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Celebrating African and AfroDescendant Culture

Held each year on 24 January, the World Day for African and Afrodescendant Culture celebrates the many cultures of the African continent and African diasporas around the world.

In 2019 UNESCO established 24 January as the World Day for African and Afro Descendant Culture. The date coincides with the adoption of the Charter for African Cultural Renaissance in 2006 by the Heads of State and Government of the African Union.
     Around 200 million people identifying themselves as being of African descent live in the Americas. Many millions more live in other parts of the world, outside of the African continent. Africans and Afro descendants have and continue to face injustice and intolerance in many countries around the world. Many of them have suffered racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia.

African and Afrodescendent culture at DITSONG National Museum of Cultural Histoy

This year, DITSONG Museums of South Africa has put together a list of African and Afrodescent objects available to view at its National Museum of Cultural History.
     ‘As a rich source of the world’s shared heritage, promoting African and Afrodescendant culture is crucial for the development of the continent, and for humanity as a whole,’ says DITSONG.
     Read up on the significance of some of these objects below, and find out more about African cultural history here.

War Shield

Country of Origin: Kenya
Cultural Group: Maasai
Acquisition Date: 1923
  • Masaai Shield
  • Masaai Shield

Shields were used in warfare and hunting as well as practice and training. They were also used in rites of passage and functioned as prestige objects and symbols of identification. This convex shield comes from the Maasai people in southern Kenya, who are known to be pastoralists. The shield is made of buffalo hide sewn onto a wooden frame. The handle is attached at the centre back of the shield and wrapped with leather strips. Shields are regarded as one of the Maasai warrior’s most important tools. The surface of the shield is decorated with large in red, white, and black natural vegetable dyes, thus indicating that the shield was probably owned by a proven warrior herder. Younger warriors were only allowed to use black, white, or gray on their shields.

Boomerang

Country of Origin: Australia
Acquisition Date: 1899
  • Boomerang
  • Boomerang

Boomerangs come in various sizes, from as small as 10cm to as large as 1.8m. Chiefly, they were used as a hunting tool to mow down prey from distances as far as 100m, lopping down kangaroos by the legs or slicing fish through the water. They were also used as tools to dig into the earth or to start fires. In some instances, they were also used as weapons in hand-to-hand combat, or as musical instruments in cultural ceremonies.

Mandinka bottle
Mandinka bottle

Glass Bottle

Country of Origin: Sierra Leone
Cultural Group: Mandinka
Acquisition Date: 1920s

A glass bottle, encased in leatherwork and woven fibre, and a leather covered stopper. This style of woven and tooled leatherwork resembles Mandika leatherwork, predominating among Muslim elites. Mandingo people, also referred to as Mandika or Malinke, are the direct descendants of Mandika settlers from Guinea who settled in the Eastern part of Sierra Leone in the late 1870s under the rule of Mandika Muslim cleric Samori Ture.

Mancala Board Game

Country of Origin: Nigeria
Cultural Group: Yoruba
Acquisition Date: 1974
  • Mancala board game
  • Mancala board game

The Nigerian board game is carved from wood and has a decoration outside. It is hinged and has a small handle and a catch to hold it closed, making it easy to carry around. Mancala is a generic name for a type of board game that is played around the world, particularly in African countries, the Caribbean, Middle East, and Indonesia. The word mancala or mankala comes from the Arabic word naqala, meaning ‘to move something around’ and the games are sometimes described as count and capture play. Naqala is found in Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt but is not consistently applied to any one game. Although the rules vary, they all involve moving either stones or seeds around rows of pits that are either carved into a board, or that may simply be dug into the ground. The games are known to have been played for thousands of years. They are regarded as one of the oldest board games although it is hard to say exactly when and where they originated. The Yoruba people also refer to this game as Ayo, however there are variations between males and females and those played by children.

Snuff box

Country of origin: South Africa
Cultural Group: Tsonga
Acquisition Date: 1920s
Tsonga Snuff Box
Tsonga Snuff Box

The snuff box depicted here is made from carved wood and used for storage of snuff. Snuff is a preparation of powdered and processed tobacco. Often shared when friends gather for social occasions, snuff has been widely used in Africa since the introduction of tobacco to the continent in the sixteenth century. Snuff containers found in Africa for snuff storage range from carved horn or ivory and with elaborate ornamentation or sculpted in human or animal form from a mixture of hide scrapings and clay. Other common examples of snuff containers are made out of fruit shell.                          

Snuff Spoon

Country of origin: South Africa
Cultural Group: Zulu
Acquisition Date: 1910s
Snuff spoons
Snuff spoons

This snuff spoon, indigenous name itshengula, is made out of bone and used to take snuff through the nose. When not in use for snuff taking it was used as hairpin to accessorise the hair.

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