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Objects of Everyday Use

The Museum of African Art collection of objects for everyday use is versatile both in function and material. The inventory of the traditional African household includes objects of a primarily utilitarian nature and the materials used to make them were almost always found in the vicinity of the dwelling area.

The African gourd is one of the oldest and widely dispersed plants on the African continent whose practical value and durability are evident even today. The particularities of this fruit, such as the relative simplicity of cultivation and processing, have made the African gourd – whether used in its natural shape or additionally intervened on – a material used to make an array of objects for everyday use: ladles, cups, bottles, bathing vessels for children or cots, but also rattles and resonator-boxes for different musical instruments. In West Africa calabash vessels were decorated using the pirogravure technique with abstract and animal motifs linked to beliefs and myths. For instance, among the Dogon of Mali, rattles and smaller vessels made from a calabash half are incised with the snake motif as fertility symbol. On the other hand, in East Africa among the Maasai, a elongated bottle-gourd containing a nutritional beverage was carried by young Maasai herders during their long cattle journeys. These bottles often had leather straps and were decorated with beads and kauri shells.

Certain wooden spoons, particularly those of the Dan and Gere from Ivory Coast and Liberia, are examples that reflect the diminishment of a strong line of separation between objects for everyday and those for ritual use. Namely, among the Dan people, special wooden ladles with handles carved into the shape of the lower part of the human body, were used exclusively by women respected for their hospitality and diligence, to serve rice at ceremonial feasts.

Other objects for everyday use include: headrests, combs, baskets, mats, hoes, fly-whisks, fish-traps, etc.