Daily objects and jewellery

Saturday 29 November 2008 by Florence

A great many African objects are embellished with abstract designs and with figurative carvings. In both cases this added ornamentation has more than merely decorative values. It is usually weighted with a very precise significance, its role being to give information about the owner’s social standing and to add to his prestige. However, it may also be used in a ceremonial context and has implicit symbolism.

The spoons are an example of wealth and prestige ; Africans generally eat with their right hand. The possession of a spoon is more than purely functional. The Baule from Ivory Coast use ceremonial spoons which have a carving of a woman’s head.

The Baule also possess weights which are used to weigh gold powder. They generally represent a stylised wild animal, more rarely a domestic animal.

Established in the centre of Ivory Coast, the Guro, as do the Baule, have an art of carving objects which are distinguished by extreme refinement. Their weaving-loom pulleys are surmounted by figures with the shape of a head or an animal of great elegance that embodies the protective spirits of labour and possesses an aesthetic value.

The use of jewellery is common as body ornamentation but also signals a community belonging and a social hierarchy. It isn’t necessary linked to a feminine idea but also allowed to be protected against dangers, spells and diseases. The bracelets from west Africa usually indicate that the owner is a woman with a high social position. The Baule’s pendants have the shape of a stylised human face and can be attached to a necklace and fixed in the hair. They are not portrait but more probably ancestors’ representations.

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