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Other organic materials

African jewellery has, since ancient times been made out of organic materials such as: leather, porcupine quilts, bone, animal teeth and hair, seeds, nuts, shells, eggshell, wood, ivory and amber. Also glass, clay, ceramics, stone and metal have been attractive materials for jewellery making.

In different regions, jewellery production is characterized by the kinds of materials that have been available, although cultural concepts of beauty, power and magic have played their roles. Trade, as well as the inter-regional and cross-cultural exchange of materials and designs, has obviously inspired manufacturing and aesthetics. Shape, colours and designs may be similar, while, at the same time, characterized by distinct features, bearing witness to a local mooring.

Jewellery may be worn as amulets for protection, adding strength or capabilities to the one wearing them. Certain kinds of jewellery indicate particular relationships between persons and spiritual powers. Through jewellery, adornment, and the process of manufacturing, relationships between human as well as other beings in this world and beyond are initiated, reproduced and redefined.

Jewellery is the most ancient form of decorative art. Remains of jewellery are found during archaeological excavations on the African continent. Pierced beads made out of snails shells have been found in Blombos, South Africa. These beads date back 75 000 years. In Enkapune Ya Muto in The Rift Valley, Kenya, pierced parts of ostrich eggshells are found which date back 40 000 years.

Cowrie shells, iron, leather, copper; Breast ornament; Kuku, Sudan, Uganda; 1902; UEM11123
Wood, copper, snake skin; Necklace; Congo; 1906; UEM14108
Cowrie shells, leather; Necklace; Congo; 1908; UEM17624
Wood, leather; Wooden ring covered in leather.; Worn around the waist by young girls.; Uganda; 1908; UEM17716
Cowrie shells and planfibre; Trade goods; Congo; 1908; UEM17724
Cowrie shells, cottontread; Necklace; Abyssinia / Ethiopia; 1935; UEM36193
Leather, metal, cotton, lions claw; Amulet, necklace; Ethiopia; 1949; UEM40564
Polished stone; Hairpin; Kaari. Used by married women to collect braded hair on the forhead.; Mainé-Soroa, Niger. Manga people; 1971; UEM43911
Leather, brass, textile; Amulet, necklace. Each leather pouch contains a small paper with prayers.; Amhara, Ethiopia; 1971; UEM44399
Cotton, wood, glass; Necklace / bracelet; Unknown; Unknown; UEM45612
Plantfibre and glass; Bracelet; Congo; 1892; UEM8465
Published Dec. 15, 2020 8:54 AM - Last modified Dec. 15, 2020 8:54 AM