traditional african art from
South & East Africa
One of the reasons might be the absence of tropical rain forest with its plentiful wood to be carved, another the absence of large authoritarian kingdoms where crafsmen were being employed permanently to create objects for the royal courts. Most pieces are more of ornamental craft instead of powerful mythical art, with the exception of some items from Tanzania, especially the Makonde which can be compared to the traditional art from Central Africa.
This striking earthencolour pot has seen many happy faces enjoying their Umqombothi over the years, the locally brewed beer made from maize, malt, yeast and water. When I received it, one could still smell and imagine the sheer volume of beer that was consumed from that pot. Since then I have used it as a vase on top of the fridge, where it created a lovely contrast between a very bold traditionally crafted masterpiece and delicate flower displays.
The image below shows the tray from the bottom. This tray has been used in our house since we discovered and purchased it in 1979 as the display bowl and offering of all seasonal fruit. It is permanently filled with all colours of fresh fruit every day and has been one of the most important utensils in the kitchen. I had originally discovered it at an unusual antique shop in Cape Town, and enjoyed it’s practical purpose ever since.
I brought it back from my first trip to Namibia in 1970. But is is obviously an item which was produced to sell. Nevertheless it still looks good and shows how well wood will keep if kept inside the house with a bit of polish now and then.
This lovely container must have been left in the open air for a long time, as the wood has gone very soft and will definitely not hold any water anymore, especially with the unplugged hole. But somehow it enhances the appeal of the design.
The Ganda people make elongated shaped drums. This is a lovely carving with two faces and intricate geometric patterns. It was purchased at an auction in Cape Town from the Zulu Azania collection.
Ganda potters make red clay pots for everyday use. The royal potter (Kujoma) is making shiny black pots for prestigeous functions. The black lustre is achieved by applying Graphite after firing and lots of rubbing and polishing. Purchased at an auction in Cape Town from the Zulu Azania collection..
Tutsi archers used to wear wrist guards for protection. This particular very large one, enhanced with copper inserts probably belonged to an important archer or a royal bodyguard, as wooden wrist guards are quite rare. Normally wrist guards are made with plaited grass.
The Kamba people live on the eastern slopes of the Kikuyu highlands in southern Kenia. Prominent Kamba men of stature had their personal stools made which were used at important functions. This one has the owners name and the date as part of the design.
This was my first African carving I purchased. In December 1970 a friend and I were travelling in Matabele Land (then part of what was called Rhodesia), when we came across a group of children trying to sell items for the tourists including little drums. I asked them if they didn’t have a real drum being played regularly at home. The leader of the group said he would get one if I please wait for 15 minutes. I got all excited, waiting for my first piece of genuine African history. This is the drum they brought back. I probably expected something older and more worn, but then I saw it was all carved from one solid tree and the sound was great, so I happily paid the money and enjoyed their smiling faces. The drum still looks not a day older, but it has been in my possession for 50 years now and still sounds great.
The Makonde of southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique are well known as excellent carvers. Thrones like this male and female pair were very popular by many of the tribes in Tanzania. They were made exclusively for the royal couple or other very highly ranked people. The chairs are carved from very heavy beautiful dark red wood, which is preferred by the Makonde in most creations.
The chairs are in pefect condition.
A remarkable drum, created in the shape of a pregnant female. Very good condition, the leather hide is not as taut as it was originally, it probably had some water leaked onto it whereever it was kept. The circular body tattoos are used regular in Makonde carvings of the female body. A most unusual and very attractive piece.
The Nyamwezi live in north central Tanzania. Like most free standing statues created by the Nyamwezi, this figure represents an important ancestor. It’s rather stiff and vigorous posture gives a strong feeling of energy and emotional quality.
Large “trumpets” like this were important status symbols and used at important gatherings. The wood is extremely heavy which meant that the chief had to be accompanied by servants to carry the trumpet for him. The trumpet is decorated with fine geometric patterns. The Sango live to the south of the Nyamezi in central Tanzania who are the main tribe in the area.
This piece was exhibited at the National Gallery in Cape Town 2008.
Although this is not a cultural art object, it needs to have a prominent place in any collection. There is nothing more symbolic of life in rural Africa than the rythmical thumping of wooden pestles.
I found this one on a trip in nortern South Africa. The outside looks as rough and worn as the lower leg of an 80 year old bull elephant, while the inside is smooth as velvet from years of rubbing and thumping.