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Ivory salt cellar with boat
16th century AD
This salt cellar is made of ivory and shows Europeans with long hair, beards and hooked noses. Objects of this type were perhaps the first known examples of 'tourist art' from Africa: luxury items made as souvenirs for foreigners.
Africans along the continent's west coast first encountered Portuguese traders in the mid-fifteenth century. This marked the beginning of regular contact and trade, and the principal interest of the Europeans was the purchase of carved ivory items. Although ivory carvings were traditionally produced only for the royal court in the city of Benin, the ruling Oba (king) allowed decorated salt cellars, horns, spoons and forks to be made for European visitors.