Collections, Addictions, History Past, and Present

Collecting African Tribal art is as interesting as it is addictive. Every piece can provide the start of another collection based on multiple factors, such as Tribe, society, function, symbol, location, material, and/or type. Every piece truly represents a lonely ‘soul’ crying out for company, but this argument holds little water with my inner financial advisor.

On NY marathon Sunday I happened to be in Harlem (by chance) near one of my favorite African stores, African Paradise. The store has many items, carvings, and african knick-knacks so there was a lot to look through. Reme, the owner is a wonderful fountain of knowledge who never fails to surprise, and I was also lucky to find the company of an old ‘dealer’ who shared his knowledge when we had different opinions. The reality is that you can only learn so much from books, and suffice to say I can now identify palm nuts (used in Ifa divination practice), and won’t easily confuse them with kola nuts (which can produce a euphoric, stimulating feeling).

There were many decent buys but I settled on a swarthy Yoruba rider to contrast the lone Yoruba (warrior) rider in my collection. At several recent auctions the Dogon, and Senufo riders grabbed most of the attention (and higher prices) due to their level of stylistic, and abstract distinction. The two carvings are shown below.

Yoruba horseman

[E1] Yoruba Horseman – Headdress

The carving styles are as different as Yin and Yang but they were both Yoruba, old, and ‘command their space’. In particular the new addition had a long curved extension of the hair which may be reminiscent of Eshu (the trickster of Yoruba theology).

Yoruba horseman

[E2] Yoruba Rider – probably Eshu related

What was amazing (and embarrassing) however was the response to my questions regarding the praise songs being played in the background. I was informed that the singer was none other than Ella Andall (of ‘Bring back the Power’ fame), a Trinidadian singer who was very popular for her renditions of Yoruba music. The CD in question was “Osun Bamise”, which I couldn’t find on Itunes, (but I later settled for downloading her Sango related praise songs).
The video attached shows a view of Yoruba (Oshun) related celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago.

To add insult to injury Reme recommended an old study – “Guinea’s Other Suns: The African Dynamic in Trinidad Culture”, by Maureen Warner-Lewis. I had no idea this text existed, and although pleasantly surprised I was again embarrassed to be twice schooled on aspects of my own heritage.
From a book review done by Monica Schuler, Social and Economic Studies, June 1992,

Guinea’s Other Suns is an engaging interdisciplinary work, important both as a reference tool for scholars and as a textbook for Caribbean and African diaspora studies.
Maureen Warner-Lewis, a Trinidadian sociolinguist at UWI, Mona, Jamaica, wrote these collected essays over a period of fifteen years. Their strength derives from her extensive field work among descendants of liberated Africans in Trinidad, first-hand knowledge of Yoruba language and society, and perceptive sociolinguistic analysis.

Needless to say my copy is now en route, but I fear the deficit of understanding my history, both past and present would have been better covered in my youth.

[E1],[E2] AplusAfricanArt Collection

Advertisements

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

Witchcraft, Happiness and Coincidence

Malleability is an inherent characteristic of all men… very necessary so that when we get all “bent out of shape” it’s easier for God to straighten us out.

Bambara, Chiwara - Shapeshifter Legend

The opening diatribe is an essential preamble to a blog on race and religion -which covers two of the three PC untouchables. 

 So at the heart of the matter – I happened to come across an interesting article yesterday and the following quotes piqued my interest –   “A new Gallup poll found that belief in magic is widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with over half of respondents saying they personally believe in witchcraft… Interestingly such belief was inversely linked to happiness.” [1]

One may view such articles as embarrassingly irresponsible , and funny, but at the same time I recognize that they represent a truth to certain people  and others may find them insensitive, demeaning, and misleading.

To begin with let’s start with the low hanging fruit. If one were to heavily weight the divorce rate as an inverse metric of happiness then the people in the US would far and away rank as the unhappiest in the world, (4.95 per 1000).[2] Conversely the Total Fertility Rates (TFR), in SS Africa are among the highest in the world[3], (go figure)!  Another point to consider is that maybe the causative factors of the alleged unhappiness in SS Africa have more to do with the poverty, infant mortality, and endemic malaria in the region[4], and less to do with their belief  in astrology and astronomy.

Kota Tribe - Abstract Ancestor Reliquary

On the issue of witchcraft – it has been a long recurring motif used to marginalize and degrade people based on differences in their religions. As part of the justification for the legalization of slavery, peoples of SS Africa were branded as pagan, cannibal, and inhuman.  History has shown the inverse to be closer to the truth. Many Tribal African religions involve ancestor worship (read as “Honoring the spirits of one’s ancestors”) and have a central Animist[5]  (a favorite of Aristotle) theme. The consistent irony is that the demonization of non-Christian religions is in itself contrary to the tenets of Christianity. Think about it. If people put on their “selective incident caps” and called a religion whose leaders engaged and enabled horrific acts against indigenous peoples (Fang, Mayan, Arawaks), and

Fang, Bieri

systematically seduced young males in their congregations, would one be straying far from the mark if they then linked that religion to devil–worship?

One can’t define people by their religion…. people take what they want from religion…. some take love, some hate, some indifference… if categorizing people is a high priority, one might as well define people by the reservoirs that supply their potable water needs.


[1] http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20100831/sc_livescience/beliefinwitchcraftwidespreadinafrica

[2] http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/peo_div_rat-people-divorce-rate

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_and_dependent_territories_by_fertility_rate#The_UN_TFR_Ranking

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sub-Saharan_Africa#Demographics

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animism

Trust, Tiger, Dogon Lion, & Chiwara

On 8/23/2010 Tiger Woods got his first divorce. While his mental fortitude is amazing his lack of a working moral compass resulted in a much publicized series of extra marital affairs and a dramatic failure in his ability to contend at PGA tourneys. This is admittedly a stretch of a segway into this blog (which deals mainly with African Tribal Art), but I believe that initiation periods for both young men and young women are an important option in developing the moral fabric of communities.

Bambara : Chiwara - Male and Female

Coincidentally  I finally paid off on the Bambara pieces shown. They represent a half man, half antelope being (shape shifter for TrueBlood fans), who first showed man how to farm and till the soil. What was most interesting was the payment plan. I paid over several months (lost the bill actually) , but I was taken at my word for the remaining price. It’s a fantastic feeling to be able to walk into a store in Manhattan and not only  to NOT be viewed with suspicion, but to be viewed as a trusted client. I had to admit that even intangible collateral benefits are appreciated. The Bambara culture uses age and caste cofraternities and the chi wara ton society passes on necessary farming skills.

Dogon : Lion Mask

The other piece I picked up was the Dogon Lion mask shown.  (See “The Five Things One Should know about the Dogon” blog). It had been advertised as a “Monkey mask”, which was actually quite a close guess. The patina was severely encrusted, which seems to be a characteristic of the wood used. The age cracks spread in a radial pattern from the top of the head as well, forming a very pleasing pattern. The seller was very interesting, a musician/historian type and I consider myself very lucky to come across this particular piece. The mask itself is used in a masquerade to lead the spirits of the dead away from the  village. This is “the closing of the mourning period”  and is handled by the “Awa” men’s association.

The Dogon also use societies to assist adolescents in bridging the gap to adulthood.

Male and female associations are entrusted with the initiations that take place by age group, tonno, corresponding to groups of newly circumcised or excised boys or girls. The members of an age group owe one another assistance until the day they die. Initiation of boys begins after their circumcision, with the teaching of the myths annotated by drawings and paintings. The young boy will learn the place of humans in nature, society, and the universe. Dogon mythology is so complex that a griot needs a week to recite it in its entirety.”[1]

In the absence of special Associations however the responsibility and onus lies with parents to fill the role or find the best proxy of a moral guide for their children. It is clear from this episode in TW’s life that the repercussions can be very detrimental … as my grandmother used to say, “Bend the tree, whilst it’s young”.


[1] http://www.jembetat.com/info.cfm?tribe=Dogon

Five Things one should know about the Dogon

  • Dominant Mask

The Dogon (popln. 400-800k) have many masks, but the most popular may be the Kanaga mask . This is one mask used in the traditional Dama ceremony, where the spirit of the dead is lead away from the village of the living through rituals and dances. The Dogon festivals are a popular Mali tourist destination, (see ‘Making a Kanaga mask’, by clicking the following link),

http://www.aplusafricanart.com/images/vid_Dogn_1.mp4

  • Country/Location

Central plateau region of Mali, south of theNiger bend near the city of Bandiagara in the Mopti region. (Wikipedia). The Bandiagara cliffs are a geographical marvel.

Old Tellem dwellings in background and new Dogon dwelling in foreground

  • Something Religous/Socially interesting

In the 1930s it was reported that the Dogon had advanced knowledge of the Sirius star system. The only problem was that ‘Sirius B’ is an invisible star and was only photographed in 1970. Dogon legend tells of a visit by an extraterrestrial race (the Nommos)

Dogon : Granary door lock.

  • Something Historical

Archaeological evidence suggests men have lived on the cliffs for over 2,000 years. Cultures whose relics have been dated are the pygmy Toloy people in the 3rd to 2nd centuries BC, and later, between the 11th and 15th centuries, the Tellem who lived in caves cut into the cliffs where they left many artifacts still unearthed by local people. They were pushed out around 1490 by the Dogons from the south-west (or south-east) perhaps fleeing slave raids by Songhai, Fulani and Mossi tribesmen. They came in four clans, the Dyon, Ono, Arou and Domno and spread over the plateau, the escarpment and the plains of the Séno-Gondo, living on top of or at the foot of the cliffs. They divided into small village communities, each member having a village surname shared by every inhabitant. Dogon buildings are a unique architecture of sculptural mud-built huts, altars, distinctive tapering granaries for each sex, each with a pointed cap of thatch, and meeting houses (Diakite, 1988; Hollyman & van Beek, 2001).

  • Something Culturally different

Although polygamy is practiced most men have one wife. Formally, wives only join their husband’s household after the birth of their first child. Women may leave their husbands early in their marriage, before the birth of their first child. After having children, divorce is a rare and serious matter, and it requires the participation of the whole village. (Wikipedia)

%d bloggers like this: