Notes on African Terracotta

These notes provide some historical perspective on the age of sub-saharan African terracotta, location of origin, cultural traditions, and pricing. While developing an African Tribal Art collection the main source for great older pieces are auctioned collections whose owners have developed their own specific sub-collections.

Nigerian-Civlisation-Ancient-01w

Map of the Ancient Civilizations of Nigeria

Source: Bernard de Grunne; The Birth of Art in Black Africa, 1998 pp.19.

Nok-01w

Nok head fragment.

Description : Jos Plateau region, Central Nigeria, West Africa, 500 BCE to 200 CE. Terracotta with heavy temper and remains of a finer burnished surface slip. 6-1/2″ H. Mounted on steel base. Classical Nok terracotta was first found in 1943 deep within a tin mine, near the present-day town of Nok, situated on the Jos Plateau in central Nigeria. The exact use of these portrait-like figures has yet to be discovered; none of these sculptures has ever been found in situ and any remains of ancient structures are practically non-existent today. However, it has been suggested the hollow terracotta figures, which this head came from, were ancestral effigies kept in shrine houses. This hollow terracotta example is made of a coarse, quartz-tempered clay. The features were hand-modeled and show a remarkable sophistication for such an early date in Iron Age, Sub-Saharan Africa. The style of Nok facial features shows similarity to more historic and contemporary bronze and wooden sculptures found among the Benin and Yoruba peoples of Nigeria. It has been said these ancient figures represent the beginnings of black African art.

Provenance: Eugene Behlen, once head of the dept. of exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, for 25 years. Acquired prior to 1987.

Estimate: $3,00-$4,000

Source : Artemis Gallery, 2014

Djenne-01w

Djenne Sculpture

Female Figure with Four Children

12th–17th century

Terracotta

35 x 21.5 x 18.5 cm (13 3/4 x 8 7/16 x 7 5/16 in.)

Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection

2006.51.116

Geography: 

Made in Inland Niger Delta, Sahel, Mali

Culture: 

Djenne

Classification: 

Sculpture

Status: 

On view (2015)

Bibliography: 

Warren M. Robbins and Nancy Ingram Nooter, African Art in American Collections (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), 67, fig. 41.

Susan Vogel and Jerry L. Thompson, Closeup: Lessons in the Art of Seeing African Sculpture from an American Collection and the Horstmann Collection, exh. cat. (New York: The Center for African Art, 1990), 128–29, fig. 55.

“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222.

Art for Yale: Collecting for a New Century, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2007), 178, pl. 162.

Frederick John Lamp, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 66, 134, ill.

Bernard de Grunne, Djenné-Jeno: 1000 Years of Terracotta Statuary in Mali (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2014), fig. 12.

Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

Dakakari-01w

Dakakari sculpture

Description : Dakakari culture, Nigeria, ca. 19th to 20th century CE. This large, hollow pottery figure shows a four-legged, horned animal (maybe a hartebeest?) with ears erect and a collar of some kind around its neck; it stands perched atop a bulbous rough sphere. Pottery of this kind was observed in Dakakari graveyards through the 1940s, but it recalls that of the Sokoto (among others), the ancestors of the Dakakari who lived 2000 years ago in the same part of Nigeria. Ethnographic accounts say that some graves had up to fifteen pieces of pottery like this placed around them; these were frequently broken and a description from a Dakakari graveyard in 1944 by a visiting Englishman laments the scattered pottery around the area — but this destruction was certainly intentional. Dakakari women were the potters and passed their skills down via their daughters.

Size: 7.5″ W x 26″ H (19 cm x 66 cm).

Provenance: Ex. Peter Arnovick Collection

Estimate: $700-$800

Source : Artemis Gallery, 2015

katsina-head-01w

Katsina Head

Description : Africa, Northeast Nigeria, Katsina, ca. 1st to 4th century CE. An ancient Katsina terracotta janus (double-headed) figure that once belonged to a statue that would have measured approximately 15 to 30 inches tall. Both sides of this piece depict a bearded male. Very few Katsina janus heads have been documented, according to scholar Claire Boullier. What’s more, the shared stylings of these heads demonstrates that they were actually created by a single sculptor which corroborates the progressive idea that Katsina sculptors possessed individualized styles almost 2000 years ago. This said, the sculptor still adhered to stylistic rules embraced by the Katsina culture such as the globular head form, the half-closed eyes, short nose, and pointed chin–all characteristics adhered to by most Katsina sculptors. Additional intriguing features include the perforated ear plugs, pronounced unibrow, parted lips with slightly jutting lower lip, and elaborately incised coiffure with two applied nodules over each forehead. The visages of this piece also show traits akin to Nok figural sculpture such as elongated heads, high smooth foreheads, and elaborate fanciful coiffures, as Katsina visual culture was most certainly influenced by the Classical Nok culture. Scholar Claire Boullier also points to similarities between Katsina and Sokoto sculptures that may prompt further exploration of the networks between these ancient African cultures. For discussions of a similar Katsina janus head see Claire Boullier, “African Terra Cottas. A Millinary Heritage, musee Barbier-Mueller and Somogy (eds), 2008: cat. 81 p. 190.

Size: 7.25″ L x 6.5″ W x 7.25″ H (18.4 cm x 16.5 cm x 18.4 cm)

Provenance: Ex Peter Arnovick Collection, Los Altos CA

Estimate: $700-$1,200

Source : Artemis Gallery, 2015

Tenenku-01w

Tenenku Sculpture

Description : Africa, Tenenku culture, Mali, ca. 13th to 16th centuries CE. This is a seated terracotta humanoid figure on a slight platform; the figure has elongated facial features, bracelets and anklets. It appears to be female but may also be interpreted as having both male and female characteristics. The Tenenku people, part of the Malian Empire, are known for their powerful anthropomorphic and zoomorphic sculptures. The Islamic Malian Empire lasted for four hundred years; the emperors traced their ancestry back to Bilal, Mohammed’s muezzin, who was thought to have journeyed to the west and settled the area of modern day Mali. The empire had consistent contact with the rest of the Islamic world, and history records visits by emperors to Mecca. Interestingly to us, the Malian Empire often absorbed smaller cultures, like the Tenenku and their rough contemporaries the Bura, without changing their artistic styles — so a piece like this one was made around the same time as the completely different looking Bura grave markers! Unfortunately at this time we do not know the function of these large, heavy pieces of pottery — but hopefully with more research, we will soon find out!

Size: 12″ L x 9.2″ W x 18.75″ H (30.5 cm x 23.4 cm x 47.6 cm)

Provenance: Ex-Dr. Peter Arnovick Collection

Estimate: $1,200-$1,500

Source : Artemis Gallery, 2015

Sokoto-01w

Sokoto Sculpture

Description : Sokoto, modern day Nigeria, ca. 500 BCE to 200 CE. This is a hollow terracotta shrine figure showing a full body, with the head larger proportionally than the rest and a cylindrical body; it is a male figure with arms and legs curled, wearing elaborately coiffed hair and a beard. Sokoto state in modern day northwest Nigeria is in the Niger River Valley, at the confluence of ancient trade routes and roughly contemporary with the Nok culture to its south. Very little is known of the ancient Sokoto culture; Bayard Rustin, who originally collected the Sokoto collection for the Yale University Art Gallery, recorded that most terracotta pieces like this one were found in large manmade mounds. Characteristic Sokoto figures are large, hollow, thin-walled, and low-fired human figures with heavy eyebrows and beards. They are made of a rough earthenware mixed with quartz and mica, surfaced with an ocher or mica schist slip (some of which has worn through on this figure). This slip would have been burnished with a smooth pebble.

Size: 5.75″ L x 8.75″ W x 20.2″ H (14.6 cm x 22.2 cm x 51.3 cm)

Provenance: Ex. Peter Arnovick Collection

Estimate: $800-$1,000

Source : Artemis Gallery, 2015

Koma-01w

Koma Sculpture

Description : West Africa, North Ghana, Koma, ca. 16th century CE. A female pottery figure elaborately detailed with traits characteristic of the Koma figurines including an elongated head with large coffee-bean shaped eyes, as well as other bold features, especially a pronounced chin, and stylized coiffure. She is further adorned with an applied necklace/collar, loin cloth, armlets, and bracelets. Striking too are her extremely long fingers, pronounced breasts, and “outie” navel. Koma figures were first discovered in the 1980s during archaeological fieldwork directed by Professor Ben Kankpeyeng (University of Ghana). Created by a previously little-understood people in what is known as Koma Land, the figures are often fragmentary. This example, however, is in excellent condition. Although there is a paucity of literature on how such figurines were used, scholars have suggested they were used in special ceremonies and rituals in which the spirits of the ancestors were invoked. This piece has a concave receptacle atop her head, and it is possible that liquid offerings or libations were poured into it. Some have associated this practice with healing rituals.

Size: 3.25″ W x 12″ H (8.3 cm x 30.5 cm)

Provenance: Ex Peter Arnovick Collection, Los Altos CA

Estimate: $500-$700

Source : Artemis Gallery, 2015

Igbo-01w

Igbo Terracotta

Description : West Africa, Niger River Delta, Igbo, ca. late 19th to early 20th century CE. A fascinating terracotta shrine effigy created by the Igbo peoples of the Niger River Delta, its unusual form elaborately adorned at the top end with two human visages with bold coffee bean shaped eyes and scarification marks upon their foreheads beneath what appear to be two beak-like forms, the opening between holding an old wick. Across the body of the vessel are two magnificently modeled salamanders and cross-hatched designs perhaps representing additional scarification marks.

Size: 3.5″ W x 7.875″ H (8.9 cm x 20 cm)

Provenance: Ex Peter Arnovick Collection, Los Altos CA

Estimate: $400-$600

Source : Artemis Gallery, 2015

Bura-01w

Bura Terracotta

Description : Africa, Bura /Asinda / Sikka area, present day Niger and Burkina Faso, ca. 1000 to 1500 CE. This is a thick-walled, smooth terracotta cylindrical figure with three nubbins representing sexual organs, a prominent nose, small mouth and eyes, and decorated hair. Unfortunately, little is known about the culture that lived in this area when this statue was made, because it was only recently discovered and there have been very few scientific excavations. What has been found are large cemeteries with impressive necropoli, which provide evidence that this was a wealthy, complex society. They buried their dead in conical urns, often topped with figures decorated with incised or stamped patterns like this one.

Size: 4.25″ L x 4.25″ W x 10.25″ H (10.8 cm x 10.8 cm x 26 cm)

Provenance: Ex-Dr. Peter Arnovick Collection, Los Altos, CA.

Estimate: $550-$650

Source : Artemis Gallery, 2015

Akan-01w

Akan Head.

Description : Ca. mid 19th century, Akan Tribe, head of female, used and placed at the grave site, measures 10″ tall.

Estimate: $500-$700

Source : Estates Unlimited, 2005

 

 

 

Advertisements

Ancestor Veneration, Worship, Reincarnation, and Idolatry

In the event of death or “passing on” (knock on wood (or paper proxy)), it seems reasonable that “spirits” would make every effort possible to help, and assist their loved ones left behind. Unfortunately experience has shown that this is less of an investment providing tangible economic results and more an exercise in developing individual spirituality. In collecting tribal african art one is sure to find the crossroads of ancestor based historical, and colonial religious values.  The main issues surrounding ancestor veneration stem from the fact that there are overlapping elements included in the concepts of “worship” and “idolatry”, and continued fallout based on historical characterizations, fueled by the unadulterated demonization (necromancy, zombies) of “other religions” by proponents of major religions.

Mahongwe Reliquary

Understanding Veneration

“I do not ask for their intervention … I ask and challenge myself that I can meet the standard or benchmark of their love and sacrifice, revealed to me in my own life.

I do not ask that they go before me in my journeys, yet I continue to learn from the lessons they taught me. Teachings I may never totally grasp, yet with different circumstances I continue to find similarities in strengths, and weaknesses. As time passes, we mature, and face similar challenges. I have the benefit of witnessing the fights and struggles of my ancestors, and believe I benefit from lessons they took to heart from earlier ancestors, who learned and shared from their elders. I believe in the knowledge that is unique to those raised in my family.

I may or may not build shrines to my ancestors, for I represent them physically, and to my loved ones I represent a portion of their spiritual essence as well.”

“African ancestral veneration is a religious piety that centres in honouring, loving and remembering the dead, while at the same time asking for their mediatory help. It is still widely and popularly practiced in modern African ethnic groups. In early Christianity, the same practice of religious piety was slowly developed and transformed into a new form that is called devotions to the angels and saints. In addition, African ancestral veneration is never a religion in itself but an aspect of a complex religious systems.”[1]

 

Ancestor veneration remains among many Africans, sometimes practiced alongside the later adopted religions of Christianity (as in Nigeria among the Igala) and Islam (among the different Mandé peoples and the Bamum) in much of the continent.[2]

Kota Reliquary

Idolatry

 

This seems like the easiest concept to refute since an idolater is defined as a “worshiper of idols”. The “burden of proof” in refuting the issue of worship however lies not in the base definition of worship, but rather in the typical understanding of what constitutes a reasonable act of worship. Worship by definition is “an expression of reverence”, or “extravagant respect or devotion”. Using this low standard would pretty much cover any acknowledgement of an intermediary figure to a supreme being. The representation of this intermediary would itself constitute an act of idolatry and by extension members of every “other religion” would be categorized as idolaters. It would seem therefore that the act of idolatry can be more clearly, simply reduced to the worship of a manmade image, carving, or representative structure, which is thought to possess Godlike attributes, and powers. In the Catholic church for example, statues representing saints serve many functional purposes, but the substance and roles of intermediaries are arguably similar to the roles of Orisha used in the Yoruba spiritual system. Few if any African Tribal religions therefore can be seriously considered based, or rooted in idolatry.

E1: Shango Dance Staff of a Standing Mother Carrying a Child. c. 1900.

African ancestral veneration is not idolatrous because of the following three major reasons.

 

1) African ancestral veneration does not consist of the worshiping of lifeless images or eidōlon or idols of emptiness. Instead, it primarily consists of venerating, honouring and loving human life – the spirits of the dead – that still survive after its corporal death and continue to live and engage an enduring communion with their living relatives. This belief is also very fundamental in the Christian faith (cf. the dogma of communion of Saints).

2) African ancestral veneration is not of worshipping demons hiding in images – statues, paintings or sculptures – as often claimed by the early fathers of the Church when talking about the danger of idolatry.  Instead, it is of veneration of the living spirits of the dead. They are not demons or evil spirits and are distinctly different from demons and evil spirits.  The carved images of ancestors – found in some traditional societies of Africa are not intended to be representational or abstract but conceptual and evocative. By means of stylized form and symbolic details, the ancestral carved image conveys the characteristics of the ancestors and  helps to make the spiritual reality of the ancestors present among the living. Thus, the carved ancestral icon enables the world of the living community and the world of the ancestors to come together for the benefit of human life.

3) African ancestral veneration is not of the worshipping of creatures in place of God, since the living souls of the dead are never viewed, approached or treated as God.[3]

 

Fang Tribe, Bieri sculpture

Aspects of Reincarnation

“it is in India and Greece that the doctrine of rebirth has been most elaborately developed. This belief is shared by all the other major religions of India, Hinduism, Buddhism, Gains, Sikhs and Sufis. [In ancient Greece, belief in rebirth formed part of the philosophical teachings of Pythagorean, Empodocles, Plato, and Plotinus. In modern times, religious teachers like Ramakrishna, Aurobindo or schools of thought, like Theosophy or various new “esoteric” “occultist” religious movements, like New Age or humanistic psychology: thinkers like C. G. Jung and Fritz Perls, hold onto belief in reincarnation.]”[4]

While several tribes believe in certain aspects of reincarnation there are various “flavors” and distinctions :

“According to the Chewa people in Kenya, for instance, ancestors after death reincarnate into their descendants’ offspring. It is generally believed that the Chewa ancestors come back to the living community on earth through the infant naming ceremony. Thus naming a child after a particular ancestor symbolizes the mystical union between the ancestor and the living community. According to the BaManianga people in Kongo, a living person consists of three elements: nitu – the physical, visible, mortal body;   kini – the invisible body,   a shade or reflection of nitu; and mwela – soul which has no form. A Manianga scholar, named Fukiau-kia-Bunseki, states that mwela separates itself from nitu and kini at death and looks for a chance to reincarnate into an about-to-born-baby. The BaManianga people (plural of Manianga), indeed, believe in reincarnation of mwela, yet some of them say that this reincarnation is true to the extent of physical resemblance.  Thus a son may look, smile, talk or walk like his father or grandfather without having his father’s mwela.  Since this kind of reincarnation has to do only with physical resemblance, it is traditionally believed that the spirit of a dead person may continue to reincarnate in several generations to come. Thus, the reincarnation of a mwela is not seen as an event that occurs just one time but is a continuing trend. In other words, it can be understood as the process of ceaseless duplication of the soul – mwela. The Akan people in Ghana also widely believe in the possibility of the reincarnation of the human soul. According to their traditional belief, all people, especially ancestors reincarnate themselves into the world – mostly into their own clan or descendants – in order to complete their purpose of being, called nkrabeaNkrabea, they say, is a reason and a purpose for every person to be born.  It is a duty and mission given by Nana Nyame – God – that must be accomplished in the mundane life of every person. Two of these missions are to live an ethical life and to produce offspring.  If the person fails to fulfil this mission, he/she must be reincarnated as many times as necessary in order to achieve what was mandated by Nana Nyame in the beginning.”[5]

African Tribes, Demographics, & The Slave Trade Map

Information on African Tribes – Demographics, Politics, Religion, History, Economy, Tribal Art, Neighboring Tribes, Culture, Language.

Aka Akan Akuapem Akye Anyi Aowin
Asante Babanki Baga Bali Bamana Bamileke
Bamum Bangubangu Bangwa Baule Beembe Bembe
Benin Kingdom Berber (Amazigh) Bete Bidyogo Biombo Bobo
Bushoong Bwa Cameroon Grasslands Chokwe Dan Dengese
Diomande Djenn� Dogon Ejagham Eket Ekoi
Esie Fang Fante Fon Frafra Fulani
Guro Hausa Hemba Holoholo Ibibio Idoma
Igala Igbira Igbo Igbo Ukwu Ijo Kabre
Karagwe Kassena Katana Kom Kongo Kota
Kuba Kurumba Kusu Kwahu Kwele Kwere
Laka Lega Lobi Luba Luchazi Luluwa
Lunda Luvale Lwalwa Maasai Makonde Mambila
Mangbetu Manja Marka Mbole Mende Mitsogo
Mossi Mumuye Namji (Dowayo) Ngbaka Nkanu Nok
Nuna Nunuma (Gurunsi) Ogoni Oron Owo Pende
Pokot Punu Salampasu San Sapi Senufo
Shambaa Shona Songo Songye Suku Swahili
Tabwa Tuareg Urhobo We Winiama Wodaabe
Wolof Woyo Wum Yaka Yaure Yombe
Yoruba Zaramo Zulu

 

Destinations of Slaves and their Origins

PROJECTED EXPORTS OF THAT PORTION OF THE FRENCH AND ENGLISH SLAVE TRADE HAVING IDENTIFIABLE REGION OF COAST ORIGIN IN AFRICA, 1711-1810. [1]
 
Senegambia (Senegal-Gambia) * 5.8%
Sierra Leone 3.4%
Windward Coast (Ivory Coast) * 12.1%
Gold Coast (Ghana) * 14.4%
Bight of Benin (Nigeria) * 14.5
Bight of Biafra (Nigeria) * 25.1%
Central and Southeast Africa (Cameroon-N. Angola) * 24.7%
SENEGAMBIA: Wolof, Mandingo, Malinke, Bambara, Papel, Limba, Bola, Balante, Serer, Fula, Tucolor
 
SIERRA LEONE: Temne, Mende, Kisi, Goree, Kru.
 
WINDWARD COAST (including Liberia): Baoule, Vai, De, Gola (Gullah), Bassa, Grebo.
 
GOLD COAST: Ewe, Ga, Fante, Ashante, Twi, Brong
 
BIGHT OF BENIN & BIGHT OF BIAFRA combined: Yoruba, Nupe, Benin, Dahomean (Fon), Edo-Bini, Allada, Efik, Lbibio, Ljaw, Lbani, Lgbo (Calabar)
 
CENTRAL & SOUTHEAST AFRICA: BaKongo, MaLimbo, Ndungo, BaMbo, BaLimbe, BaDongo, Luba, Loanga, Ovimbundu, Cabinda, Pembe, Imbangala, Mbundu, BaNdulunda
 
Other possible groups that maybe should be included as a “Ancestral group” of African Americans:
 
Fulani, Tuareg, Dialonke, Massina, Dogon, Songhay, Jekri, Jukun, Domaa, Tallensi, Mossi, Nzima, Akwamu, Egba, Fang, and Ge.

References

[1] http://wysinger.homestead.com/mapofafricadiaspora.html

%d bloggers like this: