Kumbukumbu: African Culture

African memory and patrimony through objects obtained during the 19th and 20th centuries.

By Museu Nacional

BaianaMuseu Nacional

KUMBUKUMBU: AFRICA, MEMORY, AND HERITAGE

Africa is a continent that encompasses over 30 million square kilometers, distributed throughout 54 countries and nine territories, with more than a billion people speaking around a thousand different languages. The continent possesses incalculable wealth in diamonds, petroleum, and various minerals, which exploitation contributes to the largest economic and social contrasts in the world. Since in antiquity, Africa was part of the longest and most important commercial routes, and, through them, came in contact with distant peoples and cultures. In the 7th century, Arabian caravans brought Islam to the North of Africa; in the 15th Century, Christians arrived at the Atlantic coast, and, from the end of the 17th Century on, the growth of the Atlantic commerce of slaves led to the largest forced migration in modern history. The expansion of colonial Europe over Africa in the 19th-20th Centuries ruptured the dynamic African history and established new political and economic patterns that were sustained by military force, alliances with African elites, and the implementation of European standards of modern life. In mid-20th Century, the victorious independence movements began to change this panorama. CONTINUE ---►

HeadrestMuseu Nacional

--- ► The collections that form the Kumbukumbu Exhibition of the National Museum presents various objects acquired by means of donations, purchases, and exchanges. Many were obtained during dramatic periods in African history and evidence the protagonism of Africans, Brazilians, and Europeans throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries, in diplomatic relations, slavery, colonial conflicts, civilization projects, and scientific studies. They are objects that were brought from different parts of the continent between 1810 and 1940, with the addition of other objects that either belonged to, or were produced by Africans or their descendants in Brazil, between 1880 and 1950. Besides the pieces’ beauty and anthropological significance, the exhibition is of historical importance due to having one of the oldest African collections in Brazil. We present here some of these pieces.

AlakaMuseu Nacional

SECTION I: Africa, Past and Present

Africans are integrated in the modern world, but preserve habits, beliefs, production techniques, and rituals that are very old. Amidst many peoples and languages, they combine their differences with practices and habits that are today generalized all over the continent. The sophisticated work with metallurgy, the art of wood, music and its instruments, manual weaving, and various types of art, are all marks of the African cultures that are today admired all over the world and appropriated by contemporary Western culture. The fabrics are valuable and easy to transport, and, because of this, have already been used as a trading currency between merchants, who would use them to buy and sell other products all over the continent. Among the most valuable fabrics in sub-Saharan Africa are those made of loom and dyed in several colors in the traditional wells of African dyeing units. Musical instruments are, maybe, the strongest examples of the circulation of the African peoples’ cultural goods. Among the most widespread instruments, there are a great variety of drums. The lamellophone, or the marimba (also known as sanza, kisanji, mbira or kalimba), on the other hand, are little known today, but were greatly appreciated in the past, including by enslaved Africans who were brought to Brazil.

ALAKA

African fabric.
Also known as “cloths of the Coast.” Are loom made, in the Western coast of Africa. Bought by Heloísa Alberto Torres in Salvador, Bahia, in 1953.

Uganda DrumMuseu Nacional

UGANDA DRUM

Made of Zebra skin.
Bought to the king of Uganda by Jorge Dumont Village, and donated to the National Museum in 1926.

DrumMuseu Nacional

DRUM

Gélédé MaskMuseu Nacional

GÉLÉDÉ MASK

Gélédéé — secret female society of the Yorubá language peoples.
The masks were and are still used by men during dance rituals to approach everyday life themes. Many are topped with adornments. Exchange with the Berlin Museum in 1928.

HeadrestMuseu Nacional

HEAD REST

It was believed that, in resting the head on this support, it was possible to communicate with their ancestors.

MaskMuseu Nacional

MASK

The teeth stand out, with a deformed tip that is commonly used by the local population.
Exchange with the Berlin Museum in 1928.

WeaponMuseu Nacional

WEAPON

“Weapon taken from rebelled Africans in colonial conflict in Senegal. The marks on the handle indicate the deaths committed by its owner,” according to the piece’s entrance record at the National Museum.

Pipe fillerMuseu Nacional

PIPE BOWL

Ceramics.
Exchange with the Berlin Museum in 1928.

Tusk of elephantMuseu Nacional

ELEPHANT TUSKS

Sculpted Elephant ToothMuseu Nacional

SCULPTED ELEPHANT TOOTH

Exchange with Berlin museum in 1928.

BasketMuseu Nacional

BASKET

Wood PipeMuseu Nacional

WOOD PIPE

Wooden spoonMuseu Nacional

WOOD SPOON

Donation by Francisco Teixeira de Miranda.

CombMuseu Nacional

COMB

Probably made out of ebony, a type of dark wood that is very rare today. Used among the Swahili language peoples on the Eastern coast of Africa.

DrumMuseu Nacional

DRUM

Leather bagMuseu Nacional

SECTION II: DIPLOMACY OF FRIENDSHIP, BRAZIL-DAHOMEY (BENIN)

This is one of the oldest collections of the National Museum. It arrived in Brazil in 1810, even before the Museum’s creation, which was in 1818. It is an outcome of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Dahomey, which is currently Benin, and Brazil. In the year of 1810, the king Adandozan of Dahomey sent many presents to D. João, Prince Regent of Portugal, who, in the occasion, lived with the royal family in Brazil. These were objects of his personal use, some of them having been for the restricted use of the King and the dignitaries of the kingdom. Knowing of the Treaty of Friendship and Alliance between Brazil and England, which in 1810 established the gradual end of the slave trade, the Dahomey embassy tried to negotiate with D. João privileges for the slave commerce in Brazil. At the time, the Kingdom of Dahomey was in war with neighboring peoples, and thus, had many prisoners, becoming one of the largest slave exporters to the Americas. CONTINUE --- ►

ZinkpoMuseu Nacional

—► In coming to brazil, the ambassadors brought presents as well as a letter from the king Adandozan, which is today kept at the Historical and Geographical Institute of Brazil. Some of these gifts are in display. Highlight is given to the throne, which has always been exposed at the National Museum, and the flag, which shows images of prisoners and decapitated people. Sending messages through means of drawings on fabrics was an ancient practice in the Dahomey reign. The flag registers Andandozan’s victories in wars against his enemies.

ZINKPO

Throne.
It was called zingpogandeme (king’s seat) or zinkpojandeme (seat with braided decoration).
Rare copy of the throne of the king Kpengla (1774-1789), grandfather of Adandozan.
Gift from Adandozan, King of Dahomey, to the Prince Regent D. João in 1810.

Royal sandalMuseu Nacional

ROYAL SANDAL

Gift from Adandozan, King of Dahomey, to the Prince Regent D. João in 1810.

Tobacco pouchMuseu Nacional

TOBACCO BAG

Made of leather to transport tobacco slabs.
Gift from Adandozan, King of Dahomey, to the Prince Regent D. João in 1810.

Leather bagMuseu Nacional

LEATHER BAG

Gift from Adandozan, King of Dahomey, to the Prince Regent D. João in 1810.

War flagMuseu Nacional

WAR FLAG

Made of raw linen, with black and red cloth applications.
Gift from Adandozan, King of Dahomey, to the Prince Regent D. João in 1810.

Pipe holderMuseu Nacional

PIPE CASE

Made of wood.
Gift from Adandozan, King of Dahomey, to the Prince Regent D. João in 1810.

NkisiMuseu Nacional

SECTION III: THE PEOPLES OF THE EQUATORIAL FOREST

For over a thousand years, the equatorial forest - cutted by the Congo and the Lualaba rivers - was occupied by nomadic and gatherer peoples, ancestors of the current Bantu peoples. They began to migrate from the center of the continent to the West, until they arrived at the Atlantic coast. On the way they began to mix with local peoples, teaching agriculture and metallurgy and establishing new settlements. Those who remained nomads in the forest became pejoratively known as pygmies. This set of peoples occupy today the entire forest and its surroundings (Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, The Republic of Congo, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola). Despite a linguistic proximity, they have very distinct cultures and social organization. From this region came the slaves that are known in Brazil as congos, loangos, and angicos. CONTINUE ---►

NgumbaMuseu Nacional

--- ► During the colonial occupation, European explorers, especially art scholars and traders, took objects from these peoples’ material culture, collected them, and disseminated them across the world. The first African ethnographic and artistic collections that we know of today were created this way. The objects presented here belonged to the peoples that inhabited the territories that were occupied by the Germans (current Cameroon), Belgians (current Democratic Republic of the Congo), and French (The Republic of Congo). Almost all of them arrived at the National Museum through exchanges, in which indigenous objects from Brazil and African objects were traded by museological institutions.

NGUMBA

Figure of male ancestor. Guardian of ancestors’ tombs.
Generally carries a horn between his hands, where magical substances were kept.
Exchange with Berlin Museum in 1928.

Large knifeMuseu Nacional

MACHETE

Large knife No.2Museu Nacional

MACHETE

Donated to the National Museum by Rochefort.

DaggerMuseu Nacional

DAGGER

Representation of status and power. Decorated handle with brass tacks.
Used in prisoners’ executions. In the 20th Century, this practice became outlawed in the Belgian Congo, and the knife began to be utilized only as a ceremonial dance object.

NkisiMuseu Nacional

NKISI

Representation of human figure associated with magical practices.

MaskMuseu Nacional

MASK

Generally covered with antelope skin.
Used in funerals and rituals of initiation of the extinct secret male society, Ngbe.
Some have horns on their heads.
The round mark on the side of the face is a drawing of the old system of graphic signs called nsibidi.
Exchange with the Berlin Museum in 1928.

Head jarMuseu Nacional

CALABASH JAR

Exchange with the Berlin Museum in 1928.

NkondiMuseu Nacional

NKONDI

Representation of human figure associated with magical practices.

WeaponMuseu Nacional

SECTION IV: COLONIAL WARFARE

The National Museum’s collection of African weapons offers us study possibilities that go beyond the functional idea of “attack and defense.” They invite us to think of them as carriers of power and stories. We cannot conceive of them only as instruments of war, hunting, or other activities related to everyday survival. Some of them are ritual objects and denote the social status of the individual who detains it. They all possess a cutting or perforating metal part. Metallurgy was a technology created by the Bantu linguistic root peoples, today represented by more than 500 ethnic groups distributed all over sub-Saharan Africa. The set of weapons displayed were collected in the 19th Century and almost all come from the Zambezi River Valley. The region, rich in minerals, permitted the abundant use of some metals, such as zinc and copper — and the binding formed by the two, which gives origin to brass. The work with brass wire is present in most of the weapons at display in the Kumbukumbu room. There are references that this technique was developed by the Shona, a Bantu root ethnolinguistic macrogroup. The Shona were the largest group to settle in the Zambezi Valley. Today, these weapons, adorned in brass wire, are greatly appreciated by the Western market of African art. CONTINUE ---►

AxeMuseu Nacional

---►Hammers with a blade similar to a “duck beak” were of Nama (or Namaqua) origin, a people that inhabit the territories of Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana. In the first years of the 20th Century, the German, then colonizers of Namibia, expelled the Nama and the Herero from their lands. In 1904, after a series of conflicts, the German army advanced over the territory of these populations, who were practically decimated (many were made prisoners or slaves). More than 70% of the people expelled from Namibia died of hunger and thirst in the desert, unleashing the first genocide of the 20th century. As such, the set of these weapons evidences another type of power: the power affirmed by colonial domination. The “weapons" were taken from their original peoples during the European exploration of the African continent and suffered a process of resignifinition. It stopped being a symbol of bravery, courage, and resistance, to turn into a representation of the inferiority of the conquered. It became a “primitive" piece of contemplation. Today, it is fundamental that museums decolonize their collections so as to “liberate" the objects and their histories, opening up space for the occupation of other narratives.

AXE

Used by the Namaquá.
There are small circles carved on the wooden handle and decorative details on the blade.

Axe No.2Museu Nacional

AXE

Used in wars or by people in positions of authority.
It possesses a triangular blade and a wooden handle, adorned with braided brass wires.
Sold to the National Museum by the Frenchman Albert Mocquerys in 1902.

WeaponMuseu Nacional

WEAPON

Weapon of prestige.
Blade fitted in the wood handle covered by a brass wire weft.
Sold to the National Museum by the Frenchman Albert Mocquerys in 1902.

BayonetMuseu Nacional

BAYONET

WeaponMuseu Nacional

WEAPON

Adorned with beads. Ceremonial use.

BasketMuseu Nacional

SECTION V: ANGOLA AFTER THE ATLANTIC SLAVERY

The territory that today corresponds to Angola exported over three million enslaved people to Brazil between 1530 and 1850, when the Atlantic trade was officially abolished. In Angola, slavery endured until 1878, year in which it became prohibited by the Colonial Portuguese legislation. However, in practice, slavery extended there until 1910. Angola remained a colony of Portugal until 1975. During the colonial period, the local population was submitted to forced work, very similar to the times of slavery, and also to a compulsory process of “assimilation,” which intended to instill in the Africans European cultural standards. Besides colonial employees, Catholic and Protestant missionaries of many nationalities established themselves in several parts of the country to convert the peoples of Angola to the Christian faith, in collaboration to the process of assimilation. CONTINUE ---►

Wooden DollMuseu Nacional

---►The objects presented here represent distinct peoples of Angola: the Tchokwe (or Quiôco) and the Ovimbundu. The Tchokwe (situated to the North and East of the country) are recognized by their exquisite work on wood and are world-famous in the art world. Here we have exemplars of batons. Although they look similar, the batons have various functions. The most simple are the clubs, used in hunting as a hand or propulsion weapon. The adorned batons are used as ceremonial objects. The Ovimbundu objects represented the everyday life of the peoples of the Central Plateau of Angola and were donated to the National Museum in 1936 by the Pernambuco teacher and Protestant missionary in Angola, Celenia Pires Ferreira. The collection includes, in its majority, objects of domestic use and adornment.

WOOD DOLL

Donated by Celenia Pires Ferreira in 1936.

Stick No.2Museu Nacional

BATON

Topped by bird. Ceremonial use.

Walking stickMuseu Nacional

CANE

Donated by Celenia Pires Ferreira in 1936.

BasketMuseu Nacional

BASKET

Donated by Celenia Piers Ferreira in 1936.

Basket No.2Museu Nacional

BASKET

Donated by Celenia Piers Ferreira in 1936.

Wooden spoonMuseu Nacional

WOODEN SPOON

Donated by Celenia Piers Ferreira in 1936.

Wooden SpoonMuseu Nacional

WOODEN SPOON

Donated by Celenia Piers Ferreira in 1936.

EdansMuseu Nacional

SECTION VI: AFRICANS IN BRAZIL

The presence of Africans and their descendants in Brazil is marked by the violence of slavery and post-abolition. We present here objects that show how the Africans established themselves and recreated their world from the end of the 19th Century on, in particular in Bahia and Rio de Janeiro. We have objects from the old Candomblés of Rio de Janeiro, known as zungus or “fortune giving houses”. There they worshiped Inkices (bantu), orixás (yorubá) and yodels (jêje-mahi). Persecuted, these houses were invaded and had their objects confiscated by the police and used as material proof of the practice of rituals that were prohibited at the time. The frequenters of these houses were persecuted and arrested. Knowing of the existence of these objects at the Court Police, the director of the National Museum then, Ladislau Netto, throughout the decade of the 1880s, began to ask to have them sent to him for his studies. The National Museum, then, formed a collection that contains old techniques of metallurgy and of wood art, material examples of religious practices of this last generation of Africans and their direct descendants. CONTINUE ---►

AbebéMuseu Nacional

--- ► We also have a collection of objects of Candomblé Nagô from Bahia, formed in 1940 and complemented in 1953 by the anthropologist Heloísa Alberto Torres, who was at the time director of the National Museum. The Candomblé Nagô was elaborated by enslaved Africans of Yorubá language, brought to Bahia. The wooden sculptures, representing the orixás, were sculpted by the artisan José Afonso de Santa Isabel.

ABEBÉ

Oxum ritual object.
Court Police Collection. Decade of 1880.

Representation of XangôMuseu Nacional

XANGÔ REPRESENTATION

Religious use.
Court Police Collection. Decade of 1880.

Ring braceletsMuseu Nacional

HOOP BRACELETS

In Africa they were valuable for their weight in metals and used as currency for trade.
Court Police Collection. Decade of 1880.

ArrowMuseu Nacional

ARROW

Oxossi ritual object.
Court Police Collection. Decade of 1880.

Arrow No.2Museu Nacional

ARROW

Oxossi ritual object.
Court Police Collection. Decade of 1880.

Strand of beadsMuseu Nacional

BEAD THREAD

Religious use.
Court Police Collection. Decade of 1880.

EdansMuseu Nacional

EDANS

Symbol used around the neck by members of the Ogboni society.

StoolMuseu Nacional

STOOL

In Nagô Candomblé, it was used by people of lower hierarchy.
Heloísa Alberto Torres collection.

BaianaMuseu Nacional

BAIANA

Rag doll dressed in the attire of women of Candomblé in the years of 1920.
Captured at the Feira de Santana, Bahia.
Donation by Armando Fragoso.

Credits: Story

DIRECTOR
Alexander Wilhelm Armin Kellner

VICE DIRECTOR
Cristiana Silveira Serejo

ADJUNCT DIRECTORS
Wagner William Martins
Lygia Dolores Ribeiro de Santiago Fernandes
Luiz Fernando Duarte

CREATION/EXECUTION TEAM
Antonio Ricardo Pereira de Andrade
Valéria Maria Fonseca de Lima
Marci Fileti Martins
Lydia Maria Gomes da Silva
Lorrana Gonçalves de Alcântara
Déborah Rezende Gouvêa
Christina Aparecida de Lélis

PHOTOGRAPHY
Rômulo Fialdini
Valentino Fialdini

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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