FEBRUARY 10 MARCH 9
THE GRINTER GALLERIES
African utilitarian objects encompass a wide
variety of forms from tools to household items.
Many items of prestige, such as special
furniture, are descendants of more modest
For most Africans the home is the center of
the world, on axis for movable objects which
constitute furniture and household items that
are used for practical purposes. Most African
homes lack a Western sense of interior space.
More often they are semi-open, sprawling
compounds which house extended families
and varied livestock over a single area.
Most activities take place within the enclos-
ed yard, or on verandahs, as interior spaces
are reserved for sleeping or refuge from the
elements. It is in the enclosed courtyard that
numerous utilitarian objects, tools, and utensils
necessary to the smooth functioning of daily
activities are used. Every piece has its proper
place and use.
Although some objects belong to the family
group some may be individually owned. In fact
some owners develop intensely personal ties
with certain objects. This relationship may be
so intense that objects are buried in graves to
accompany the dead.
The history of African utilitarian items is limited
by the lack of documentation. Sparse written
description of household objects were made
by European missionaries and explorers, but
these are often repititous and non-specific.
Archaeological research has yielded infor-
mation on early forms of housing, and artifacts
made of stone, metal, and pottery which
resemble tools and cooking utensils have been
Research indicates that little has changed in
the materials and techniques used to make
traditional utilitarian objects in Africa. Leather,
vegetable fibers, wood, calabashes, and pot-
tery all date to neolithic times, and remain
essential materials. The durability of tradition
among utilitarian objects reflects the availabili-
ty of these raw materials and the ease with
which they are manufactured and become
Single-use objects are rare. One tool or
utensil could serve many purposes, just as con-
tainers such as calabashes store a number of
Imported forms and materials often supplant
indigenous ones, and have even become
prestige objects. For example traditional stools
carved in one piece from a block of wood may
be replaced by chairs modeled after Euro-
pean prototypes. These are carpenteredd";
made of several pieces of wood joined by
pegs or nails.
African homes vary in their basic architec-
tural styles from dome-shaped, rectangular, or
round structures. The entryway into the home
may be ornamented for accent. In some
areas, it is the courtyard that is most often
accentuated with ornamental or symbolic
forms. Door jams, verandah posts, door panels,
and lintels may be carved in relief or in the
round. Architectural elaborations may be car-
ried out on the poorest of homes, but it is usual-
ly the homes of the wealthy and powerful that
are embellished with symbolic carvings or mud
reliefs which refer to the status and power of
Raised mud platforms at one end of a room,
or around the edges of a room, may be
perceived as multi-functional pieces of fur-
niture. Covered with a sleeping mat they
become beds, although wooden beds are
made in some areas of Africa. Headrests, or
pillows, are made of wood or terracotta, and
are used to support the head. These may be
very simple oblong objects, although many
are intricately carved with representational or
symbolic decorative elements.
Although clay platforms may serve as a sit-
ting area the stool is ubiquitous in Africa. Stools
are intensely personal pieces of furniture and
there is an intimate relationship that develops
between a person and his stool. Stools come in
a variety of shapes and sizes ranging from sim-
ple but ingenious adaptations of natural
branch forms to those that are elaborately
carved with recognizable human and animal
images. The chair, an adopted European form,
has been thoroughly Africanized in some
cultures where it has taken on prestige and
ritual functions that the stool once had.
Containers are created from a wide variety
of materials and techniques including
basketry, hand-built pottery, carved wood,
and calabashes, (gourds) and fulfill numerous
Tools are found predominantly among
agricultural peoples. Food gathering tools
such as axes, hoes, and fishtraps are common.
Hunting tools and weapons are utilized by
men, while domestic tools of the home are us-
ed by women. One of the most essential
household devices is the mortar and pestel
used for grinding and crushing ingredients.
These vary in size from one to two feet in
diameter, and can be either shallow or deep.
Several types of looms are used in sub-
Sahara Africa for the production of cloth.
Designed for either men or women, certain por-
tions of looms may be carved of wood in a
variety of forms. Although some shuttles and
weaving swords may be decoratively carved
for women's looms, it is usually the heddle
pulleys of men's looms that are carved in
human or animal forms.
Games are important recreational devices
for children and adults. Carved wooden
gameboards often are used for simple or com-
plex counting games, using pebbles or shells
as units of measurement.
The Grinter Galleries
Utilitarian Objects of Africa will be on
display at the Grinter Galleries, located in the
lobby of Grinter Hall, from February 10 through
March 9, Monday through Friday, from 9:00
a.m. until 3:00 p.m.
For further information on the Grinter
Galleries or the Center for African Studies
Center for African Studies
470 Grinter Hall
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611
The Center for African Studies and the Orinter Galleries
Invite you to attend an African Studies Bra .
U.S.-African Relations: Past, Present and Future
Gweldolen M. Carter, Professor of Political Science, U.F.
8 p.m. Thursday, February 9, 1984, in 427 Grinter Hall
followed by an Opening Reception for
Utilitarian Objects of Africa
9:30 p.m. Thursday, February 9, 1984, at the Grinter GalleriA
Co-sponsored by the Black Students Union
CENTER FOR AFRICAN STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, GAINESVILLE FL 32611