Meaning of AFRICAN ARTSMUSIC in English

AFRICAN ARTSMUSIC

Musical structure In Africa it is unrealistic to separate music from dance or from bodily movement. In Europe the body tends to be used as a single block, while in African and Afro-American dance it seems to be "polycentric," that is, split into several independent body areas or "centres." Likewise, the playing of African musical instruments involves a whole combination of body movements. This is one reason African music is less amenable to notation than Western music; for analytical purposes, sound filming, rather than just sound recording, is essential. In Africa music making is very often collective, involving organized collaboration in which performers contribute not identical, but complementary, constituents. Besides polyrhythmic and polymetric procedures, melodic phrases are frequently offset against one another, with different starting and ending points, either in an antiphonal "call-and-response" relationship or in an overlapping relationship that yields polyphony. In addition, melodic phrasing and instrumental accompaniment may be deliberately out of step-a displacement technique described in 1952 by American anthropologist Richard Waterman as "offbeat phrasing of melodic accents." Complementary participation is also evident in drumming and in flute or trumpet ensembles where each player in turn sounds a different, single note. The Ghanaian musicologist J.H. Kwabena Nketia pointed out the function of this African form of hocket technique in "achieving overall effects of continuity, for building up interlocking, and sometimes complex structures, out of relatively simple elements." Timing In a great many African music and dance cultures, movement organization rigidly follows certain principles of timing that cannot be equated with Western metrical systems. African systems of timing are generally based on at least four fundamental concepts: (1) There is an overall presence of a mental background pulsation, or "metronome sense," consisting of equally spaced pulse units continuing ad infinitum and often at great speed. These so-called elementary pulses serve as a basic orientation screen; they are two or three times faster than the beat rate, or gross pulse. (2) Musical form is organized so that recurring patterns and themes are timed against a regular number of elementary pulses-usually 8, 12, 16, 24, or their multiples (more rarely, 9, 18, or 27). The recurring sequences are called strophes, or cycles; the number of pulses they contain are referred to as their form numbers, or cycle numbers. (3) Such strophes or cycles are often divisible in more than one way, allowing simultaneous combinations of contradictory metrical units. For example, 12 pulses-12 is the most important form number in African music-can be divided by 2, 3, 4, and 6. (4) Patterns with the same form number can be shifted out of phase, so that their starting points and main accents do not coincide, resulting in "cross rhythms." In some cases they cross in such a way that they interlock, or fall between one another, with no two notes ever sounding together. Music Musical instruments Outsiders have often overlooked the enormous variety of musical instruments in Africa in the mistaken belief that Africans play only drums. Yet even Hanno the Carthaginian, who recorded a brief visit to the west coast of Africa in the 5th century BC during a naval expedition, noted wind instruments as well as percussion. Of an island within the gulf of "Hesperon Keras" he wrote: By day we saw nothing but woods, but by night we saw many fires burning, and heard the sound of flutes and cymbals, and the beating of drums, and an immense shouting. Fear therefore seized on us, and the soothsayers bid us quit the island. Ensembles fitting this description may be found over a wide area of West Africa today, serving as accompaniment to dancing and merrymaking or as an essential ingredient of ceremonial or cultic activities. Besides the percussion and wind instruments noted by Hanno, there are also stringed instruments of many kinds, ranging from the simple mouth bow to more complex varieties of zithers, harps, lutes, and lyres. While the aggregate of instrumental resources distributed over the continent is vast, each society tends to specialize in a limited assortment, and there is a wide variety from region to region. In some areas interesting new hybrid varieties emerged in the 20th century in response to outside influence, notably the endingidi spike fiddle of Uganda, malipenga gourd kazoos of Tanzania and Malawi, and chordophones such as the ramkie and segankuru of South Africa. Musical instruments in African societies serve a variety of roles. Some instruments may be confined to religious or cultic rituals or to social occasions. Among some peoples there may also be restrictions as to the age, sex, or social status of the player. Among the Xhosa, for example, only girls play the imported Jew's harp, a modern replacement for the traditional mouth bow, which was formerly their prerogative. Besides recreational applications, or as accompaniment for dancing, instruments may serve many other roles. In Lesotho it is claimed that cattle graze more contentedly when entertained by the sound of the lesiba mouth bow. Among the Shona in Zimbabwe, a local form of lamellaphone known as likembe dza vadzimu serves in rituals of ancestor worship, while in the kingdom of Buganda the royal drums formerly held higher status than the king. In West and Central Africa, pressure drums may serve for the transmission of messages or, together with trumpets, for the declamation of praises, by mimicking the tonal and rhythmic patterns of speech. All sub-Saharan languages (except Swahili) are "tone languages," in the sense that the meaning of words depends on the tone or pitch in which they are said. Consequently, instrumental music-or even natural sounds such as birdsong-often imitates or suggests meaningful phrases of the spoken language. Sometimes this is intentional and sometimes it is merely fortuitous, but in either case it escapes the notice of uninformed outsiders. Certain instruments are used solely for song accompaniment. Here the interplay between voice and instrument is often intricate and delicately balanced. Zulu solo songs, in earlier times, were often self-accompanied on the ugubhu gourd bow. In such bow songs, while the instrumental melody was influenced by the tone requirements of the song's lyrics, the tuning of the bow determined the vocal scale to which the singer conformed. Today, when Zulus use the modern Western guitar, precisely the same antiphonal relationship and mutual interdependence between voice and instrument is maintained. Of the principal instruments found in sub-Saharan Africa, the following is a brief sampling. Idiophones In this class the substance of the instrument itself, owing to its solidity and elasticity, yields sound without requiring strings or stretched membranes. Some are sounded by striking, others by shaking, scraping, plucking, or friction. Idiophones are numerous and widely distributed throughout the continent. On musical grounds they may be divided into instruments used mainly for rhythm and several varieties tuned and used melodically. Music The term African music refers to the musical practices of all indigenous peoples of Africa, including the Berber in the Sahara and the San (Bushmen) and Khoikhoin (Hottentot) in southern Africa. Not included is the music of European settler communities or that of Arab North Africa. History It is widely acknowledged that African music has undergone frequent and decisive changes throughout the centuries. What is termed traditional music today is probably very different from African music in former times. Nor has African music in the past been rigidly linked to specific ethnic groups. The individual musician, his style and creativity, have always played an important role. The material sources for the study of African music history include archaeological and other objects; pictorial sources (rock paintings, petroglyphs, book illustrations, drawings, paintings); oral historical sources; written sources (travelers' accounts, field notes, inscriptions in Arabic and in African and European languages); musical notations; sound recordings; photographs and motion pictures; and videotape. In ancient times the musical cultures of sub-Saharan Africa extended into North Africa. Between c. 8000 and 3000 BC, climatic changes in the Sahara, with a marked wet trend, extended the flora and fauna of the savanna into the southern Sahara and its central highlands. During this period human occupation of the Sahara greatly increased, and along rivers and small lakes Neolithic, or New Stone Age, cultures with a so-called aquatic life-style extended from the western Sahara into the Nile River valley region. The aquatic cultures began to break up gradually between 5000 and 3000 BC, once the peak of the wet period had passed. The wet climate became more and more restricted to shrunken lakes and rivers and, to a greater extent, to the region of the upper Nile. Today remnants survive perhaps in the Lake Chad area and in the Nile swamps. Rock painting of a dance performance, Tassili-n-Ajjer, Alg., attributed to the Saharan period of 1/4 The cultures of the "Green Sahara" left behind a vast gallery of iconographic documents in the form of rock paintings, among which are some of the earliest internal sources on African music. One is a vivid dance scene discovered in 1956 by the French ethnologist Henri Lhote in the Tassili-n-Ajjer plateau of Algeria. Attributed on stylistic grounds to the Saharan period of the Neolithic hunters (c. 6000-4000 BC), this painting is probably one of the oldest extant testimonies to music and dance in Africa (see photograph). The body adornment and movement style are reminiscent of dance styles still found in many African societies. Some of the earliest sources on African music are archaeological. Although musical instruments made of vegetable materials have not survived in the deposits of sub-Saharan climatic zones, archaeological source material on Nigerian music has been supplied by the representations of musical instruments on stone or terra-cotta from Ife, Yorubaland. These representations show considerable agreement with traditional accounts of their origins. From the 10th to the 14th century AD, Igbn drums (a set of footed cylindrical drums) seem to have been used. The dndn pressure drum, now associated with Yoruba culture and known in a broad belt across the savanna region, may have been introduced around the 15th century, since it appears in plaques made during that period in the Kingdom of Benin. The Yoruba dndn drums are now used as "talking drums" in accompaniment to oriki (praise name) poetry (see above Literature and theatre: Oral traditions). The double iron clapperless bell seems to have preceded the talking drum. Pellet bells and tubular bells with clappers were known by the 15th century. Other archaeological finds relating to music include iron bells excavated in the Katanga (Shaba) region of Congo (Kinshasa) and at several sites in Zimbabwe. Benin bronze plaques represent a further, almost inexhaustible source for music history, since musical instruments-such as horns, bells, drums, and even bow lutes-are often depicted on them in ceremonial contexts. Among the most important written sources (though superficial analytically) are accounts from the 14th-century Arab travelers Ibn Battutah and Ibn Khaldun and from the European navigators and explorers Vasco da Gama, Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, Joo dos Santos, Franois Froger, and Peter Kolbe. Early attempts at notating African music were made by T.E. Bowdich (1819) for Ghana, Karl Mauch (1872) for Zimbabwe, and Brito Capelo and Roberto Ivens (1882) for inner Angola. Major and minor migrations of African peoples brought musical styles and instruments to new areas. The single and double iron bells, which probably originated in Kwa-speaking West Africa, spread to western Central Africa with Iron Age Bantu-speaking peoples, and from there to Zimbabwe and the Zambezi River valley. Earlier migrating groups moving eastward from eastern Nigeria and central Cameroon to the East African lakes did not know the iron bells or the time-line patterns associated with them. Consequently, both traits were absent in East African music until the recent introduction of the time-line patterns of Congolese electric guitar-based music. With the intensifying ivory and slave trades during the 19th century, the zeze (or sese) flatbar zither, a stringed instrument long known along the East African coast, spread into the interior to Zambia, the eastern half of Congo (Kinshasa), and Malawi. Beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries, lamellaphones with iron keys, a prominent feature of ancient Zimbabwe and neighbouring kingdoms and chieftainships, spread from the Zambezi valley northward to the kingdoms of Kazembe and Lunda and to the Katangan and Angolan cultures. In the course of migration, some models became smaller, because they were used as travel instruments; others were modified and gave rise to the numerous types present in western Central Africa during the first half of the 20th century. (For a description of the lamellaphone, see below Musical instruments: Idiophones.) A small box-resonated lamellaphone, called the likembe in Congo, traveled in the other direction, from the west to the east, northeast, and southeast. It was invented in the lower Congo region probably not earlier than the mid-19th century, and thereafter it spread upriver with Lingala-speaking porters and colonial servants to the northern Bantu borderland. The Azande, Ngbandi, and Baya, who speak Adamawa-Eastern languages, adopted the likembe. Stylistic traits of likembe music linking it to its region of origin were only gradually modified in the new areas to suit local styles. At the beginning of the 20th century the likembe distribution area extended farther to the northeast into Uganda, where the Nilotic Alur, Acholi, and Lango adopted it. It was later introduced to southern Uganda by northern Ugandan workers; there the Bantu-speaking Soga and Gwere adopted it and began to construct models entirely from metal, even with a metal resonator. The likembe also spread southward from the lower Congo, penetrating Angola from the Kasai region of Congo and being adopted as recently as the 1950s by the Khoisan-speaking !Kung of Kwando Kubango province in southeastern Angola. As a result of migrations and the exchange of musical fashions both within Africa and with foreign cultures, specific traits of African music often show a puzzling distribution. Extremely distant areas in Africa may have similar, even identical, traits, while adjacent areas may have quite different styles. The multipart singing style in triads within an equiheptatonic tone system of the Baule of Cte d'Ivoire is so close, if not identical, to the part singing style of Ngangela-, Chokwe-, and Luvale-speaking peoples in eastern Angola that the similarity is immediately recognized by informants from both cultures. Why this is so is a riddle. The two areas are separated by several countries with different approaches to multipart singing. Another historical riddle is the presence of practically identical xylophone playing styles and instruments among Makonde- and Makua-speaking peoples of northern Mozambique and among certain peoples of Cte d'Ivoire and Liberia, notably the Baule and the Kru. The jomolo of the Baule and the log xylophones of northern Mozambique-for example, the dimbila of the Makonde or the mangwilo of the Shirima-are virtually identical instruments. Diffusionist theories of various kinds have been offered to resolve such riddles. The English ethnomusicologist A.M. Jones proposed that Indonesian settlers in certain areas of East, Central, and West Africa during the early centuries AD could have introduced xylophones and certain tonal-harmonic systems (equipentatonic, equiheptatonic, and pelog scales) into Africa. Ethnohistorians, on the other hand, have tended to accentuate the importance of coastal navigation (implying the traveling of hired or forced African labour on European ships) as an agent of cultural contact between such areas as Mozambique, Angola and Congo, and the West African coast. Existing historical sources on African music and dance are more abundant than might be expected. Sometimes historical data can be obtained indirectly from contemporary observation outside Africa, especially in Latin America. It was a rule rather than an exception that people brought as slaves from Africa to the New World often came from the hinterland of the African coastal areas. Between the European slave traders established on the coast and the hinterland areas were buffer zones inhabited by African "merchant tribes," such as the Ovimbundu of Angola, who are still remembered by eastern Angolan peoples as vimbali, or collaborators of the Portuguese. In the 18th and 19th centuries the inland areas of Angola were not directly accessible to Europeans. But the music and dance of these areas became accessible indirectly, as European observers saw African captives playing musical instruments in New World countries. In Brazil the music of the Candombl religious cult, for example, can be directly linked to 18th- and 19th-century forms of orisha worship among the Yoruba. In a similar manner, Umbanda religious ceremonies are an extension of traditional healing sessions still practiced in Angola, and Vodun religious music among the Fon of Benin has extensions in the Voodoo of Haiti and elsewhere in the Carribean. African instruments have also been modified and sometimes further developed in the New World; examples are the Central African friction drum and the lamellaphone (in the Cuban marimbula). African music as it is known today was also shaped by changes in the ecology of the continent, which drove people into other lands, thus producing changes in their art. With the drying of the Sahara, for example, populations tended to shift southward. When settled populations accepted the intruders, they often adopted musical styles from them. Thus, the choral singing style of the Masai had a fundamental influence on vocal music of the Gogo of central Tanzania, as is audible in their nindo and msunyunho chants. It is only relatively recently that scholarly attention has focused on the various urban popular styles, reflecting a blend of local and foreign ingredients, that have emerged during the last 50 years or so. The best known of these are West African "highlife," Congolese dance music, tarabu of East Africa, and South African styles. With the widespread adoption of Christianity in Africa since the 19th century, many new varieties of African church music have risen and continue to evolve. For example, with altered words, hymns-as well as secular songs-are quite often adapted as protest songs in order to rally opposition to political oppression. Gerhard Kubik David K. Rycroft Other visual arts Painting Painting in some form or another is found throughout most of the sub-Saharan region. Besides the paintings and engravings on rock surfaces (see below) and the many traditions of body painting, there are the painting and decorating of houses and other buildings. In any given area numerous art forms may exist, often as completely independent traditions with little obvious relationship to one another in style or content. The purposes fulfilled are equally varied, as seen in personal decoration. Other forms of graphic design are noteworthy as well: the most obvious is calabash (or gourd) decoration, notable traditions of which exist among the Fulani and in Kenya among the Kamba. There is also the painting of sculpture, whether masks or other forms. Sometimes this is the final stage of the work of the carver, but, as often as not, sculptures are painted and repainted by their owners. For example, mask headpieces among the Kalabari Ijo of Nigeria provide a temporary embodiment of spirits, and the painting of the masks before each performance is part of the ritual by means of which the spirits are summoned. Paintings and engravings on the surfaces of rocks are found extensively in the Sahara and in southern Africa. The Saharan works were evidently done by successive populations, as is indicated by the different styles and subject matter. Most of the southern African work was probably done by ancestors of the San (Bushmen), the hunter-gatherer peoples of the region. John Picton The Sahara The earliest known African rock art consists of more than 30,000 engravings and paintings on rocks in the Sahara. At the time most of these works were executed (from about the beginning of the 5th millennium BC into the 2nd), the area was open savanna, supporting animals no longer found in the desert but represented in the art. Representation of the changing fauna makes it possible to divide the art into a succession of periods, the divisions being confirmed by changes in style and in the economy and artifacts possessed by the artists. The earliest engravings (in southern Oran and in Tassili-n-Ajjer, Algeria, and in Fezzan, Libya) reflect a hunting economy and represent such wild animals as the extinct buffalo Homoioceras antiquus (formerly called Bubalus, hence the name Bubalus period assigned to these earliest engravings), the elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, giraffe, ostrich, and large antelope. The human figures are armed with clubs, throwing-sticks, axes, and bows. Carbon-14 dating indicates that there was human occupation (if not drawing) in Tassili-n-Ajjer from the mid-6th millennium BC. Paintings seem to begin a little later than the engravings. These paintings, in which some 30 styles have been distinguished, often represent men and women with globular heads or apparently wearing masks. There follows, both in painting and in engraving, the Cattle period, in which the depiction of domestic cattle indicates that pastoralism had by then become the basis for human life. The bow is the principal weapon. Bones of domestic cattle and of Homoioceras were found together in a deposit dated by carbon-14 to the mid-4th millennium BC, thus dating this transitional phase of the art. The style of engraving is less naturalistic than in the Bubalus period, the poses stiffer; in contrast, the paintings are more naturalistic, with compositions and a sense of space if not strictly of perspective. The Cattle period ended with the introduction of the horse about 1200 BC. The Horse period is divided into three sub-periods. The first is the Chariot sub-period, in which the elephant was the only pachyderm still depicted, cattle continued to be represented, and mouflons, or wild sheep, and domesticated dogs appeared. The earliest chariots were carefully rendered with a single shaft and a horse on each side; later chariots consist only of a shaft with two wheels, and human figures are reduced to two isosceles triangles set apex to apex. Spears and shields are introduced and, later, daggers. The distribution of these representations of chariots conforms remarkably to the trans-Saharan trade routes of the more recent past and can be seen as the earliest evidence of them. The Horseman sub-period reflects a change from horse driving to horse riding, though chariots continue. Next, the camel was introduced, possibly as early as 700 BC and certainly by Roman times, producing the Horse and Camel sub-period. Cattle had now become very rare. Because continuing desiccation led to restricted distribution of the horse (represented mainly in Mauritania), the Camel period reflects only present-day fauna: camel, antelope, oryx, gazelle, mouflon, ostrich, humped cattle, and goat. At first the spear was the only weapon depicted, but later the sword and firearms, weapons that are still in use, were added. The style is highly schematic. The Camel period has continued up to the present time, for their owners, in some cases the nomadic Tuareg, still paint and engrave on rocks, as well as on the occasional truck or airplane, representations of camels in the Sahara. Other visual arts Textiles In both East and West Africa, cloth traditionally was woven of locally grown and hand-spun cotton. In West Africa today most cotton is factory-spun (producing a more regular and easier-to-weave fibre), while in East Africa weaving traditions have virtually disappeared in the face of competition from ready-made fabrics. Woolen yarn is woven in rural Berber areas of North Africa and by Fulani weavers of the inland Niger delta region of West Africa. Silk is also woven in West Africa. Hausa, Nupe, and Yoruba weavers in Nigeria use a locally gathered wild silk; Ashanti and Ewe weavers in southern Ghana use imported silk, a practice begun by Ashanti weavers unraveling imported fabrics in the 17th century. Fibres prepared from the leaves of the raffia palm are woven into cloth principally in Central Africa, especially Congo (Kinshasa), though also in parts of West Africa. Throughout most of the continent men are the weavers, though in some areas (Nigeria, The Sudan) women also weave. If in any place both sexes weave, each uses a different type of loom. The looms are of two basic types, according to whether one or both sets of warp (the lengths of yarn mounted on the loom) are leashed to a heddle. Each type has more than one version, especially the single-heddle, of which there are various upright and horizontal versions in different regions of Africa. Textiles are designed either as part of the weaving process-in which case colour, texture, and weave structure are significant-or by a range of techniques employed on the already woven cloth. Weaving the yarn The cultures that have developed the greatest skill and creative variety in woven design are undoubtedly the Ashanti and Ewe, with the Fulani and other weavers of the middle Niger, on each side of Timbuktu, following closely in expertise. Three types of woven pattern are common: In the first, yarn of different colours is used for the warp, creating stripes along the length of the cloth. The variety of patterns is almost infinite; most are decorative embellishments of what would otherwise be a plain, naturally coloured textile, but certain patterns can have additional significance, indicating, for example, a corpse, a rich person, or a girl about to be married. This kind of patterning is most developed in West Africa. In the second type of pattern, the loom is set up in such a way as to allow the weft (the yarn interwoven with the warp) to predominate in the finished cloth, so that the use of different colours gives patterns across the width of the cloth. This type of patterning is typical of North African and of certain types of West African cloth. The third type of patterning employs an extra weft. This second yarn is woven in a different way from the basic weft, using a technique known as float weaving. This type of pattern is also common in West Africa. A further design element is provided by the unusual way in which the double-heddle loom has evolved in West Africa. The construction of the loom is so narrow that it weaves strips of cloth of considerable length; these strips are then sewn together edge to edge to make the finished textile. (The strips range from half an inch in one tradition of Hausa weaving to less than a yard in another: cloth about four inches wide is typical of much of West Africa.) This process can create a repeated pattern of stripes or a juxtaposition of varied patterns. Other visual arts Pottery Most peoples of sub-Saharan Africa use pottery, many making it themselves. Today, although traditions of pottery-making survive in many rural areas, town dwellers switching from firewood to other sources of fuel are also turning to industrially manufactured wares. The preindustrial traditions involve the molding of fairly coarse-textured clay by hand, either building the clay up in rings or by some variation of the hammer-and-anvil techniques found in preindustrial technologies worldwide. The pots so formed are then fired in open bonfires at a relatively low temperature. The variety of form and design is almost endless. Pottery techniques are also used in a few places for sculpture, as, for example, in the grave memorials of the Ashanti in Ghana; they are also presumed to have been the means used to form the pottery sculptures of antiquity, such as those of Ife and Nok, in Nigeria, and of Djnn and Mopti, in Mali. In most modern cases, potters are women. Other visual arts Personal decoration The adornment of the human body involves all aspects of the arts as practiced in Africa. The body may be altered in ways that are permanent, especially by scarification, or the cutting of scars. Among the Yoruba, scarification indicates lineage affiliation. Among Nuba women in The Sudan, it is sometimes a mark of physiological status: patterns indicate such stages as the onset of menstruation and the birth of the first child. Sometimes the body is scarified for the aesthetic value of the patterns, as among the Tiv of Nigeria. Facial and body design on a young Nuba man, The Sudan. The body may be altered in ways that are semipermanent, in the sense that a person is not normally seen in public without certain effects, although they can be removed or adjusted in private. Royal regalia are an example, as are the heavily beaded ornaments worn by Masai women. The body may also be altered in ways that are essentially ephemeral. For example, some young Nuba men celebrate their youthful vigour in extensive body painting (see photograph). Hairdressing is done sometimes for its aesthetic value (as among the Yoruba), sometimes to signal age status (East African pastoral peoples such as the Pokot and Samburu). Perhaps the most striking example of body decoration is that of the pastoral Fulani of Nigeria. It reaches its height in the annual gerewol, a beauty contest between men whose faces are painted and who wear metal bracelets, bead necklaces, and head ornaments. The women regularly wear elaborate hairstyles (often featuring golden rings around separate locks of hair), together with a profusion of jewelry. The varieties of dress and jewelry found throughout the continent are invariably matters of aesthetic concern whatever social purposes may also be served. Sculpture and associated arts Although wood is the best-known medium of African sculpture, many others are employed: copper alloys, iron, ivory, pottery, unfired clay, and, infrequently, stone. Unfired clay is and probably always was the most widely used medium in the whole continent, but, partly because it is so fragile and therefore difficult to collect, it has been largely ignored in the literature. Small figurines of fired clay were excavated in a mound at Daima near Lake Chad in levels dating from the 5th century BC or earlier, while others were found in Zimbabwe in deposits of the later part of the 1st millennium AD. These imply an even earlier stage of unfired clay modeling. About the time of these lower levels at Daima (which represent a Neolithic, or New Stone Age, pastoral economy), there was flourishing farther to the west the fully Iron Age Nok culture, producing large, hollow sculptures in well-fired pottery, some of the stylistic features of which imply yet earlier prototypes in wood. Copper-alloy castings using the cire perdue technique afford evidence of great sculptural achievements from as early as the 9th century AD, when the smiths of Igbo Ukwu, Nigeria, were casting leaded bronze, which is highly ductile, and smithing copper, which is not. Some three or four centuries later the smiths of Ife, seemingly unaware that unalloyed copper was not suitable for casting (or perhaps wishing to demonstrate their virtuosity), used it to produce masterpieces such as the seated figure in a shrine at Tada and the so-called Obalufon mask in the Ife Museum. In fact, however, zinc brasses were used more than unalloyed copper. The largest corpus of this work is from Benin, where zinc brasses were used almost exclusively. These copper-alloy castings, together with pottery sculptures the traceable history of which goes back even further, are the main evidence for the early history of sculpture in sub-Saharan Africa. Wrought-iron sculptures are found in a number of traditions, mostly in West Africa, including the Dogon, Bambara, Fon, and Yoruba peoples. Stone sculpture occurs in several separate centres, employing both hard and soft rock, but there is usually not much evidence of a development through time in a single place. Ivory is a highly prized medium in many parts of Africa. Its fine texture makes it suitable for delicate sculpture, while its rarity leads to its employment in many societies for items of great prestige. African wood sculptures are carved with similar tools throughout the continent. An ax may be used to fell the tree, but an adz, with its cutting edge at right angles to the shaft, is used for the substantive work of carving. The skill achieved with this tool is astonishing to the Western observer. Thin shavings can be removed with speed and accuracy, creating a surface (especially when the form is convex) that shows slight facets that catch the light and add to the visual interest. More intricate work is done with knives. A pointed iron rod heated in the fire may be employed to bore holes in a mask for attachment to the costume and to permit the wearer to see. The surface of the sculpture is sometimes polished with the side of a knife or sanded down with rough leaves. Details are commonly picked out by a method involving charring with a red-hot knife (as among the Ibibio of Nigeria), or the carving is immersed in mud to darken its surface before oiling (as among the Dan people of Cte d'Ivoire). West Africa Scholars divide the visual arts of West Africa into three broad areas: the western Sudan, the Guinea Coast, and Nigeria. This is done partly to enable the outsider to comprehend the diversity of styles and traditions within the region, while recognizing that there are themes common to all of the areas. Sculpture and associated arts Central Africa Cameroon grasslands The Cameroon grasslands area can be divided into three stylistic regions. The Bamileke area is composed of a number of separate chiefdoms, the best known being the Bangwa and the Bacham. Here sculptured human figures are composed of a highly expressive blend of rounded and angular forms. The Bamum kingdom developed roundness of form almost to its extreme, producing figures with big, inflated cheeks. Among the Tikar, Bekom, and Babanki, the forms are rounded but not exaggerated. Throughout the grasslands there have been exchanges of art objects and diffusion of the brass-casting technique, confusing the more detailed stylistic picture. In general, however, all of these societies are hierarchical, with sculpture mainly intended to reflect the power and importance of the king. Gabon Three major groups live in the equatorial rain forests of Gabon: the Fang and related peoples; the Ogowe (Ogoou) group, including the Ashira and Mpongwe; and the Kota. Fang masks and figures are characterized by schematic simplicity. Typical of Fang work are bieri, boxes containing the skulls and bones of deceased ancestors and carved with figures intended to represent their protective influence. Fang masks, such as those worn by itinerant troubadours and for hunting and punishing sorcerers, are painted white with facial features outlined in black. The art of the Ogowe tribes, particularly the Mpongwe, is closely tied to death rituals. Their masks, painted white to symbolize death, represent dead female ancestors, though they are worn by male relatives of the deceased. The Kota create stylistically unique reliquary figures, called mbulu-ngulu, which are covered with a sheet of brass or copper. Like the Fang, the Kota keep the skulls and bones of ancestors in containers, which consist here of a basket surmounted by the carved figure.

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