Historians estimate that between 10 and 18 million Africans were enslaved by Arab slave traders and taken across the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Sahara desert between 650 A.D and 1900 A.D, long before the Atlantic Slave trade. At the height of the Indian Ocean slave trade, it was estimated that 80,000 Africans died each year before ever reaching the slave markets of Zanzibar. Zanzibar was once East Africa’s main slave-trading port, and under Omani Arabs in the 19th century as many as 50,000 slaves were passing through the city each year. The earliest findings of cast bronze artefacts were excavated in Igbo-Ukwu, Nigeria (9 A.D). The tradition of bronze casting in West Africa reached its peak during the great kingdoms of the 14th-19th century. The demanding cire perdue technique was used for the production of different objects by bronze casters who, in West Africa, formed special guilds and occupied an important position in society due to the ambivalent nature of their work – working with metal. Only the king had the authority to order the production of objects in bronze, control their distribution as well as the use of metal. Nkisi or Nkishi are spirits, or an object that a spirit inhabits. It is frequently applied to a variety of objects used throughout the Congo Basin in Central Africa that are believed to contain spiritual powers or spirits. Close communication with ancestors and belief in the efficacy of their powers are closely associated in Kongo tradition. Among the peoples of the Congo Basin, especially the Bakongo and the Songye people of Kasai, exceptional human powers are frequently believed to result from some sort of communication with the dead. People known as banganga work as healers, diviners, and mediators who defend the living against witchcraft and provide them with remedies against diseases resulting either from witchcraft or the demands of bakisi (spirits), emissaries from the land of the dead. The Senufo of northern Côte d’Ivoire produce a rich variety of sculptures, mainly associated with Poro, a society guided by a female ancestral spirit known as “the Ancient Mother.” Several types of mask are used in conjunction with Poro. Kponyugu masks exhibit many variations in name, style, animal references, and symbolism. Their iconography—a composite of a wide range of animals—refers to the origin of the world, to important legends, and to the roles of certain animals in carrying out obligations to ancestors and nature spirits. The kpelie masks, small human faces with delicate features, represent female spirits and encode aspects of Poro knowledge. The masks are involved with initiation and also perform at funerals, where they help encourage the soul of the deceased to move on to the ancestral realm. Makonde sculpture, old and modern, represents an artistic tradition which evolved in response to the historical and economic forces affecting the Makonde, of southern Tanzania, throughout the twentieth century, especially after the 1930s. The carvings are both traditional and contemporary, reflecting a tribal past as well as modern response to urban life. The most common is the “Tree of Life” which depicts the members of an extended family, including past and present generations, gently supporting each other, generation after generation, around the family ancestor 10 africanphotomagazine ISSUE 6 JUNE 2017 11
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