My favorite pieces were the initiation staffs.
New staffs like this are given to male initiates, usually from their maternal uncle. Each stick must cure for one year before being decorated, due to the type of wood used. This kind of wood shrinks while it dries, and it must do so before the decorative wire is added so the wire doesn’t fall off the shaft. The colorful designs are made from telephone wire, which is commonly used for sticks like this.
Formerly, sticks were carved with fancy tops, but this went out of fashion by the 1940s. This artistic shift is a reflection of cultural changes: beginning in the 1940s, Africans needed to take up migrant work in the cities and those who became night watchmen began using surplus materials to make new traditional objects, such as these coiled sticks. These staffs function in a variety of ways: for walking, fighting, and shepherding, in addition to serving as a status symbol. Very cool! I wonder how difficult it would be to make my own…
We anticipate receiving another shipment from David on Thursday, said to include more outfits and some ceramic vessels (aka, beer cups), which we hope will arrive undamaged after their long journey. Update to follow!
--Melissa Hueting, UIMA Assistant to the Director for Special Programs and Curatorial Assistant