Colonialism in Africa led to the looting of cultural artefacts by the Europeans. British soldiers carted away with a thousand of artefacts from Benin in the late 19th century . These artifacts were auctioned off, taken to private collections and museums across Europe.
African countries are requesting them back. France has contributed to the quest by calling for thousands of African artifacts in its museum returned to Africa.
The earliest form of art rock art originates from Africa. From the evolutionary human science, Homo sapiens began in Africa thus the rock art is an evidence that life began in Africa. Africa’s rock art dating back to 24 – 27,000 years ago was discovered in Namibia. Rock art of animals like giraffe which no longer exist from 6500 BC discovered in Niger also is an evidence that Africa is a cradle of mankind. Unfortunately, most of these items have been destroyed by erosion.
Primarily, wood carving is a sculptural art form that is widely known to be attached to the sub Saharan part of the continent. The earliest known wooden sculptures are from the 17th C and Kuba, central Zaire are known for having the earliest surviving Sub-saharan sculpture, the zoomorphic head discovered in 1928 where it was buried under the water table Central Angola. The piece is dated to the 8th-9th C.
Metal sculptures and carvings
Cast metal withstood the continent’s termites unlike the wooden carvings which couldn’t survived and got ruined by termites. The bronze casting culture of the tribe of the Igbo-Ukwu in Nigeria can be dated back to the 9th Century AD. Cast bronze regalia was discovered in some sites as well as other works of art. This cast metal tradition got to the Ife people who are the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria. In the 12th century, they were seen producing bronze and brass-castings and this type of art work continue to exist in their works in the 15th century. These figures are what we so much admire as traditional African sculptures which have realism and quality. After the 15th century even to this very moment, the Yoruba people in Benin produce heads sculptures that are known as the Benin bronzes. However they are also made of brass. These ancient African art were produced in these cultures for their Kings. They had magical powers. These ancient artifacts also reflect these cultures’ beliefs, political organizations and chiefdom which existed under a king’s rule. The Portuguese’s arrival encouraged the Benin sculptors in producing brass plaques. These plagues serve as decorations n royal palaces.
Some rare relics of the Africans which are ritual and divination objects, old musical instruments and other traditional items which are museum-worthy will be listed below in this article.
The Benin Bronzes made of brass are a collection of sculptures and plaques.This brass plaque depicts warriors of the kingdom of Benin,West Africa the present day southern Nigeria dating back as far as 13-19th century CE. They adorned the royal palace of the central figure of Benin who was Oba, Ovonramwen Nogbaisi. These bronze sculptures were not only made from brass but from other materials like ivory, ceramic and wood.
Terracotta pottery heads are the earliest form of sculptures in Africa. These figurines are from the Nok culture of Nigeria. They can be dated as far back to 500 BC to 200 AD. These figures are created from iron rich clay and grog. However none have been found in their natural states. They reveal the abstraction in Africa art for over 2500 yrs. They also have expressive quality and strong element and this places them at the scratch of Africa sculptural art. Their strong sense of style can be seen in the hairdos and ornaments they imitate from Africans.
Lydenburg heads, fired clay were found in the Lydenburg district in South Africa. These figurines which were buried in 500 AD according to sources are the oldest form of art works in the Southern part of Africa. The manner in which these figures were buried reveals the respect they had for the people who buried them.
Archaeologists discovered these terracotta sculptures which can traced back to 1000 and 1300 AD in Jenne, Mali and at Ife in Nigeria. Even after their discoveries, there was the continuation in the production of terracotta in the 19th and 20th century.
Djenné-Djenno, the oldest city in sub-Saharan Africa was popular for its terracotta which depicted humans and animals. In the 9th century AD, the city was abundant however the city’s economy declined and in 1400s it was deserted. Those figurines created in that city was an evidence that the city flourished 700 years ago.
The Bangwa Queen African artifacts is not only one of the world’s popular pieces but it also has sacred impact for Cameroon where it originated. The Bangwa Queen wooden carving of a woman is 81cm tall which showcase the physical power and health of the people of Bangwa, Western Cameroon. In 1899 the German colonisers took It currently in the Dapper Foundation, Paris.
Chiwara head dress
Chiwara is the Bambara dance headdress made from wood which takes an antelope form. This hair dress represent the spirit who brought agriculture in Mali. These headdresses are attached to farmers’ wickerwork cap then when they are planting and harvest and they also dance imitating of leaping antelope.
Finally, the world famous Benin bronzes from the Kingdom of Benin, the modern day Nigeria are sculptures, plaques and ornaments made from brass and bronze dating back to some 500 years. Over thousands of these pieces which were cast for the ancestral altars will be returned by the Germany after they were looted during African colonialism.