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African Peoples and Places

Images from a Private Collection of
Stereoscopic Slides, Cards and Publications from the Colonial Period

African Peoples and Places is a page at Ms. Gavigan’s web site where from time to time she shares a set of images and words around a particular theme. Currently African Peoples and Places is presenting a few images from a private collection of stereoscopic slides, post cards, trading cards and publications from the colonial period.

Such images (and often the accompanying captions) should not be reviewed casually. They are the products of another time, when there was less appreciation for the peoples of the continent than for the resources that could be extracted for the benefit of the colonial rulers. Often these cards functioned blatantly as propaganda, tools of racism or sexism, or as apologist statements. Most of the scenes were staged. Yet, along with the photography of missionaries, colonial officers and ethnographers, they are important documents that require extensive investigation and interpretation.

AFFRICA presents a small selection of these images because of what may be learned about various artistic traditions. Within these photographs, there is the potential for discovery of answers to questions about the creation and uses of objects that we enjoy today – for their authenticity and aesthetic qualities. Periodically, images will be added to this site.

Recommended resources relating to this subject:

1. The October 1991 issue of African Arts (Volume XXIV, Number 4, The James S. Coleman African Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles
). Special Issue: Historical Photographs of Africa. Guest Editor: Christraud M. Geary, Curator of the Eliot Elisofon Archives at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Feature contributors include: Christraud M. Geary, David Prochaska, John Mack, and Enid Schildkrout.

2. Cultures in Early Postcards, edited by Christraud M. Geary and Virginia-Lee Webb. Published in English by the Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, 1998. Included are discussions of these images from a wide variety of world cultures.


"Trading Card" from the early 1950s, Belgium.
A series from Compagnie Liebig depicting artisans of the Congo.
Various phases of the basket-making process are depicted. A completed coiled basket is shown upper right. It is interesting to note that while the basket in the foreground is Kongo, the basket in the inset appears to be Ethiopian.

Fabrication de cruches à eau chez les Wahutu. The manufacture of water vessels by Hutus. Cancellation date on post card not discernible (probably pre-1925).

Kunt U dat ook? ("Can you do this also?")
Postcard from the White Faters (Witte Paters ostrek, N.A. 1103.59).
This coiled basket is probably Tutsi. It is noteworthy that the walls of the basket are thin and, as a consequence, the basket was probably not rigid enough to be used as it is presented here.

Several styles of baskets (along with temporary "leaf baskets") appear in this market scene from Kampala, Uganda. From a Keystone View Company stereopticon slide dated 1911.

Metal Working

Benguamissa. - Une réparation en route.
L'Illustration Congolaise, No 49, 1er Mars 1926, p. 803.
Local metal smiths repair an administration vehicle. Note the use of the bellows and other traditional tools.

N. 119. - Forgerons chez les Wasongola. CONGO-BELGE.
Cancellation: Leopoldville, 16 Juillet 1912.
Hand-tinted post card; no message on reverse.
The three names hand-written on the front were probably those of friends or children of the addressee. The smith in the middle is working a bellows. The other smiths use traditional tools. The "staged" nature of this photograph is apparent in the proximity of the fire to the building. For obvious reasons, this would not have been the case.

"Trading Card" from the 1950s, Belgium.
A series from Compagnie Liebig depicting artisans of the Congo.
Two bellows are operated as a third craftsman works on a blade. A finished parade ax is illustrated upper right. Note that while the artist has depicted a Kuba scene, the parade ax appears to be Songye.

"Le Mwata Jamwo Kauma, roi du Lunda" with senior "femme-chefesses" and members of his council of nobles.
Note the double bell among his insignia of power.
L'Illustration Congolaise, No 83, 1er Aout 1928, p. 2068.

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