African Material Culture
Publication Year: 1996
"This volume has much to recommend it -- providing fascinating and stimulating insights into many arenas of material culture, many of which still remain only superficially explored in the archaeological literature." -- Archaeological Review
"... a vivid introduction to the topic.... A glimpse into the unique and changing identities in an ever-changing world." -- Come-All-Ye
Fourteen interdisciplinary essays open new perspectives for understanding African societies and cultures through the contextualized study of objects, treating everything from the production of material objects to the meaning of sticks, masquerades, household tools, clothing, and the television set in the contemporary repertoire of African material culture.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: African Systems of Thought
In recent years, interest in the study of African material culture has been growing steadily among anthropologists, art historians, historians, archaeologists, and museologists. Several critical assessments of the history of African Inaterial culture studies as well as of the present situation have appeared in print or are being readied for publication. It seemed, ...
INTRODUCTION: Efficacy and Objects
In 1917 a young Luo woman decides to wear a nanga at the urging of foreign missionaries (Hay, below). Shortly after a 1935 exhibit, a Musee de Trocadero employee relegates a Bamum throne to the African storage area, where it sits in disarray until the 1980s (Geary, below). When a Somali nomad settles outside of Isiolo, his wives leave a life...
PART I. TECHNOLOGY AND THE PRODUCTION OF FORM
1. TECHNOLOGICAL STYLE AND THE MAKING OF CULTURE: Three Kono Contexts of Production
In this chapter I am interested in introducing issues of difference and variation to the recent literature on the relationship between technological and social forms. By technology I am speaking of "the totality of the means employed to provide objects necessary for human sustenance and comfort" (Websters Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary), and I am interpreting...
2. MAGICAL IRON TECHNOLOGY IN THE CAMEROON GRASSFIELDS
To the best of our knowledge, tIle latest publication to address the question of the relationship between African "magic" and "ritual techniques" on the one hand and ironworking techniques on the other is that of Nikolaas van der Merwe and Donald Avery (1987). Their paper is beautifully researched, and the data on ironworking are of the utmost importance. ...
3. WHEN NOMADS SETTLE: Changing Technologies of Building and Transport and the Production of Architectural Form among the Gabra
The architecture of nomadic societies, in contrast to the stone, concrete, and earthen architectures associated with sedentarism and permanence, has long been ignored and neglected, not only by architects and architectural historians but by social scientists and scholars in the arts and humanities.1 The reasons are manifold-not the least of which has been the very definition of nomadism. Scholars who have addressed the...
4. CERAMICS FROM THE UPEMBA DEPRESSION: A Diachronic Study
Our understanding of the evolution of past: cultures in sub-Saharan Africa used to rest essentially on typology. This approach consisted of the study of the evolution of tools and, in many cases, it was restricted to descriptions of the morphological and stylistic properties of objects. Comparisons between objects allowed historical reconstructions to be...
5. OBJECTS AND PEOPLE: Relationships and Transformations in the Culture of the Bambala
What is most striking when reading through the abundant ethnographic descriptions about African societies is the insignificant place given to material culture. One would have considered as a given the idea of the distinction made in all societies between a material world and a world of ideas, each possessing, as shown by Andre Leroi-Gourhan, its own...
PART II. CONSTRUCTING IDENTITIES: Presenting Self and Society with Objects
6. STICKS, SELF, AND SOCIETY IN BOORAN OROMO: A Symbolic Interpretation
This chapter examines the form, function, and cultural meanings of sticks, staffs, or rods (ulee) in relation to the social, economic, and religious orders of pastoral Booran Dromo society. We show how these meanings are ecologically and contextually derived and how sticks function...
7. MATERIAL NARRATIVES AND THE NEGOTIATION OF IDENTITIES THROUGH OBJECTS IN MALIAN THEATRE
The Sogo bo masquerade theatre is a vital and thoroughly engaging masquerade tradition performed in many contemporary communities in the Segou region in Mali. People define this theatre as public entertainment and troupes welcome the attendance of the entire community at these events. Although the theatre's origins are shrouded in legend, it is clear...
8. THE CONSUMPTION OF AN AFRICAN MODERNITY
The experience of modernity has formed the subject matter of a number of recent books and articles (e.g., Anderson 1983; Berman 1984). In certain respects, these are more sophisticated representations of classical Western sociological oppositions between radically different kinds of societies of the traditional/modern. However, they go further than these...
9. HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF IGBO SOCIAL SPACE
Igbo attitudes to objects of material culture and the language used to describe them play an important role in Igbo apprehensions of reality. Indeed, Igbo words for objects are arguably as important as the objects themselves. Thus when Igbo say Afamefuna, "Let not my name perish," the name refers not simply to the individual speaking but to his household...
10. HOES AND CLOTHES IN A LUO HOUSEHOLD: Changing Consumption in a Colonial Economy, 1906–1936
Dramatic changes in material culture took place in western Kenya before the Second World War, as a direct result of British colonial rule and the complex forces it set in motion. Nevertheless, questions of material culture have been generally neglected by economic historians writing about East Africa. Here I will argue that focusing on changes in the...
PART III. LIFE HISTORIES: Changing Interpretations of Objects and Museums
11. THE PASSIVE OBJECT AND THE TRIBAL PARADIGM: Colonial Museography in French West Africa
The history of museography in French West Africa is in effect the history of IFAN, the Institut Francais d'Afrique Noire, which was created to "stimulate scientific research in every domain and to ensure liaison and coordination" between research centers throughout the French colonial territories (Anon. 1961:36). Founded in 1936 as the successor to the...
12. ART, POLITICS, AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF MEANING: Bamum Art in the Twentieth Century
The twentieth century witnessed some dramatic as well as subtle transformations in the meaning of African things, both in Africa and in the West.1 Since the meaning of these things has been culturally constructed, negotiated, and renegotiated in time and space, they were caught up in major paradigmatic shifts in their places of origin and in...
13. MAMI WATA SHRINES: Exotica and the Construction of Self
Devotees of an African water spirit known as Mami Wata take exotic objects, interpret them according to indigenous precepts, invest them with new meanings, and then represent them in inventive ways to serve their own aesthetic, devotional, and social needs. This essay explores a specific set of Mami Wata objects—Hindu chromoliths, various...
During the first half of the 1970s, ZaIre's urban society experienced a distinctive conjuncture of social and economic conditions that encouraged a brief, but intense, burst of popular creativity. One form of that creativity was urban painting, which appeared somewhat later than in West African cities, yet immediately established a political and social...