Africa is very dynamic in culture which has a rich history in arts. Considering the dynamic status in the African culture, the African art took a very different direction in that because of the different cultures, there were different considerations in their arts. Precisely, every culture or ethnicity could be possibly having its own art. In this paper I will take I to account some specific objects and may be practices that were evidenced in specific African communities to try establish the African art.
In Africa, there are some objects that are used for religious purposes. The fetish use has been rampant and very valuable in most of the communities. In their own perspective, these fetishes were majorly used with an aim to protect the individual for families or even communities that used them. Generally, there were no common fetishes to communities. However, these fetishes almost served the same roles in the African society i.e. protecting people against the harm of the evil spirits, may be to cure illness and also to guard against the bad deed of other people as well as decision makings in arguments. In this sense, fetishes were very effective and thus very powerful among Africans. (Monica, 56)
Among the Nkisi people, there was the nkondi which was basically responsible for hunting down people who did wrong in the community. These included thieves and other people who could be responsible for trouble in the society. Basically, nkondi was used to punish who could take false oaths and defaulters of treaties. Charging the nkondi into action was through invocations and provocations. For provocations, gunpowder was exploded in front of it and nails could also be hammered in it.
Despite the fact that in black Africa, there is magic but there are ranks for instance a witch doctor is a special person who specializes in talking to the veil powers and connecting them to the people. In most cases, the diviner who can also be the diviner, could act in favor of the whole community. In most of these communities, there were very little wood carvings, however there was special treatments to the trees and incase there was to be carvings, both the carver and the fetishist, Nganga, had to be there during carving.
There were several artistic practices in different communities in Africa for example there is the Eri Ibeji of the Yoruba of Nigeria who has a role to play in twin child births, the Bomana, helmet mask that is associated with the Komo power in the Mande culture who could be accompanied with dance and songs. Sacrifices could also be offered to invoke the spirits for appointments in the society. (Monica, 71)
In African art, there different objects of art did convey some royal powers though in different ways. In the Asante, the golden stool called Bamum is believed to be heaven sent to the first Asante who is the asantehene, the king who is the osi-tutu. This golden stool does unite the people. For one to be the king he had to be lowered then raised over the stool and without the stool, no one could be the king. This stool is very important to the Asante and very sacred that no one could just sit on it and it is given the strictest protection than any other place or people in the land. This can be traced back i9n the 1896 when the Asante allowed their king to go back when it was now clear that they were losing the war against the British. Also in the year 1900, the Asante decided to plan for a war when Hudson demanded to sit on the stool. Still the same, in the year 1920 there was this African group builder who accidentally came across the golden stool and decided to take off its gold ornaments. These people were given a death penalty according to the Asante laws. In Asante’s kingdom, the golden stool is still a focal point as far as power and succession are concerned.
In addition to the as antes golden stool in Asante, there is also the throne in the Bamum state. The throne is considered to be very special in that the monarchy presented itself a festival at the palace of Nsa’ngu. This festival is always celebrated at the beginning of every January. This festival is known as Nja and it is an affirmation to the solidarity and also the wealth that is available in the Bamum state. The place with the throne is considered to be the place that should have good things, valuable bids among others. The throne is a respected place that only signifies power. These among other were some of the objects that come vividly to be used in connection to the royal power in African culture.
It is generally agreed that cultural exchanges do play a very important in the process of art making. Cultural exchange can take place through interaction, through trade or even through approbation. Cultural exchange does enhance the sharing of different arts that do take place amongst different cultures. This can be seen in the example of the Bamum kingdom in which the king says how the palace of Nsa’ngu was renovated. You come to know why the throne is a key thing in this kingdom. It is a significant tool in this place because of the festivals that monarchy gave to it. The greatest festival i.e. the Nja takes pace every January of the year is significant for its affirmation to the solidarity and the wealth of the kingdom. The second largest festival is also taken when the king is on his throne during the festival of Nguon. The two thrones do belong to the kingdom and also gives a symbol to the might of the kingdom. (Eglash, 29)
Cultural exchanges also do enrich our trades. For instance, the Portuguese adopted the two objects that were domestically meant for use in Africa. The African saltcellars plus other objects are some of the examples of objects that were not for trade but finally ended up being trade objects. Also the ivory objects that the Europeans see valuable were initially used by Africans as decorations at homes. In exchange of pieces of brass and copper, Europeans received ivory and finally, they also go slaves from the African land.
Cultural exchanges do improve on the quality of lives that we are bound to live. Initially, Africans used to walk naked and then evolved to the use of skins. However with the coming of Europeans, Africans are nowadays very presentable for they have adopted the use of clothes. These clothes have added value to their lives as well as their beauty example is in the Edmund Fortier’s post card.
It is also true to say that cultural exchanges help us to analyze the kinds of conceptions that we can be having. Perceptions on religion creations and the world at large and our traditions are part of the cultural practices in the communities. With cultural exchanges we are able to transform our traditions and accept what looks to be logical among the majority. An example is from the kuba, central Zaire who considered their king as the God on the land. They also regarded him as the ruler of fertility and as the creator among others. The religion of Kuba is not well organized but their concepts are not logical in that some of their traditions are in place without any base. Basically cultural exchange helps to improve on our practices, arts through sharing our portions.
Africa as a continent has very many practices that prove to very independent and this is where its dynamite comes from. Considering all aspects of arts, we find that Africa has got rich arts but very many and may not necessarily be the same.
Eglash, R. Indigenous design. Rutgers, 1999
Monica V. et al. A History of Art in Africa. Prentice Hall, New York, 2001
Riley, M. Art in the West. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2006.