25 August, 2017
A room with beautiful furnishings and an abundance of unusual curiosities on display is a lovely sight to behold, but can it be more? We believe, yes, so much more. Chosen carefully, every artefact has a story to tell; every piece of artwork a history and meaning; every functional item a birthplace and a lifetime of secrets hidden in its makeup. These are the pieces that make up the collections of those who are explorers at heart, who carry adventure in their souls. These are the objects that awaken curiosity.
Curiosity: “a strong desire to know or learn something”. It is that most valuable quality which causes us to ask what and why? Why does the regal woman in this photograph wear leaf shapes in her ears? The answer, says photographer David Ballam (who shot the mesmerizing series of Turkana portraits) is that leaf-shaped earrings are typically worn by married Turkana women. The ‘leaves’ are pierced through the upper cartilage (helix) of the ear. Why does she wear keys around her neck? Because, says Sarah Williams in An ‘archae-logy’ of Turkana beads, sugar was regularly locked inside a sanduka (a metal box introduced by Somalian traders). The keys to the box were given to the women to wear, and were attached to their neck beads, signalling wealth and beauty.
What are these figurines and where do they come from – dolls made with wood, and beads and delicate cowrie shells? These are Namji dolls, from Cameroon. They are carried as good luck during the hunt and are said to promote fertility, a highly valued concept in this society for being the essence of life. Fertility dolls, used for play and magic, have various purposes and multiple meanings. They are used as toys, but with a special significance; as charms to enhance women's childbearing ability; as sympathetic medicine to aid barren women and impotent men. Sculptors freely interpret the characteristics of the dolls, such that Namji dolls are considered among the finest and most beautiful dolls of Africa.
And does this clay pot have a story to tell? Of course. It’s a Zulu beer vessel, known as ukhamba. These rimless pots are made from fine brown or black clay by women throughout the KwaZulu-Natal region. Patterns of raised bumps known as amasumpa are commonly used as a decorative technique. The patterns formed by these decorations are known by different names, depending on how they are grouped. After a second baking or firing in a dry grass fire, the surface of the pot is rubbed with animal fat or a wax polish and a polishing pebble. Some pots have a glossy black finish that is achieved by combining sifted soot and a special leaf ash in the polish. The pots are mainly used for serving and drinking a sorghum-based beer that is brewed in larger, comparatively roughly made clay vessels. The drinking of this beer is associated with the living and also with the dead, to whom it is offered whenever ritual dictates that the ancestors must be remembered.
And so it goes. Each of these items featured is one of our top sellers at Amatuli. Because these are the artefacts that tell a story. After all, without any knowledge of the rich and meaningful histories that each and every artefact has to tell, our world closes in around us. Those who share our passion search out such treasures – treasures with a beautiful story to tell. The journey begins like this: when we awaken curiosity.