Our African Art comes from the following tribes: Igbo (Nigeria), Fang (Gabon), Bamileke (Cameroon/Ivory Coast), Punu (Angola), Bambara (Mali), Ashanti (Congo), Yoruba (Nigeria), Toko (Cameroon), Dari (Mali), Songye (Gabon), Chokwe (Angola), Baule (Cameroon/Ivory Coast), Kuba (Mali) and Senufo (Ivory Coast). We have a range of items including masks, carved figures, chairs, beds and utensils.
Africa is a land with many different tribes and many different customs. It consists of tiny villages and communities scattered amongst each other. Yet while these tribes all have different beliefs and ways of life, many believe in the wonderful and magical power of masks. African masks are the resting place for spirits of any kind. The appearance of the mask and the way it is made indicates what type of spirit resides in it. African masks are considered amongst the finest creations in the art world and are highly sought after by art collectors.
Masking ceremonies in Africa have great cultural and traditional significance. Latest developments and understanding of Aesthetic principles, religious and ceremonial values, have brought about a greater insight into the ideas and moral values that African artists express in their art. During celebrations, initiations, crop harvesting, war preparation, peace and trouble times, African masks are worn by a chosen or initiated dancer.
It can be worn in three different ways: vertically covering the face: as helmets, encasing the entire head, and as crest, resting upon the head, which was commonly covered by material as part of the disguise. African masks often represent a spirit and it is strongly believed that the spirit of the ancestors possesses the wearer. Ritual ceremonies generally depict deities, spirits of ancestors, mythological beings, good and or evil, the dead, animal spirits, and other beings believed to have power over humanity.
Masks of human ancestors or totem ancestors (beings or animals to which a clan or family traces its ancestry) are often objects of family pride; when they are regarded as the dwelling of the spirit they represent, the masks may be honored with ceremonies and gifts.
We currently stock and sell two main lines of African tribal jewellery, namely, Ethiopian silver and Taureg jewellery. African jewellery is steeped in age old customs and traditions. Ethiopian Silver The Ethiopians were the first Christians in Africa.
The Coptic Christians as they were known followed a mix of Christianity and Judaism. In fact most of their crucifix jewellery has the Star of David on it. They built underground Cathedrals and mined the silver themselves.
It is customary for both sexes to wear jewellery with the women’s jewellery often involving beads which have been rolled onto hundreds of strands of cotton. Taureg The Taureg are nomadic, desert dwelling people that trade between the Timbuktu and all across the Sahara. The men wear the jewellery are usually dressed in indigo blue whereas the women tend to dress in black.
Once a year a meeting is held where the men dress up and wear their jewellery and the women get to select their husbands.
The African Art Gallery deals mainly with beadwork from the Ndebele, Yoruba and Bamileke tribes. We also stock some of the Nigerians’ hand blown beads. They were the first people in the world to make their own beads this way. Ndebele They were originally part of the migration of Bantu cultural groups from Central and East Africa into southernmost Africa around 300-400 AD.
African Art Bead WorkThe Ndundza sect of the Ndebele who do most of the beadwork were defeated by the Boers in 1885. Ivor Powell (1995:108) wrote, “As the Ndebele are concerned, the demonstrable history of beadworking goes back only as far as the second half of the nineteenth century, when Europeans bearing beads of Czechoslovokian origin penetrated the hinterland and came into contact with people living in present day Transvaal.”
Up until the 1940s, Ndebele beadwork was done in predominately white seed beads with a few simple designs, usually in black, blue or red. Grasses were used for thread. After the war they started using more color in their striking designs. They matched the beadwork designs with those they painted on their houses, for which they are equally famous.
The Ndebele have beadwork sown onto a number of their tribal garments like their bridal veils, aprons and blankets that the wear over their shoulders. One of the most commonly seen is the nyoga. They are approximately 10 cm wide and about 1m long. They are based on the bridal veil worn by Ndebele women in the early twentieth century. Their aprons are made of leather and have the beadwork on them and can weigh up to 40 kilograms. Yoruba Yoruba-speaking peoples are among the most numerous in Africa with an estimated population of over 25 million. Today most Yoruba people live in southern Nigeria and some in the Republic of Benin. Veiled beaded crowns were probably first made in the early 19th century.
The bead embroiderer begins with the making of a wicker-work or cardboard frame. The embroiderer stretches wet starched unbleached muslin or stiffened cotton over the frame, providing the base for the embroidery, and allows the object to dry in the sun. The actual embroidering then follows, after a choice of surface patterns. The beaded crowns were worn on state occasions by the divine Yoruba kings. Beads were signs of wealth and status. Many of the Yoruba’s sacred objects were embellished with elaborate images and symbolic designs created by small glass beads. The beadwork of the Yoruba can be found in their chairs, belts and crowns. The belts are used for decorating meeting places and often are of crocodiles or lizards as these represent a long life.
The beaded crowns usually contain birds as these represent their ancestors. Bamileke (Cameroon) Most Bamileke beadwork relates to kings and important chiefs, who defined their power by the display of prestigious objects during important ceremonies. Stools and chairs were among the most important of these objects.
The designs included leopards, human figures and heads, spiders and lizards. The spider, often found abstracted in repeating patterns and is a symbol of wisdom. The lizard is a symbol of long life. The leopard is cunning, fast, mobile and guardedly aggressive, signifies the ability to survive and is the most important royal icon, often even the king’s alter ego. Glass beads embellish the most important royal stools.
They have a hierarchical system whereby the king has a special chair to sit in, his family and elders would have special stools and ordinary members of the tribe sit on the floor.