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Wooden male and female figures

Woman

  • Man

    Man

 

Height: 42.000 cm (woman)
Width: 11.000 cm (woman)
Depth: 8.000 cm (woman)
Height: 42.000 cm (woman)
Width: 11.000 cm (woman)
Depth: 8.000 cm (woman)

AOA 1979 Af.1.4623-4

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Views from Africa

Wooden male and female figures


This pair of figures, one male and one female, are carved in the style used by the central Nyamwezi people. The Nyamwezi are a large, Bantu-speaking ethnic group who live primarily in Tanzania, south of Lake Victoria. The figures have long, slender limbs and serene facial expressions and their clothing and hairstyles can be dated to the 1940s or 50s. The source of inspiration for their creation is unknown: were they carved for sale to Europeans or for the local market? Are there elements of parody in the stylized figures, or are they simply city-dwelling Africans in European dress?

In the nineteenth century the Nyamwezi acted as middlemen in the lucrative ivory and slave trade that ran between the Congo (modern Democratic Republic of Congo) and the Swahili coastal towns in Tanzania and on Zanzibar Island. These trade routes generated a highly mobile population of craftsmen, traders, slaves and intermediaries. As a result, the Nyamwezi settled in a wide range of communities in south-eastern Congo, Zambia and Ukerewe Island in Lake Victoria.

Unlike many other East African groups the Nyamwezi had an already established tradition of figurative carving, most notably of ancestor figures, which they continued to pursue in their new environments. It is possible that the rich variety of influences that the Nyamwezi experienced as intermediaries along the trade routes provided the stimulation for these figures.

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Archaeology in Southern Africa, £5.00

Archaeology in Southern Africa, £5.00