African Empires and Culture

					African Empires and Culture

Art
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From the royal masks of the Benin people to the monster masks of other tribes, Africans used their art to express religious traditions. Africans used bronze, wood, clay, cloth, iron, and gold in their artwork. Besides sculpture, pots, and masks, the Africans made jewelry and clothes with great respect for tradition and quality.

Masks: Mystery in Motion
• Masks were the most wildly imaginative of all African sculpture.

• Animalistic masks like the Baule bull’s head, the grooved lion’s head and the Ngere warthog were worn during rites of initiation into adult status, as well as in ceremonies of the secret societies in West and Central Africa.
• Events such as funerals, festivals and other important occasions were almost always accompanied by fierce dancing in masks.

A monster mask to keep the evil spirits away

• Masked dancers often felt themselves possessed by spirits and would go into deep trances and dance for hours without stopping.

Patterns in Objects

• Abstract designs in the form of surface texture and decoration often had a deep spiritual significance in African art.

• Geometric patterns like the ones seen at left were known to have had mystic powers so important that they reappeared in many forms, including ceremonial scarring and tattooing.
• Other patterns represented the more ordinary spirits that lived in such material objects as fabric and yarn.

Shape and Variation

• The figures to the left follow the Guro artists’ traditional style of carving women’s head with a pronounced forehead curve, pursed lips and roundness at the back. • Individual artists have stamped their particular work with lively originality such as an exaggerated hair arrangement, an ornate neck decoration or sharp nose. Such variations on an established theme constantly infused new vitality into traditional African carving.

Shape and Variation

• If a slightly raised chin or new inclination of the headdress seemed to give more energy to the figure, this subtle angle was incorporated into the tradition of the tribe’s art. • The man who could produce added power through sculpture was a valuable member of his society. • His kinsmen believed such accomplishments raised him above other men.

Houses for Spirits

• In Africa, tribal sculpture was seldom created to be enjoyed as “art”. • Each piece was designed to attract and contain specific religious spirits. • An ancestor figure (far left) was carved as a home for the spirit of a longdead chieftan. • Without the presence of such spirits, a piece of sculpture had little value. • If a wood carving began to rot or crack, another figure was made to replace it, and the first piece, no matter how beautiful, was discarded as worthless.

Music and Dance
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To Africans, dancing was the most important art. Dance combined religion and everyday matters. For example, there were dances to mark the beginning of a hunt, marriages, holidays, etc. Both men and women took part in dances. Africans pounded on rocks before they learned how to stretch hides over hollow logs to make drums.

Music and Dance contd.
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A good African drummer could make his drum “speak” in words and sentences that were understood by other tribesmen. Drums were used to send messages from one village to the next. A drum message could be sent a hundred miles in two hours by a series of drummers. Many drums were considered sacred and only used in certain religious ceremonies.

Role of Women
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Women played a surprisingly active role in early life in the African empires. There was a strict division of labor between the men and the women. Women tended cattle , were responsible for raising the children, and gathered and prepared the food for the family. Women also made baskets, pottery, bracelets necklaces, awls and other objects for household and personal use.

Role of Women
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Ancient Africans had a deep-seated respect for women. Early man did not know the link between sex and birth. Therefore, it was believed that new life was created by the woman, the mother alone. Another important contribution of ancient woman can be seen in the fact that as the gatherer of grains, seeds, roots berries and plants led to the practice of organized cultivation. The respect for women was reflected in society and the seriousness and consideration women were given. In Egypt and Kush the importance of the mother was seen in the facts that the children took their surname from the mother and that the mother controlled both the household and the fields.

Role of Women
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In traditional Africa, women had recognized and vital roles in the economic development of their communities. Women were the major food producers and thus not only had ready access to land but also had authority of how the land was to be used and cultivated. Therefore, the value of women’s productive labor in producing and processing food established and maintained their rights in the domestic and other spheres. Moreover, in much of pre-colonial Africa, bridewealth gave women a certain amount of economic independence and clout. Women dominated the positions of spiritual and religious power in most African traditional societies. They were responsible for announcing dates and times of ceremonies, rites and rituals. These women were oracles, spirit mediums, knowers, seers and advisors. These women had the power to place and remove curses.

Beliefs
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Nearly all Africans believed in a single “High God” from whom all things flowed. Beneath the High God, lesser gods ruled human affairs. Africans had gods of storms, mountains, rivers, snakes, seas, trees, lions, and just about everything that affected their lives. Within every tribe, several people were thought to communicate with the gods.

Beliefs
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Africans also worshipped their ancestors. Many dances, songs, and works of art were made to contact relatives long dead. Many Africans believed in sorcery and witchcraft. There was good magic and bad magic. Africans often used witch doctors to help them break evil spells or avoid bad luck.

African Magic Charms
Threatened by unknown forces, and sometimes by hunger and beasts of prey. Africans, enlisted the aid of magic.  Their techniques were derived from everyday experience; objects that worked were widely copied and gradually became standardized and stylized into symbolic magical devices. Some of the most common African charms: Pieces of Straw- protect crops from harm Bundles of Feathers- guard occupants of a room Animal Teeth- keep off wild animals Iron Bracelets- promote fertility Heavy Anklets- protect weak children
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