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Wirework calabash snuff container

height: 8.5cm

Wirework calabashes were made across south-east Africa. A tentative regional classification in relation to the designs, based on examples in museum collections, may indicate that those with calligraphic patterns originated from the KwaZulu-Natal areas, whereas the complex and heavily worked examples came from further north, perhaps made by the Shona peoples. This unusually large example with its bold circular design in brass and copper wire probably originates from the North Nguni. The process by which such containers were manufactured is still debated: 'Both ends of short lengths of wire, cut a bit longer than required on the outside, were pushed through the rind of the calabash at right angles. There is no record of how this was done, but because the wire fits tightly in the rind it is possible that it may have been heated or may have been put in when the calabash was still green' (HE Böhme, 'Some Nguni crafts', Annals of the SA Museum, 70(1), May 1976, p35).

© 2003 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.