Posts Tagged 'Africa'

Object: Ibeji doll

Figure 1 Ibeji Doll from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Ibeji Doll from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1970/4/1
Ibeji Doll
Yoruba
Nigeria, Niger Delta Region, Africa
Unknown Date
Materials: Painted Wood

Figure 2 Map of West Africa

Figure 2 Map of West Africa

The Ibeji doll tradition comes from the indigenous religion of the Yoruba. The Yoruba live in parts of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. They speak their own language and practice their indigenous religion alongside Islam and Christianity. The Yoruba have the highest twin birth rate in the world. An estimated 45 out of every 1,000 births are twins compared to the United States where every 29 out of 1,000 births result in twins[1]. The high ratio of twin births have developed into a cultural aesthetic for the Yoruba, that of Ase, or strength[2].

The Ibeji doll is always one half of a pair. These dolls represent the image of a twin who has passed. The large percentage of twins in the Yoruba population has evolved into a type of twin worship in the indigenous religion[3]. Many of these indigenous groups reside in the Oyo and Oshogbo regions of Nigeria, along the coastline, although there are small dispersals throughout their territory[4].

An Ibeji is created after one or both twins in a family die. It is crafted by a Babalawo, a spiritual guide in the community[5]. The doll is crafted from the best wood that the family can obtain along with paint in either red or black and a varnish for preservation. The doll is then created to resemble the individual that has passed as they would have appeared in adulthood[6]. There are two dolls created, one for each twin, even if only one of the twins has passed. The dolls are then decorated with beadwork or cowrie shells before being placed in a position of honor. These dolls are treated like a living human, given food and water daily, to bring luck to their family.

Additional Texts:

Religion:

Ibeji as Religious Object

Other Images of Ibeji Dolls:

Wolfz-Gallery African Arts Ibeji Collection

Other Yoruba Dolls:

Yoruba Doll

Smithsonian Yoruba Doll

[Caitlyn Colvert]

 

[1] D.D.O. Ovebola, “Traditional Medicine and Its Practitioners Among the Yoruba of Nigeria: A Classification,” Sociology, Sex, Medical 14(1980): 24.

[2] Rowland Abiodun, “Understanding Yoruba Art and Aesthetics: The Concept of Ase,” African Arts (1994), 68-70.

[3] Marcus Louis Harvey, “Engaging the Orisa: An Exploration of the Yoruba Concepts of Ibeji and Olokun as Theoretical Principles in Black Theology,” Black Theology: An International Journal 6, no. 1(2008): 64.

[4] Emily C. McIlroy, “One Half Living for Two: Cross-Cultural Paradigms of Twinship and Twin Loss,” Omega 64, no.1(2012): 5-6.

[5] J.D.Y. Peel, “The Pastor and the “Babalawo”: The Interaction of Religions in Nineteenth-Century Yorubaland,” Africa: Journal of International African Institute 60, no. 3(1990): 345.

[6] Elisha Renne, “Twinship in an Ekiti Yoruba Town,” Ethnology 40, no. 1(2001): 67.

References Cited:

Abiodun, Rowland.

1994 Understanding Yoruba Art and Aesthetics: The Concept of Ase. African Arts. 27(3): 68-78, 102-103.

Harvey, Marcus Louis.

2008 Engaging the Orisa: An Exploration of the Yoruba Concepts of Ibeji and Olokun as Theoretical Principles in  Black Theology. Black Theology: An International Journal. 6(1): 61-82.

McIlroy, Emily C.

2012 One Half Living for Two: Cross-Cultural Paradigms of Twinship and Twin Loss. Omega. 64(1): 1-13.

Ovebola, D.D.O.

1980 Traditional Medicine and Its Practitioners Among the Yoruba of Nigeria: A Classification. Sociology, Sex, Medical. 14: 23-29.

Peel, J.D.Y.

1990 The Pastor and the “Babalawo”: The Interaction of Religions in Nineteenth-Century Yorubaland. Africa: Journal of International African Institute. 60(3): 338-369

Renne, Elisha.

2001 Twinship in an Ekiti Yoruba Town. Ethnology. 40(1): 63-78.

 

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]


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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