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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Michael Backman Ltd - Home Pair of Cone Shell Ear Ornaments
New Guinea
collected in 1859
maximum diameter of each: 7cmThis pair of ear ornaments is of thin discs of shell. The edges are drilled with small holes, and each has a larger central hole with a narrow crevice to the outer 
edge. One of the ornaments has an old collection label affixed which has a handwritten note to the effect that the ornaments are earrings worn by the natives 
of New Guinea and that they were collected in 1859. The ornaments are sewn onto an old collection card which has a separate handwritten note which says: 
'Earrings, made from the top of cone shells. Worn by natives of South Africa [sic]. Esteemed by them as charms. Rare'.

Similar shell discs were used as currency which was transported attached to string bags.  Peltier & Morin (2007, p. 300) reproduces an illustration of a pair of 
Arapesh women carrying ceremonial bags decorated with a variety of shell ornaments, some of which are of similar form to the examples here.

Related cone shell ear ornaments also were worn in the Solomon Islands (see Hurst, 1996, p. 56)

The ornaments here were acquired from the UK and are from an old ethnographic collection assembled during the Victorian era.

The dating of this pair is important. There is little doubt that the attached note saying that the ornaments were collected in 1859 is contemporaneous with the 
pair (or near to it), and yet without this dating, a much later dating - perhaps (say) a hundred years later - might have been given to the pair.
Daalder, T., 
Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment: Australia, Oceania, Asia, Africa, Ethnic Art Press/Macmillan, 2009.
Hurst, N.,
 Power and Prestige: The Arts of Island Melanesia and the Polynesian Outliers, Hurst Gallery, 1996.
Peltier, P. & F. Morin, 
Shadows of New Guinea: Art from the Great Island of Oceania in the Barbier-Mueller Collections, Somogy, 2007.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Winter Additions. Fine Bambara Fertility Fetish.

Height - 53 cm
W        - 9   cm
Price on application - contact
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The Bamana (Bambara) Tribe
The Bamana are one of the most studied groups of West Africa. They say that they are of Mandinke origin and have tightly interwoven themselves with their neighbors through marriage, commercial trade, political alliances, and religion. The triangle of the Bamana region, divided in two parts by the Niger River, constitutes the greater part of the western and southern Mali of today. The dry savanna permits no more than a subsistence economy, and the soil produces, with some difficulty, millet, rice, and beans.Arabic texts of the ninth century give the history of cities such as Djenne and Timbuktu, whose inhabitants they call "Bambara." At the beginning of the twentieth century, they were colonized by the French.
Numbering 1.9 million, the Bamana are distributed over regions that comprise villages placed under the authority of one family, whose head, the fama, representing the founder, enjoys considerable powers. He also plays a primary role in the agrarian rituals.
In 1940, archeologists discovered the traces of an earlier kingdom and found terra-cotta figures that were dated through thermoluminescent tests to around the year 1000. These terra-cottas are proof of a long tradition of sculpture; the first wood figures date back to the fourteenth century.
The Bamana believe in the existence of spiritual forces which are activated by individuals, who are capable of creating an atmosphere of harmony, prosperity, and well-being. The Bamana have a very complex cosmology. Initiation takes place within the men's associations, which are more or less active depending on the village: the n'tomo, the komo that directs the life of the community; the nama, the komo that regulates morality violations; and the koré and the tyi wara, which organize young farmers. These societies, run by ancestors, act in political, economic, and medical capacity and exercise social control over the community.
In the south of the Bamana region, the dyo association welcomes men and women, but initiation is shorter and less difficult for the latter; initiation for men lasts for seven years and ends with their symbolic death and their rebirth. It terminates in great masked feasts in which the newly initiated participate, going from village to village. The initiates are divided into groups, and the sons of blacksmiths dance in the presence of statues called nyeleni - upright female figures with wide, flat shoulders, standing on small circular -bases. Their cone-shaped breasts project frontally. (K. Ezra, 1986) During the feasts of dyo and the ritual of the gwan, linked to fertility, seated figures are exhibited. Statues of a woman with a child appeared on the market in the 1950s. Kept on the shrines throughout the year, the figures were cleaned, oiled, decorated with clothing and beads, and placed in groups of from two to five pieces. Naturalistic in style, they are of larger dimensions than the majority of Bamana sculpture. The bodies are massive, sculpted in the round, with wide shoulders, the features of the face treated with a sweetness and care for detail. In the same style, representations of musicians and of lance-carrying warriors are found. These statues illustrate the qualities that the future initiates must have: beauty, knowledge, and power. Each figure is "explained" to the initiates and conveys the vital force that contributes to the cohesion of the village. (K. Ezra)
During the agrarian feasts of the tyi wara association, farmers wear headdresses in the shape of an antelope, which represents the mythical character who taught them how to cultivate the land. In order to obtain an abundant harvest, they dance at the time of planting and harvesting by imitating the steps of the antelope. The horn is supposed to be the symbol of the millet's growth.
The komo association, run by the blacksmiths, welcomes all male adolescents after their circumcision. It has a mask characterized by a huge mouth and antelope horns to which various elements are added, such as animal jaws. The mask, worn only by blacksmiths, "dances" in front of the members of the komo. Its disquieting appearance evokes the bush, and its dangers and its force are such, they say, that it can kill an adversary.
Each association has its own masks, headdress crests, and marionettes. These masks appear at times of celebration: at weddings or inaugurations of a market or under other pretexts. With the help of music, poetry, and history as told by the griots, these celebrations are both a diversion and a reminder of the social values of the Bamana. For a young boy, dancing at the time of a celebration is an opportunity to show his personal abilities and to acquire prestige. But he will first have to prove his skill and obtain authorization from the elders to appear in public, which may subsequently be refused if his first performance is judged to be mediocre.
The Bamana sculpt lovely figures, less naturalistic than their maternity figures-statuettes representing twins, and doorlocks. Honored and kept in the village sanctuary or at its outskirts, the boli is an object whose magic ingredients are hidden in the center of a mixture of clay, wood, tree bark, roots, horn, jawbones, or precious metals. It may have human strength or assume the strength of a hippopotamus. It is handled only by the chief or a religious dignitary; it is "nourished" on blood and millet beer poured into a tube that goes all the way through it. (S. Brett-Smith.)
The complex symbolic system of the Bamana is reflected in its abundant artistic output, linked to ritual functions and with varying aesthetic qualities.
S. Brett-Smith, "The Poisonous Child," in RES, no. 6, 1983. G. Dieterlen, Essai sur la Religion Bambara (Paris: Presses Universitaires Fran@aises, 1951). K. Ezra,A,HumanldealinAfrica,nArt:BamanaFig,urativeSculpture(Washington,D.C.: National Museum of African Art, 1986). R. Goldwater, Bambara Sculpture from the Western Sudan (New York: The Museum of Primitive Art, 1960). P. J. Imperato, Buffoom, Queens, and Wooden Horsemen (New York: Kilima House Publishers, 1983). P. McNaughton, Secret Sculptures of Komo: Art and Power in Bamana Initiation Associations (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, Working Papers in the Traditional Arts, no. 4).

Winter Offerings - DRC Large Songye Mask.

Height - 65cm
W - 25 cm
Price on Application - contact -
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SONGYE - Democratic Republic of Congo

The Songye migrated from the Sheba area to the southern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (ex. Zaire), on the banks of the Lualaba River, settling in the savannah and forested plateau.  The Songye follow a patriarchal society and are economically sustained by farming.  A central chief known as Yakitenge governs them, who because of his status as chief has some limitations posed on him, he cannot show grief, he can’t drink in public and can’t shake hands with men.

Traditionally, the Songye relied on farming and hunting for subsistence.  Fishing was not practiced unless it was during times of dire need, as rivers were associated with the spirits of deceased chiefs whose burial ceremonies often took place in the rivers.  The pottery and weaving made by the Songye women and metal work by the men were regularly traded with neighboring peoples.

The Songye Bwadi Ba Kifwebe society enjoys extreme respect among its people. This society includes individuals with supernatural power (basha masende) who are believed to be able to manipulate spirits by means of magical techniques.  The Kifwebe masqueraders wear the mask with a woven costume and a long raffia beard.  The masks with a central crest are male and the size of the mask determines the magical power of the mask. Danced at initiation, circumcision and funeral ceremonies, the male mask is accompanied by a female mask that has no crest.  The male masquerader dances in an aggressive, uncontrolled manner to promote social conformity, whereas the ‘female’ masquerader would dance in a gentler and controlled motion thought to be associated with reproduction ceremonies.  These masks are also seen carved into the center of shields.

The Songye are also well  known for their power figures, nkisi, which act as ediating vessels containing magical substances that serve as spirit protectors against evil forces.  They are to restore and maintain the well being of owners and possess both benevolent and malevolent functions to ensure balance and continuity within the group.  Construction of a nkisi is the responsibility of a ritual expert, who would instruct the carver as to size and wood to be used. They are usually male, carved standing on a circular base, their hands resting on their abdomen.  Characteristically they have large heads, square chins, open mouths and a triangular nose. Metal is often incorporated in the face of the figure, and a cavity is formed in the abdomen and the head where magical substances, bashimba,  are placed to enhance the magical power of thenkisi, the head cavity is normally sealed off by the insertion of a horn, which protrudes up. The larger figures are kept in special huts to protect the entire village, while the smaller ones are to protect individuals, against death and disease. 

The Songye also carved an array of daily use objects such as stools, headrests, bracelets and axes.