Zambian Art

A mask from the craft village near Livingstone. Similar but not identical to one shown in the previous group of pics of the dancers.

The mask of Nalindele, described in the Maramba series. The hair, made of natural twine, was once much darker. It has faded with age, and drops a whole spray of dust when moved now. This is the mask I used in my adult creative writing classes, and loved to watch the faces of the folk as I slowly took it out of a bag and held it up for them to see!

A miscellany on the top of one of my 18 bookcases. Not all Zambian.

1- a tourist model of a traditional mortar and pestle

2 - traditional thumb piano, flat, with small gourd (resonant sounding piece which is held beneath the keyboard while playing) attached by a piece of string.

3 - standing against wall, another more familiar form of thumb piano

4 - The small metallic item is a bronze lidded box from West Africa with four birds (crows) on the lid, which have some trad/myth meaning. Given to me by a friend.

5 - tourist model of a tinder box, originally copied from the tinder boxes carried by white explorers. It contains a metal blade on a wooden handle, a piece of stone, which were struck together to produce the spark. There was also a piece of cotton waste inside it, for use in igniting the glowing fire-lighter. I often wonder if kids nowadays, when referring to a lad as "a spunk" realize that they are using an old word for semen, which also meant spark, thus relating to the tinder box principle. Just one of my tangential thoughts. (In the North East of Scotland, a match is traditionally called a spunk - Ian.)

6 - tourist model of a "hubble bubble", i.e., a water filled pipe for smoking hemp. As far as I recall, there was no fuss about hemp smoking in those days, in that region.

7 - the small oval box is a beautiful inlaid artefact given to me when I was a boy, about 55 years ago, by a retired missionary nurse. It is one of several small items which formed the basis of my first "museum" and which I still have. I don't remember where it comes from, but it still contains a few sea-worn shells and items from the shores of the Bay of Biscay (that's what my elderly friend told me, anyway).

8 - a set of four nganga's bones for divination. They are not made of bone, but of a very, very hard redwood which clicks with an almost metallic sound when pieces are knocked together. From memory, this item was acquired for me by an African friend. He also tried to obtain an nganga's "telephone", a string and wooden device used to talk to the spirits, but the nganga didn't want it to get into the hands of a white person as a curio!

9 - the two long, oddly shaped items are a nganga's evil spirit seeker. One waves the rattle above the end of the gourd, and a pointer with a rounded wax base magically moves around and eventually points to the possessed person. It works, of course, with just a little sleight of hand. I've amazed a few children with it, over the years. (I used to do a magic and mind-reading act, too, you see, many many years ago in youth clubs and church clubs around Harare (then Salisbury - Tarrab, the Man with X-Ray Eyes!).

A non-tourist-model, but true copy of a traditional xylophone, made with very rough, natural materials. The gourds hanging underneath are the resonance devices, making it look rather like a row of cows at milking time. It is all held together by natural twine, and is constantly in danger of falling apart. It is more or less in tune, by Western musical scale standards, except for a few increasing flat notes. In front is a tourist copy of a drum.

Three ebony carvings. Not Zambian, of course, but a few folk might have seen them on sale and wondered what they are and where they come from. They are made in a small area on the border of Tanzania and Zaire, where ebony grows. The wood has traditionally been used for surrealistic carvings, done when the artists are already "high" on hemp or some equivalent.

These three depict, left to right:

A fisherman, or someone walking by a lake, being attacked by a water monster.

The cycle of life, beautifully showing pregnancy, lactation, babyhood, puberty and death.

The sad story of a young man who ogled at the young maidens bathing naked in the river. For punishment, in sequence he was poisoned (the fat belly), blinded, castrated (holding his private parts) and then sent mad (the fire on his head)! At least, that's what I was told.

The other use for the increasingly scarce ebony is, of course, in the manufacture of musical instruments - woodwind and the black keys on pianos - but plastics (whatever they are) are increasingly used and not preferred by musicians. As Henry said to Min, "You can't get the wood, you know. Oh, you can't get the wood."