filled with molten brass and allowed to harden just like the lost-wax method.

Because everyone had a different set of weights, both parties always had to check the value of the gold dust with their own weights so they could be sure they were getting a fair deal. These weights therefore needed to be small and portable so they could be easily carried around. Anyone who found gold dust could keep it, but large nuggets, or pieces, had to be surrendered, or handed over, to the royal court. This gold was then exported to Europe and became the basis for British currency. It was not until 1957 that the Ashanti people finally regained their independence and formed the Republic of Ghana. It was around this same time that gold dust was replaced by the coins and paper money in use today.

Take a look at this interesting video showing contemporary Asante artists working in the lost-wax casting method:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Faience Necklace

Figure 1    Egyptian Faience blue beaded necklace from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Egyptian Faience blue beaded necklace from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1958/25/15
Blue faience necklace
Africa: Egypt
Date: Modern
Materials: Faience (glass) beads on leather

This small blue beaded necklace is 12 inches long and comes from modern-day Egypt. The leather thong (or string) that holds the beads is tied together in one spot and can be adjusted to fit the person wearing it. The irregular shaped beads are made out of faience, a type of colored glass.

Faience (pronounced “fay-ahns”) has a long-standing history in many countries, especially Egypt. The ancient Egyptians used faience (known as tjehnet) beginning in 3500 BC to make beads, statues, amulets, bowls, and a variety of other objects. One theory is that faience was invented in Mesopotamia in 4000 BC and then brought to Egypt through trade.

Faience was originally developed by ancient Egyptians out of a desire to find a substitute for lapis lazuli, a highly valued dark blue stone. The royalty and nobles of ancient Egypt wanted to show how much power and wealth they had through the beautiful and expensive objects they put in their palaces, temples, and tombs. Lapis lazuli, however, was hard to come by. So, they developed faience, a much cheaper and easily manufactured material, as a substitute.

Faience, known as the “first high-tech ceramic” is made from finely ground quartz (or sand) mixed with lime, copper oxide, water, and a binder agent (such as gum arabic). When mixed together, these ingredients form a kind of paste that can then be put into a ceramic mold, dried, and fired in a kiln (or oven). Early on, it was discovered that adding different minerals (such as manganese) instead of copper oxide would result in different colors of faience including                                                           cobalt blue, purple, and yellow.

Today, the production of faience all around the world has expanded. Artists and scientists continue to experiment with and learn from this fascinating blue glass that experienced its beginnings in ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia. This beautiful beaded necklace is only one example of how faience continues to be used today.

Take a look at this cool video that shows step-by-step out to make faience objects using ancient Egyptian molds from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Camel Bell

Camel bell

Figure 1    Camel bell from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/2012/3/3
Somalia, Eastern Horn of Africa
Materials: Wood, twine

This wooden bell was collected in Somalia in the 1950’s and now resides in the Ethnology collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. The oval-shaped bell is constructed of rough, unfinished wood. There are no designs or decoration, no paint, and no varnish on the bell. Holes have been drilled through the top in order to attach a long twisted cord. The cord is threaded through the interior of the bell to attach the narrow wooden cylindrical clapper that strikes the inside of the bell to produce noise.

This type of bell is regularly strung around the neck of domesticated camels to alert the owner of the animal as to its presence, much like a bell around the neck of a cow serves the same purpose for a dairy farmer. Why a camel? Well, there is an ongoing and vibrant camel trade in Somalia, Ethiopia, and the surrounding area, commonly known as the Eastern Horn of Africa.

In fact, the Eastern Horn of Africa has the world’s largest population of camels (about 7 million).  The camel is the backbone of the economy for the nomadic herdsmen in these counties, and they use camels for a variety of purposes. Female camels are commonly kept for their milk while male camels are used primarily as pack animals.

 

Camels play such a vital role in Somali life, that these fascinating beasts have long been the subject of oral stories, myths, and poems.

 

 

 

For example, this Somali poem illustrates the vital role of camels:

O’ God the victorious
Camels never to man
Who is unable to manage them well
by inferior goats are kept
Not much value has they
for in droughts severe
worthless goats are
no better cattle are
without maintenance constant
it is Goha that life sustains
O’ pride of the home
antelope-like she-camel
noblest of animals all surely she
the furry-necked she-camel
with belly huge
sour milk abundant produces she
You, curly-furred camel of mine …

~ Sayyid Mohammed Abdile Hassan

[Ahmed Ali Abokor, The Camel in Somali Oral Traditions, Uppsala, 1987]

 

So, this seemingly plain-looking camel bell allows us a little insight into the ongoing importance of camels and the camel trade to the Somali people.

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Mummified fish

C/1957/4/1-3
Mummified fish
Ancient Egyptian
Egypt
unknown date
Materials: Fish, cloth, resin, salt or natron

Ancient Egyptian culture is best known today for its mummies but, humans weren’t the only ones being mummified in Ancient Egypt. Animals were also commonly mummified. Animals were mummified for a variety of reasons, all connected to the Egyptian belief in an afterlife. The Ancient Egyptians viewed death as the beginning of a new life in the underworld, and much like an extended vacation, in order to enjoy this new life one would need to pack accordingly. Only those items properly persevered and stored within the tomb would be available to the deceased in the afterlife, this would include one’s own body and internal organs. Some animals were mummified because they were pets, and their owners wanted them to enjoy the afterlife with them. Any item or animal that one wanted to have in the afterlife had to be included in the tomb, so some animals were mummified to become food for deceased humans in the afterlife. Other animals were mummified because they were considered sacred to a particular deity. These animals were often associated with specific religious cults throughout Egypt, like the Apis Bulls at Memphis and the crocodiles at the Kom Ombo Temple.

The mummification of fish went on throughout much of Ancient Egyptian history but is thought to have reached its peak in the Ptolemaic period. The fish were mummified by removing their internal organs through a slit in the belly of the fish and then either soaked in brine or packed with salt or natron to dry out and preserve the fish. The fish would then be either packed in mud or covered in papyrus stalks and then wrapped in linen and covered in resin. This group of fish were unwrapped after they were discovered and only part of their original wrappings can be seen, on fish C/1957/4/1.

The following video shows a modern attempt at recreating fish mummification.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Mat

E/1971/2/3
Mat or fai-fai
Nigeria
ca. 1970
Materials: Grass, and dyed strips of doum palm leaves

This object is a mat made of grass that has been wrapped with dyed strips of doum palm leaves, sometimes called a fai-fai. Mats like this one are common in Nigeria and are typically used in the kitchen, where they have many uses, including being a fan for a fire, a pot holder, or lid.

The dyed outer surface of the mat is made from the leaves of the doum palm (Hyphaene thebaica). This type of tree is native to Africa and grows from Mauritania to Egypt, from Senegal to Central Africa and east to Tanzania. They tend to grow close to groundwater and can be found in oases and wadis, and is widely distributed near rivers and streams. These palm trees produce an edible fruit but are also prized for their leaves and roots which are widely used for making baskets, nets, brooms, and even some rough textiles.

Aside from its basic identification, the museum catalog contains very little information on this object, can you help us? Do you know anything about this type of mat or the people who made it? [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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