Gwen van Embden
Parliamentary Millennium Project: Artwork Labels and Information

Perspectives on and of Africa:

An Introductory Exhibition to the Parliamentary Millennium Project

A great part of the direct lived experience of the people of Africa has been shaped by maps and mapping.  For many people of the world maps are mere tools for guiding travel or identifying place.  For Africa and Africa and Africans maps have had a far more fundamental impact on their progress. 

The Parliamentary Millennium Project draws on mapping as the source of the central theme of Perspectives on and of Africa.  Maps have been used for a range of purposes by different societies.  European maps, for example, were largely about demarcating territory.  Any territory without fences was seen as available for mapping and individual ownership.  The indigenous people of Africa had a very different relationship to land, spaces and mapping.  Land was not just unmarked spaces available for appropriation and colonisation.  San and other examples of African mapping of spaces reflected the invisible lines of connection between the spirit world and the physical world.  Stories of the "Early People" who lived in a mythical world before the San, and the rock paintings became the markers on these maps. Features of the landscape became the way points by which people negotiated their territories. Maps are thus not only guides to the places people traveled, but reflections of the beliefs, sometimes the prejudices, and also the imaginations of their makers. This exhibition explores some of these perceptions beliefs and prejudices inherent in  reflected in different forms of mapping. In particular it attempts to contrast European  different perspectives with indigenous ones, and through this to encourage an understanding of our differing past experiences, to challenge received history; and to promote the recognition of a shared South African identities. 

Why Parliament? :  Maps and Perspectives

Parliament is an institution that draws a diversity of people together to explore and shape ideas.  As with maps each of the representatives may have a distinct perspective or view that shapes their contribution in Parliament.  Unknown to many, Parliament owns and cares for a valuable collection of historical maps and artworks, including the Mendelsohn Collection of 15th and 16th Century European maps. Many of these maps, along with others donated and acquired, provide valuable insights into the relations of power and the ideological perspectives prevalent within the societies of their creators. Parliament's collection offers, in particular, keen insights into European perspectives on Africa.

Through this exhibition and project, Parliament is also taking charge of its own history -- a history in which mapping the land has been inextricably linked to policies of exclusion and dispossession. It was here in Parliament that millions of South Africans were literally mapped out of the country and denied their citizenship. Today, through this project, South Africa's first democratic parliament shows how different perspectives on the land, its ownership and its negotiation, have shaped our understanding of both the past and the present and creates the opportunity for South Africans to begin conversations that could shape perspectives in new and positive ways. It also shows that the mutual understanding of these differing perspectives can contribute to a celebration of the richness of hitherto neglected insights, to a rejection of prejudice and to the building of the nation.

Theme A

(Framing text)

Perspectives of  Landscape: The Breakwater Map. Claiming land.

Framing text

Much of the information we have about the Cape is based on a perspective that links Africa and her people to European contact with Africa and South Africa.  We now have evidence that At the time of Christ  for millennia before European contact with Southern Africa hunter-gatherers (who became known as the San) lived as the sole occupants in every region of the subcontinent. Their artifacts and rock paintings are a testament to their presence. They are what were once called ìtheir title deedsî to the country. But by the end of the first millennium they were competing for their land with newcomers -- pastoralists in the west and central interior and African farmers entering from the north east. In some cases the competition for land was productive and alliances were formed, in others the San were driven out of their hunting grounds and forced to take up life in less hospitable terrain. 

From the perspective of the San, the most devastating invasion came at the time of the European Reformation when white people arrived at the Cape and began their expansion into the interior. These new farmers took their land, murdered whole communities, hunted out the game and depleted resources. Those San they did not kill starved to death or were forced to take work as labourers without pay. For the San in South Africa, by the end of the nineteenth century, there was, literally no place left for them outside of the reach of the settlers. While San survived in small numbers in those places not favoured by colonists, such as the deserts of the northern Cape, Namibia and Botswana, in South Africa languages died with the last speakers, folklore was no longer passed on to new generations and oral histories ceased to be told.

In  San thought, the first occupants of the country were ìthe Early Raceî a population of people who were later to become the stars, the animals, the wind and the rain. All animals were, in this time, people. As the early race was dispossessed of its humanity, the San as they saw themselves lived in the land and exploited its resources, but the memory of the early people lingered in their folklore and natural histories. In an important sense, these early mythical people had mapped the country for the San and provided the basis upon which the San understood the world and its workings. This process of mapping was a process of investing the natural features of the landscape and the heavens with human history and with evidence of occupation and possession of the land.

For the San all things were sentient. All things marked place and referred to realities that existed beyond them. Just as a drawn map has a physical presence, the mapping of the land by the San through the stories that animated it, was conceived of by the San as a physical process. Stories were the lines drawn on the landscape to mark its passages and claim its features as home. Thus the history of occupancy of the land was invested in the land itself, and accessible to the San who passed through it.

Europeans brought with them radically different ways of marking-out land that depended on borders and boundaries and individual ownership. Their failure to understand the San perspective of land and shared land use, was fatal for the San, and later for many others who lived within the borders of South Africa.


1. Table Bay Harbour - 1866

Plan of the new Works completed so far, as to admit the working of the Trade of the Port.

Pen and ink sketch, ms, col.

Signed Resident Engineer: A.F. Andrews

Scale: 1:1200 (100 foot to the inch)

Oriented with north to upper left.

Shows harbour ares, including Somerset Hospital, Convict station and the Patent slip. Harbour works began in 1860 with the breakwater with the stone being obtained from the Alfred Basin. The first stone was tipped in by Prince Alfred; now H.R.H. The Duke of Edingurgh.

The San waged a war of resistance against Dutch and later British colonisation of the Cape but their bows and arrows were, in the end, no match for the firepower of the settlers. By the 1860s San resistance had collapsed and many San were arrested and brought to the Cape to serve jail sentences for various crimes from stock theft to homicide. Their labour included building the breakwater at the Cape Town waterfront. The Breakwater map illustrates how European ideas about the land were reflected in their mapping. Natural borders were replaced with lines ruled on a page. The breakwater wall itself is symbolic of the ways in which the needs of one group of people were  met at the cost of the needs of another. Designed to protect the new inhabitants of the Cape from the potential destructive powers of nature, it offered no protection to the San against the onslaught of European culture.

2. Diorama

The Diorama was constructed with casts made from destitute San brought to Cape Town from the central interior. It was intended to represent  way of life and a people deemed soon to be extinct. While the San saw themselves as a part of and not separate from nature, Europeans chose to interpret this as an excuse to view the San a little more than animals, and so it was easy to dispossess them of their land. The diorama reflected this view and after much protesting and soul searching was closed to the public on 3 April 2001.

3. Saartjie Baartman

The destruction of the culture and lifestyle of pastoralists, or Khoekhoe, which occurred alongside the destruction of the San, took many forms. Colonial views of the Khoekhoe, as less than human, are painfully illustrated in the story of Saartjie Baartman. Baartman was initially taken to England as an object of curiosity -- a bizarre human "type" -- and displayed for the British public to gaze and wonder at. Even in death her body would become an object of European scientific  and was dissected and then displayed for a time at a museum in Paris. After years of intensive petitioning by the South African government and other interested parties, for the return of Ms. Baardmanís body parts for a decent burial the French Parliament finally passed a Law in February 2002 that will allow for Ms. Baardman's body parts to be returned to her country of birth.

4. Galton’s quote (can’t find this for the moment)

5. “Others will say that the natives are brutish and cannibals, from whom nothing good is to be expected, and that we shall have to be on our guard continually; but this is only a sailorís yarn as shall be more closely shown and denied. It is not to be denied that they are without laws or government like many Indians, and it is indeed true, that also some sailors and soldiers have been killed by them; but the reason for this is always left unspoken by our folk, to excuse themselves for having been the cause of it, since we firmly believe that the peasants of this country [Holland], if their cattle were to be shot down and taken off without payment, would not show themselves a whit better than these natives, had they not to fear the law.”  (Written by survivors of the Haerlem wreck in 1649)

(Niche (B) of Breakwater)

Framing Text

Claiming land/

Voices in the Sand

Imprints of the human voice/

The role of testimony in land claims

“Less than 7 thousand of 67 thousand claims for land restitution have been settled, and people are becoming impatient...”

“Our history is a trail of blood, which has been hidden deeply under the Kalahari red sand.  If we open up the sand, as we re doing now, we will see that this trail leads right back into the middle of the Park, where our parents and their parents were born and died.  With my remaining years, I want to teach all our young people how we lived off the land in the Kalahari.  I want to teach them what bushfoods we ate, what we used for medicine, how we as San lived happily in our only home.”

“Without the Kalahari we are nothing. In the Kalahari, we know we belong, we know what to do with the land, we know who we are. The animals know us. We are their brothers and sisters. Many our stories are about the animas. Such as the lion, he still knows that the bushmen, the San are more clever than he is.”

“ I know every plant, beetle, animal in the Park. It is where our San people belong. We need to re-teach the young people the knowledge that I and some other have, so that they can know where they come from.”

“The Kalahari is like a big farmyard. It is not a wilderness to us. We know every plant, animal and insect, and know how to use them. No other people could ever know and love this farm like us.”

“My mother did not teach me the N/u (=Khomani) language because she was ashamed to speak it. I want to make sure that all the young people can learn the language, and can know that they own the Kalahari, where we all came from.”

“I have lived all my life hiding that I am a San. Now we own our own land in the Kalahari, where we can be proud to be San, and can show our children how we lived with the land.”

“The red Kalahari sand is like the blood of our people. Our parents and their parents were buried in the sand, and one day we will all join them there, and become part of the red sand.”

The =Khomani San have up to the present been pre-occupied with their own historic struggle, and have not engaged actively with other indigenous communities worldwide. With the celebrations of their land claim envisaged later this year, they would welcome expressions, or who would like to share experiences with or engage with the Khomani in any other way. Correspondence could be addressed to the Khamani San directly at the following address,

The Chairperson

=Khomani San Communal Property Association


1. Makuleke Land Claim/ “The forgotten corner”

The Makuleke community was dispossed of heir land (Pafuri area in the Kruger National Park, Soutpansberg district, Northern Province) in 1975. In terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Act, 1994 as amended, the community submitted a claim for the restitution of the land to themselves. The parties have agreed that the land shall be restored to the community, subject to it being utilised solely for the purposes of conservation and associated comemerial activities. The parties further agreed to have the land incorporated into the Kruger National Park, to be known as the Makuleke region of the Kruger National Park.

2. Dot Maps/ N/ores map from John Marshall (Info not received as yet from Boston, USA. - coming Sunday)

3. /Xam San maps. (Including the aerial map and the lizard drawing & Bleek Map)

This map was drawn by a San breakwater prisoner at the request of a scholar studying his language. The map shows two hills located in his area of origin. Each hill represents a half of a lizard that fell to the ground and broke into two pieces. Alongside the broken lizard map is an aerial photograph of the two hills and alongside that a sketch map drawn by linguists in Cape Town.  These maps does not only show a difference in style between European and /Xam mapping, but also illustrate the different motional relations the /Xam had with the land.

4. Footprint

In the 1960s a set of footprints was found at Nahoon Point, East London.  These included human imprints and those of a possible hyaena, a jackal, a water mongoose and birds.  Unlike the Langebaan Footprints, these were preserved in the ‘roof’ of an eroding section of dune rock and are positive imprints of the sand that filled the original hollows. Using the Thermo-luminescence (TL) dating technique, it has been established that the dune footprints are about 2000,000 years old. The foot print shown here is a plaster-of-paris cast of one of the Nahoon Point footprints, the original of which are on display in the East London Museum.

5. Voice Boxes

- Lost voices

- N/u oral mapping

- Pede

- Music

- Tsonga


Theme B

Mapping worlds apart - Apartheid

Framing text

The creation of the apartheid state saw the re-mapping of the South African landscape. These new maps were powerful reflections of an ideology which saw the country being made up of different ethnic groups divided by impermeable boundaries. This ideology was supported by an invented history which insisted that the country was "empty" of people at the time the Europeans arrived. In order to give effect to this ideology the brutal policing mechanisms aimed at keeping South Africans separate were implemented. The inherently unequal division of land effectively saw the creation of two separate nations in one country: one generally white and affluent and the other generally black and poor.

With the advent of democracy in 1994 South Africa has once again required re-mapping. This re-mapping is not just a process of redrawing, removing borders and creating new names and markers on the map. It is also a process in which South Africans come to terms with our divided past and the effects of these divisions on the lives of many South Africans. It is a process of restoration and reconstruction, in which the differing and rich importance of land to many diverse cultures is once again established and in which different perspectives on land and its ownership are respected and understood.


(1.) Pre-1994 and Post 1994 maps

The creation of the Homelands systems effectively alienated the majority of South Africans from their motherland.  During the years of apartheid the official maps of South Africa represented a political reality in which South Africa's diverse people were ascribed separate paths of development. While consecutive generations of white South African voters kept this political reality in place, this view of the South African political landscape was firmly rejected by South Africa's black majority and the international community.

(2.) Pa

Various types of ìpassesî have been used in South Africa to confine Africans to particular areas and control their movement.  The laws regulating passes were changed over the decades to meet the ideological and economic needs of the white minority. The introduction of the Pass Laws was a   The introduction of apartheid saw a further attempt to alienate black South Africans the African people from their country of birth.  The Passbook was meant now used  to give credence to the notion that black South Africans had "citizenship" of one of the Homelands and thus had no claim to full membership of mainstream South African society. In effect, the Pass Laws constituted a powerful system of control and surveillance, in which black people were kept out of "white society", were subjected to humiliating checks and harassment from police. Whereas whites could negotiation e the South African "map" with freedom, blacks Africans were confined to predetermined territories on the map. The passbook was thus a crucial tool in the apartheid mapping of the country.

(3.) Water

Material conditions under apartheid created a different appreciation of the country's natural resources. The two pictures shown in this exhibit are indicative of the two worlds that existed, and to a large extent still exist, within South Africa. Whilst elaborate water features and swimming pools are commonplace in the more affluent areas of the country, the daily struggle for access to clean water is a reality for many of the country's poor.

(4.) Township

Maps do, in some instances hide important features of a landscape. So-called townships such as Soweto (South West Township), Gugelethu and New Brighton was created to accommodate urban black people needed for their labour in white South Africa. This map compares population density in black townships to the average population density in South Africa's neighbouring countries. The cramped conditions of black townships are illustrated in the picture of Delft, in the same frame.

(5.) Migrant labour map

The discovery, in the 19th century, of minerals such as gold and diamonds lead to an increased demand for cheap, black labour. Although the migrant labour system started

prior to the advent of apartheid, this system became an essential element of the apartheid economy. This map indicates "sources of native labour" used by recruiters working for the Goldmines in what was then the Transvaal.  Designating the areas,

as sources of labour is reminiscent of earlier colonial maps which indicated "slave factories".  The view of blacks as mere "sources of labour" also served to dehumanise the people, their cultural and social existence.

(Deconstruction of Painting)

This painting can be interpreted from many perspectives.  It is a group portrait of the 19 members of the first Republican Cabinet of 1961 to the House of Assembly. Given the dates of its commission and who is shown it can be seen to be a celebration of the First Republic, at the time South Africa left the Commonwealth.  It is a work about power as it shows the most influential powerful lawmakers at the time, that is the Ministers who made the laws that sustained Apartheid.  The painting was conceived by the then Speaker of Parliament but was paid for by a local bank so it refers to the particular relationships between the seats of power and money.  These are not unusual relationships but it is seldom that they are so overt.

The picture is both a history painting and a group portrait painted on oil on canvas and thus fits well into the European art tradition.  The artist, Irmin Henkel, was commissioned and he spent four years working on the project and a few months in Europe to undertake research.  Among the artists whose work he looked at were Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci.

The main problem for the artist was to show the faces of all nineteen members (no back views were acceptable) and he decided to show the figures seated at a table in debate.    Absent members are included through painted portraits attached to the walls.  A question from a figure seated on the right creates visual interest across the large canvas.  The composition of figures seated at a table with the empty chair has inevitable links to European art history and evokes connections with the Last Supper.  It is an association that lends a serious, semi-religious tone to the painting of a meeting behind closed doors in an wood-panelled sanctuary.  The underlying structure relies on the receding lines of linear perspective cross cut by the circle of heads placed at the same level broken only on each end by standing figures.  These ironically we see retrospectively as key figures in the making of Apartheid, Verwoerd and Vorster. 

The map placed to the right of the composition is the crux of the discussion, which suggests that these nineteen ministers, in the presence of their predecessors and ancestors, were dividing the country, creating the new borders of geographical apartheid.  It remains a rhetorical question but nevertheless worth asking: Why does this painting no longer occupy the central position it once did in Parliament?


Theme C

Trading Bodies

Part of South Africa's rich cultural diversity is a direct result of the importation of slaves and indentured labour by European settlers. D'Anville's reference to "slaves factories" in Africa (see map) is a vivid reminder of the dehumanisation slaves had to endure. Official records of slaves at the Cape rarely provides information on the social and cultural life of slaves. A burial ground uncovered in Cobern Street in Cape Town, (shown in this niche) however, allows us a rare glimpse into the origins and lives of slaves at the Cape. Sites such as that at Cobern Street and another of drowned, shipwrecked slaves at Fort Knocke, also reveal the diverse geographic origins of the enslaved and the global reach in the trade in human beings. These sites help us map the origins of South African contemporary society.

Cobern Street grave goods 

Person no. 18

Complete clay tobacco pipe of a type manufactured between 1727 and 1791 and iron back plate of a coffin handle. In the past, pipe factories in Europe made smoking pipes from clay and huge numbers of these arrived in the colonies by ship. Clay pipes were not items of great value as they were fragile, easily broken and disposed of. Person no. 18, a woman of over 50 years in age who suffered from osteoarthritis, received a coffin burial with a long-stemmed clay pipe, perhaps that which she last used, laid alongside her.

Person no. 27

Coffin remains, an iron cut-throat razor blade, silver and other metal buttons, bone button discs and a variety of glass beads. Person no. 27, a man, died between 40 and 50 years of age and was wrapped in a cotton shroud and laid to rest in a coffin. A diverse set of personal items was present in the coffin - some of the buttons may come from clothes worn by the deceased but other buttons and objects clearly are additional. Glass beads point to Person no. 27 being a member of the under class at the Cape, quite possibly a slave.

Persons 37A and 37B

Broken grindstones, a complete pot and many shells.

In a metaphor of the colonial process, the Cobern Street graveyard overlay and obscured two graves of the Khoikhoi, represented here by a complete pot found in one of the graves. Intriguingly, each grave - dated to a thousand years ago - contained two persons, one clearly buried later than the other. From one of the two indigenous graves, Person 37A was a female of between 50 and 60 years of age and her grave companion, buried earlier, was a ten to twelve year old child of indeterminate sex. Who was this child? Broken grindstones may well symbolise the passing away of a woman who used the tools in her lifetime. What the shells meant is unknown.

Person no. 49

Shroud pins, a tinderbox, striker and flint (fire making kit) and a clay tobacco pipe.

Person no. 35, a man who died in his early thirties, unquestionably was born somewhere in tropical Africa and brought as a slave to the Cape. Locked in the chemistry of his teeth is a record of his diet as a child that is quite different from that he received as an adult in bondage. Front teeth carefully chipped and filed into artificial shapes proclaimed his distant cultural ancestry. Person no. 35 came to rest accompanied the means to enjoy one of a few pleasures available to him-- a good pipe of tobacco.

Person no. 61

The grave of Person no. 61, a woman of around 35 years in age, was unusual because it contained two quite valuable items made in silver. One is a needle case with scratched and indistinct initials and the other a snuff box with engraved initials MKH and the year 1764. The two sets of initials are not the same as one might expect if Person no. 61 owned both items. Does this mean they did not belong to her? Perhaps she received them as presents or an inheritance. Why place two valuable objects with her instead of passing them on to her offspring, relatives or friends? Was Person no. 61 a slave? Neither her bone chemistry nor her remains answer these questions and so she remains an enigma.


Theme D:

Framing text

Trading Wares

Webs of Technological Exchange and Trade

In the past, all southern African communities from hunter-gatherers, pastoralists to agriculturists, developed and maintained exchange networks. Pathways of exchange threaded their way across the sub-continent, cross-cutting cultural, linguistic and economic boundaries to draw remote areas into a web of connections. Exchange took the form of trade between communities to provide raw materials, manufactured goods or skills not available locally. Other exchanges took the form of reciprocal gift giving

between individuals that created and maintained important social relations. Around 1,400 years ago ship-born coastal traders enhanced contacts between southern Africa and the wider world and goods streamed out of Africa to reach south-western Asia and Europe, whilst others flowed in.

Whatever the form of exchange, whether they were of local, regional or transcontinental scale, the transactions also enabled a flow of information from distant places about new ideas and techniques, important events and the welfare of friends. Exchange networks thus are as much social maps as they are economic and lie at the heart of the ebb and flow of history in Africa. 

A common fallacy of western views on Africa is that the use of sophisticated technologies and the development of complex trade and commercial systems are linked to the period of European colonisation.  Mapungubwe in South Africa's Limpopo Province is considered to be the one of the earliest sites where gold working took place. Golden artifacts found here dates back to 1200 AD.  Not only was gold mined and refined in this area, but the use of techniques such as gold plating also suggests the existence of a highly differentiated society, long before Europeans had contact with southern Africa. 

Archaeological evidence such as Ming Pottery and trade beads found at sites in the Limpopo Province and ancient Chinese maps (see theme F) dating back to the early 1400s provides evidence of early trade and diplomatic relations between the people of southern Africa and Asia. At the time of the Black Death in Europe when the plague raged around the continent, thriving trade routes were crisscrossing southern Africa. During the same period European cartographers described Africa South of the Sahara as "the unknown lands". 

Bowen, Emanuel, fl. 1720-1767

A new and accurate map of Negroland and the adjacent countries; also Upper Guinea, showing the principal European settlements ... /

Drawn from surveys and the best modern maps and charts and regulated by astro(nomica)l obser(vatio)ns by Emanuel Bowen (London, 1752) Bowen was an English map and print seller, engraver to George 11 and to Louis XV of France, working in London from about 1714 onwards.

The map shows the Gold, Tooth, Grain and Slave Coasts of West Africa, (no distinction is made between the Slave commodity and other trade commodities) and the areas claimed by England, Denmark and Holland. Also various African Kingdoms.

Bowen filled in the blank areas with historical and topographical detail which make fascinating and amusing reading.

Prime meridian: London

Cartouche flanked by Negroes with elephants and monkeys.

Mendelson collection, Parliament

Jefferys, Thomas, 1695-1771

The Western coast of Africa from Cape Blanco to Cape Virga, exhibiting Senegambia proper - London: printed by Robert Sayer, 1789. Jefferys was an English cartographer, engraver and map publisher in London. He was appointed the Geographer to the Prince of Wales and to George lll. North America and West Indian atlases published after his death by Sayer and Bennett or his business successor Willaim Faden.

This map is copied from an original drawn by Monsr. d’Anville at the expense of the French East India Company and Published at Paris. It is drawn on the Mercator projection. Prime meridians of Ferro of London.

Mendelson Collection, Parliament.


1. Mapungubwe gold Replica of the Rhino, original c.1200AD

Gold plate bronze cast engineered by the CSIR

Mapungubwe National Heritage

University of Pretoria

2. Gold coil anklets (8 strands) found on Mapungubwe in royal grave 1933,

Site dated to c.1200 AD

1310mm x 140mm

Mapungubwe National Heritage

University of Pretoria

3. Bracelet

Glass trade beads with one indigenous Mapungubwe garden roller bead from Bambandyanalo, found in 1940, site dated to c. 1200 AD

Mapungubwe National Heritage

University of Pretoria

4. Chinese Celadon fragments (Sung Dynasty)

from Mapungubwe Hill excavated from royal grave area in 1933,

site dated to c. 1200 AD

Mapungubwe National Heritage

University of Pretoria

5. Ivory bracelet, early 20th century,

Gamela (Ethiopia)

Collection: Profiles of Africa.

6. Wrapped mussel shells

South African Museum

This is a 450-year-old parcel of mussel shells, found nearly 60 km inland in a rock shelter in the mountains of the Western Cape. Whoever prepared the package, carefully wrapped the shells in a broad leaf and bound this together with string. Remains of marine shells occur in rock shelters hundreds of kilometers away from the sea and reflect local exchange networks operating for at least the last 10,000 years. When found, most such shells are broken but someone tucked the object on display away in grass bedding which protected it. Marine shell had many uses as pendants, spoons, small bowls, as rubbers to give a smooth finish to pottery and as stamps to decorate the necks and rims of finished pots.

7. Ostrich eggshell necklace (3 strands), collected 1936,

Ostrich eggshell interspersed with reed beads

Kalahari, Botswana

South African Museum 

8. Bead Panel, late 19th century

No location (possibly Eastern Cape or southern Lesotho border)

Glass bead threaded with sinew

South African Museum

Glass beads (Zimbabwe - Persian/Oriental porcelain beads) first appear from 9th century AD onwards in the towns and villages of farmers living along the Limpopo River. These small objects mark the presence of trade links with the east coast that strengthened during the succeeding centuries. Trade links may well predate the first known beads as records place Arab traders near the Tanzanian coast around the beginning of the 2nd century AD. With resources like rhinoceros horn and wild animal skins, southern Africa had much to offer seafaring merchants but the principal items they sought was ivory and at a later date gold and these last items worked there way into much of Asia and Europe. In return for these valuables, coastal traders brought fine cotton cloth, porcelain dishes (display) and glass beads in thousands, some of which local people reworked to suite their tastes. Control of the trade provided chiefly lineage’s with wealth and power and, beginning with Mapungubwe in 11th century AD (display of rhino from ‘Royal’ grave), a series of great states arose that ended with the Mutapa in the 19th century.

9. Currency Crosses

Katanga (Democratic Republic of the Congo),


Collection: Profiles of Africa 

10.  Ndoros (Currency and body ornaments), date unknown

Shona (Zimbabwe)

Apex of Conus virgo shell

Collection: Profile of Africa 

10. Ndoro (Currency and body ornament), date unknown



Collection: Profiles of Africa

11.  Ceremonial Axe, mid 20th century

Mbunda (Angola)

Wood and metal

Collection: Profiles of Africa

The face on the shaft of the axe is a representation of the powerful mask Sachihongo related to the Cihango of the Chokwe. A similarity that springs to mind is with the Greek god Aeolus (the god of the wind - in the circular form, puffed cheeks, sun-like rays, pursed mouth).

The question arises could it be that this representation was seen by tribesmen long ago and impressed them into creating this powerful mask which is used in connection with the Jila cult (spirit of the wind)?  This mask is used throughout the Chokwe complex the neighboring people along the Angolan/Zimbambian border.

The wind was important to sailors and is an important symbol to the Mbunda.  The masks used by this community marks a particular place in the continent and perhaps the image talks of ancient contacts.  The metal for the axe may well have been traded.

12. Omakhipa (Body ornament - sign of wealth and statue), 19th century

Ovambo (Namibia/Angola)

Two made from ivory and one from bone

Collection: Profiles of Africa

13. Hxaro networks

Gift giving is a widely established in Africa. Among the best known gift networks in southern Africa are hxaro and //a) among the Zu/ ho„si (!Kung) and Nharo San respectively, living in Botswana. Most adult Zu/ ho„si and Nharo have numerous hxaro or //a) partners, some relatives and others friends, spread over wide areas as shown in this map. Gift-giving partners exchange beads, weapons, clothing and utensils. Underlying and reinforced by each exchange is an expectation that gift-partners have rights to share each otherís water and plant resources. A gift-receiver never responds immediately with a gift in return, but delays this to indicate that the relationship is ongoing. Gifts thus simultaneously construct social relations and secure a measure of insurance against a local failure of crucial resources.


Theme E

Family Tree

For people whose lives were lived mainly in the landscape (rather than in cities and larger towns), the features of the land acquired great social, historical and personal significance. Rocks and pans, hills or caves were places where important events could be memorialised, where the enactment of human history personalised the landscape and made it home. For many communities in Africa trees had and have special significance, both as historical markers and as symbols. For the San trees are important markers in the landscape and places where narratives resided and were recalled. For others trees embodied spirits and were personified. Homesteads were often built around a tree, or a tree was used as an alter and thus became the spiritual centre of the family. The wood of selected trees was used to make ritual objects and many trees provided a cornucopia of healing ingredients.

For some the tree is a symbol of family genealogy. The family tree is the family map -- a list of names of ancestors and descendants and is a way of mapping not only the individual to the family, but through naming, the family to the society at large.

Most societies use trees to establish links with the past, in other words to link the present to the past.  It has something to do with way trees unite the earth, the land and sky.  Trees can be used not only to describe the family but can be symbols for them.  Branch is a word used both for trees and families. 

Trees can mean many things in Africa.  In the N/U maps trees were markers in the landscape.  For other communities trees embodied spirits and were personified.  In Africa trees are used in many ways to remember and evoke personal histories and the past In the northern regions of the country homesteads were either built around a tree or a tree was planted in the center of the front courtyard to mark the family altar, the spiritual center of the family.  Here the altar to the ancestors would be found where ancestral rituals took place.  The wood of selected trees was used to make ritual objects.  Trees provided many of the medicines that traditional healers use.         

This display is also about naming.  Genealogy is a word used to describe the generations of family history, who your ancestors were?


(One label to go over both poems)

1. Shaka Zulu's ancestry

Izimbongi (Zulu - praise poems) are the oral records of the histories of the leaders in South Africa.  They were recited at public events and became part of the collective memory.  They are, therefore, major sources for African versions of the past. Praise poems often narrate more than an individualís history and include that of the clan and its ancestors, of their marriages, alliances, migrations and myths.  In this excerpts from Shakaís praise which in part lists the battles that made him the great general that led to the formation of the Zulu kingdom in the 19th century, shows also how a praise can be a verbal map in that the mountains and rivers are named, people located and burial places turned into sacred ground.

2. Mandela Praise Poem ( Extract from the earliest recorded poem about Mandela, written in Xhosa by the poet Manisi in 1954)

The earth’s trembling, sirs!

the rivers all roaring;

the mountains all shaking;

mighty nations are puzzled,

The earth’s surely trembling,

for small nations are writhing,

straining, striving to burst their bounds.

the earth’s surely trembling.

vibrant dun-skin at Sokhawulela’s home,

at armed Dlomo’s, at Ngqolomisila’s,

a secretary bird so tall it stoops in walking at Hala’s home,

Hail, Earth Tremor!

Earth Tremor’s Mandels’a dun-skinned son,

iron-eating at Ndaba’s home,

“Yell, rafter, the pillar’s your downfall,”

tough Ntandeni thong. Hacker in thorn brakes,

scything swathes through ingnorance;

colosssus astride the earth;

rocker rocking the land,

encoiling it like chanti,

snake that swims the Vaal,

but snips the Zambesi;

servants of Africa’s nations.


You’re rendered service to Mbo and Nguni,

to Sotho and Tswana,

to Senzangakhona’s Zulu,

to Swazi and Ndebele,

to Shona, Nyasa, Kalanga;

you’re bridged nations great and small,

forging Africa unity:

all its nations are gripped in one birth pang.


Piercing needle,

handsome at Mthikrakra’s home,

torso daubed with ochre, Mandels’s son.

Beads and loin cloths suit him,

though ochre suite him he spurns it:

if he’d used it, what then?

Hustler disrupting tramps, niggling thorn in the flesh of nations.


Speak out fearlessly, Thembu, there are still men!

Speak out fearlessly, there’re still men in Africa!

Those bones can stir,

link up with each other,

for God Almighty reigns,

he quickens his times,

dashes mighty kingdoms,

raises scorned statelets.


Speak out fearlessly, son of Zondwa,

uncowed by genets or wild cats!

Even if death’s in store,

you’ve been readied to serve

as blood offering for blacks,

for you’re a royal prince.

You were born to bear these trials and burdens,

loads and loads stacked on loads.

May the Lord bless you,

grant you success

in confronting the lackeys of evil.

Let it be so, my chief.


3. N/u map showing nameing and their function in  mapping.

4. Lydenberg head c. 500-700 AD

Found Lydenburg, Mapumalanga, South Africa

Clay, traces of pigment and specularite

South African Museum

Ancestral mapping and kinship.

Shards (broken pieces of ceramic) found near Lydenburg, Limpopo Province, were painstakingly reconstructed to make seven heads.  The heads were radiocarbon dated to A.D. 500 (the Early Iron Age) making them among the earliest hand-made images of the human figure in southern Africa.  We know very little about the community that produced them so the heads remain to an extent mysterious.  Yet, their very existence, their age and location, provides an important mark on the cultural map of our ancestry in the region.  They are the visual evidence that people have been making art, engaging in social activities and practicing rituals for over 1500 years in this part of the world.

5. Taung skull

Witz University

The development and evolution of our species is mapped in fossils.  Many famous ones have been found in this region leading scientists to argue more and more convincingly that man originated in Africa, probably South Africa.  The size of the brain was the indicator of the intelligence that man needed to survive and that is evident in the cast of the famous skull of a child found at Taung in the Northern Cape in 1924.  The original fossil has been dated to between one and three million years ago.

6. Lukasa (Memory board), date unknown

Luba (Democratic Republic of Congo)

Wood, beads, shells and other materials

Collection: Profiles of Africa 

The coded geometric designs represent a mapping of migrations, genealogies and kingship in a kind of commemorative history of the clan.  These mnemonic records are interpreted by top ranking members of the Mbudye ñ diviners called Bwana Vidye.  These designs are echoed from lukasa, to musical instruments, games, drums and masks; from staffs to snuff containers and exes as well as ceremonial, cups, knives combs, headrests, backrests, basketry and beadwork. 

Rectangular shape with pinched waist.  Some small enough to fit into the palm of the hand.  Lukasa are devices used by Luba and Songye historians to help their memories as they recite royal genealogies and important political events.  The incised patters represent bazila or royal secrets and prohibitions.

Lukasas are flat, rectangular, hand-sized memory boards, made of wood and studded with beads and pins, or covered with carved geometric designs and ideographs. In the Luba culture the Mbudye, a political-religious association, use these memory devices in their rituals to induct new rulers into office, teaching them about clan migrations, genealogies, codes of kingship and the introduction of sacred rule.

Luba and Songye court historians also use Lukasas as visual memory aids to recite royal genealogies and important political events. However, although a lukasa is learned, the reading of it may vary according to the occasion and the audience. It provides a framework for history while permitting multiple interpretations thereof. The Lukasa’s complex pattern of beads, coded by size and colour, refer for example to officials and their functions, sacred rites, places of royalty, and voyages undertaken. Other memory devices used by the Luba include beaded headdresses, necklaces, staffs and woven mats. 


Theme F:

The Physical Shaping of Africa

The world is round but the maps that we know of it flat. The world turns 360 degrees every 24 hours, giving us night and day, but maps are static. This means that every flat or two-dimensional map, old or new, is an interpretation. To try and come to terms with these contradictions certain drawing conventions were invented to show how people measured the globe. The world was divided into a grid of lines, the vertical are called longitude (or meridians) and run from north to south, and horizontal are called latitude (or parallels), and run from east to west. The zero or starting point for the longitudinal lines is Greenwich in England and that of latitude is the equator.  The refinements of representing the world took centuries to develop and the science of cartography emerged with that development, supported by the invention of the printing press.

Although early cartographers did not have first hand experience of Africa and had to rely on the reports of travelers and sailors, it is evident that the maps show an increasing knowledge of the shape of Africa. Their knowledge and reporting were determined by their needs and views, fed by stories of monsters and fear of the unknown. The linear presentation was European and with that came an ownership and the right to name and claim. It became such a powerful tool that indigenous views were marginalized, often ignored. Yet there are other, equally significant ways of marking the land and representing it.

The San Ostrich eggs were filled with water and buried a day's walk away for each other. The means to measure the space and time of a journey was not in miles or kilometers but the distance that could be traveled in a day, the space between two buried eggs. In other cases signs in the landscape became markers, for example, trees, mountain, rivers and stones. The paintings in the rock shelters can be read as markers for significant sites, such as spiritual meeting grounds. Stone circles mark the churches, for congregants of African Christian denominations. Distance and place are recorded in the Luba staffs from The Democratic Republic of the Congo (please refer to label), while the styles of headrests refer to different parts of the country and the African continent and many talk, indirectly, of home, family and ancestors.

(Trig Instruments)

Solar Chronometer by Ferguson (No. 48)

Instrument that measures time. Unknown, but probably similar to a Sundial but a map reference or known location might be necessary. Designed to keep accurate time at all temperatures and for use at sea in determining longitude by astronomical observation.

Survey and Mapping Department 

Co-ordinate Spiral Slide Rule (W.F. Stanley)

Unknown. Ruler with sliding central strip, graduating logarithmically for use in making rapid calculations by appropriate movement of the sliding strip.

Survey and Mapping Department

(Map labels)

1. Map of Historical Emperors and Kings, 1402

The Ming cartographer ChÌuan Chin at the request of the Korean Envoy to China drew this map. This map was taken from Korea by the army of the Japanese Military Leader Hideyoshi Toyotomi and given to a Buddhist Temple in Honganji. The original map is today kept by Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan.  Although this map shows a more in-depth knowledge of Africa than European maps of the same period, it also clearly shows a Chinese perspective of the world.  The Chinese Empire viewed the world as one continent, with China as the Middle Kingdom.  The small extension on the left corner of the map is Africa.

2. 1 Japanese Map

The presentation of the southern part of Africa in the world atlas Kuang Ju Thu by Chu Ssn-Pen c 1315, first printed c 1555 (ed. of 1799). Already in Chu’s time the Chinese knew that the continent pointed due south and not eastwards. It is interesting to find that the centre of the land-mass is shown as a vast lake, probably because of the existence of one or more of the great east-centred African lakes (Nyasa, Tanganyika, Victoria, etc.) was known. 

2. Mercator, Gerard, 1512-1594

Universalis tabula iuxta Ptolemeum. (1578)

Copper plate showing the extent of Ptolemic knowledge of Africa, referring to the legendary source of the Nile (somewhere in Central Africa) and the ‘mountains of the moon’ - note the decorative figures in the four corners. Gerard Mercator (Kremer) was the most famous cosmographer after Ptolemy, this Flemish land-surveyor, copper-engraver, globe-constructor and cartographer working in Louvain, he was caught up in the persecution of Lutheran Protestants and charged with heresy. He subsequently moved to Duisburg in 1552, producing his large world map in 1569, using the new “Mercator Projection”. Although not the inventor, he was the first to apply the principles to navigational charts so that compass bearings could be plotted on charts in straight lines - thus solving the problem of navigation of the sea.  He concentrated on providing his own maps for the 1578 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia, as well as producing his 3 volume collection of maps, using for the first time the term “Atlas”.

3. Gastaldi, Giacomo, fl 1550-1566

Prima Tavola - (Map of Africa) (Venice, 1553/56)

Gastaldi was an Italian engineer and cartographer in the service of the Venetian Republic, being appointed Cosmographer. Compiler of maps of the world and the continents, and editor of the first Italian edition of Ptolemy in 1548.  Gastaldi’s style of copper engraving was widely copied by is contemporaries and marked the final transition away from woodblock printing which had been predominant for so long.

Copper plate engraving of ‘upside-down’ Africa following the Italian tradition of not having north at the top of the sheet. This map has no title, but the north, south, east and west appear on the centre of each map boarder as Septentrion, Mid, Levant and Ponant respectively. As with other maps of this period south is shown to the top of the map and large rivers, lakes and mountains are noted in the southern extremities. The origin of the Nile is shown here, too, arrive from the two lakes side by side in central Africa.

4. Munster, Sebastian, 1489-1552

Totius Africae Tabula et descriptio universalis etiam ultra Ptolemaei limites extensa. (Basel: Henricus Petri, 1542/45)

Munster was a German mathematician and linguist, he became professor of Hebrew at Heidelberg and later at Basle.  One of the greatest cosmograpers of the 16th century, his Cosmographia published in 1544 contained the latest maps and views of cities, as well as an encyclopaedic amount of detail about the known - and unknown - world.  He was the first to give separate maps of each of the four known continents. He wrote that nations were created white, brown and black by God, of different natures and industry even as other things in nature had variety and that each should contend itself with its condition and so make no reproach, the one against the other...

Woodcut outlined in pink, showing the Ptolemaic origin of the Nile and the ‘mountains of the moon’ but also including information from Portuguese and Arabic Sources. Note Hasmarich, the seat of the mythical Christian king Prestor John (Tartar chief converted to Christianity in Ethiopia) and that the letterpress was inserted separately, often showing spelling mistakes.

Staff label (outside frame)


The staff incorporates two Lukasa (memory boards) that represent dibula or administrative centers.  The lines around the perimeter of these boards represent the roads taken by titled officers to the capital.  These officers, according to their rank, took different routes to the capital, so the chief would know who they were by the road they entered.  The staff is then a map of two centers and the space between them and of the various roads to the capital.  It can also be read as a mnemonic to the rights and protection of royalty.  The chief is represented in the central figure on the top of the staff and is accompanied by twin spirits.

Ostrich Eggshell Flasks (measuring water)

San, collected 1936, Masarwa, Molepolole, Botswana

(South African Museum)

Water is a limited resource in much of southern Africa and in some areas, the distances between springs or rivers are long. In traveling in arid environments, San hunter-gatherers had to know where water sources lay and how reliable they were. Waterless stretches of country were no barrier as San stored the precious fluid in ostrich eggshell containers. As the journey progressed, they buried stashes of water-filled eggs at carefully chosen points to which they returned when on the homeward leg. Here are two San ostrich eggshell water bottles found nearby the Orange River, each beautifully decorated with engravings. These objects remind us of the vital mental maps of rivers, springs and stored water that the San kept in order to plan and successfully execute their journeys in the past.

Interior of Africa (6 maps - 3 indigenous and 3 external)

7.a. Aerial View of Great Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe the name for stonewalled enclosures of which several hundred ruins survive in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.  The most spectacular of these is the palace known as Great Zimbabwe.  Construction was spread over 400 years starting in the early 11th century.  Despite legends that Zimbabwe was built by outsiders archaeologists have conclusively shown that it and other Zimbabwes are of African construction.  The aerial view shows the organization as a complex of houses, passages and open spaces in sets of interleaving circles.

7.b.  Engraving of Zulu homestead, huts and granaries around cattle pen, entrance downhill; Muden areas, KwaZulu-Natal. (date: -----)(total length: 680 mm) cf. Drawing of nineteenth century Zulu Homestead to compare with engraving (Tyler 1891)

7.c. Generalized reconstruction of the movement of Sotho-Tswana (Moloko) and Nguni (Blackburn) into Southern Africa during the Late Stone Age.

Generalized reconstruction of the movements of agriculturalists into Southern Africa during the Early Iron Age.

7.d. Africa Hec Pars Africae Mansit Incognita, Milano, approx. 16th century, 40 x 40 cm

Label: This medieval map illustrates well how completely un-known the interior of Africa was in the 16th century. Only the ports, names of peninsulas and a few cities and towns in the north of the continent are marked. Southern Africa is almost completely blank inside of the coast-line.

7.e. Map of the late Discoveries in Central South Africa by Messrs. Oswell and Livingstone. 1852

Label: Drawn on card-board which has been mounted on canvas for folding Charles John Andersson, the Swedish explorer in Namibia and South Africa/Botswana sent this hand-drawn original map to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1852.  It is also extremely interesting in the fact that the Waterfall “Mosivatunga” or “resounding smoke” is well marked on this map. Livingstone only visited this three years later, 1855, and then named it the Victoria Falls.

7.f. Livingstone’s map of the interior 1885 ‘discovery’ of the Victoria Falls. “It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” Livingstone describes the Victoria Falls in his journal.

7. Map of the late Discoveries in Central South Africa by Messrs. Oswell and Livingstone. 1852

Drawn on cardboard, which has been mounted on canvas for folding. Charles John Andersson, the Swedish explorer in Namibia and South Africa/Botswana sent this hand-drawn original map to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1852. What is very interesting is the fact that the Waterfall Mosivatunga or "resounding smoke" is well marked on this map. Livingstone only visited this three years later, 1855, and then named it the Victoria Falls. This is just another example the myth of the European "discovery" of Africa.


Cultural Shaping of Africa

Constructing Identity

Framing text

Identity is a complicated issue.  The way we see ourselves is often not the way others see us.  This display is concerned with the ways in which outsiders, primarily Europeans, saw, identified and drew the indigenous peoples of Africa.  It is about the ways identity is constructed or made.  Look around the edges of the maps, the sections are called cartouches, and see how people are represented, and note how this changed over time.  There are many explanations and reasons for these representations that seem so strange and malevolent to us today.  One is the lack of knowledge and the fact that the artists did not see the people in real life themselves but recorded the experience of others.  Another explanation lies in the inherited, but ignorant, European views of the inhabitants of Africa, such as the myths of monsters and savages.  Still another lies in the conventions of art and map-making underpinned by the political and power positions of the time.

Prints of the Khoi from the 16th to 18th centuries are a case in point.  Drawings went through stages of filtering and processing and everyone involved, traveler, reporter and artist, was caught in the frameworks of their time.  Inherited conventions were used and drawings, with a few exceptions, were not realistic.  Although Africans, were by the end of the 16th century no longer seen as monsters, it must be remembered that it suited Dutch settlers that the image of the Khoi be denigrated in order to influence the policy-makers in Holland.  This makes the point about the political informing the construction of identity.  There are many examples of this in the history of representation in South Africa.  Think of some yourself.


Four European Maps

1. The Ptolemaic World Map (1483-1492)

Pliny’s map in Mandeville’s travels

This map is in the shape of a segment of a globe, and is held up to view by the three sons of Noah.  Surrounging it are the twelve winds with with thie Latin and Greek names. On the left hand side is a strip of ‘monstrous pictures’ taken from Pliny’s drawings. The map is based on Ptolomey’s second century concept of the world and the iconography is based on the ancient writers such as Strabo and Pliny. These artists had fertile imaginationa and created unknown cities, bloody tortures and catestrophes and malformations. They where contemporiaries of Hieronymus Bosch and expressed the long tradition of the middle ages.

South African National Library

2.Chatelain, Henri Abraham, 1684-1743

Coutumes Moeurs and Habillemens des Peuples qui habitents aux environs du Cap de Bonne Esperance avec une description des Animaux et Reptiles que se trouvent dans ce pais. (Amsterdam, 1719) Chatelain was a French engraver and geographer of Amsterdam, who supplied the maps and many of the engravings for the French encyclopedic Atlas Historique in 7 volumes, an ambitious work on cosmography, geography, history, chronology, genealogy, compiled by Nicholas Gueudeville and Garillon, and published in Amsterdam between 1705 and 1720, the 2nd edition appearing in 1732.  The work is much esteemed today for its engravings.

The map is surrounded by 10 engravings entitled “Carte des pays et des peuples de Bonne Esperance”.

Note: Most of these sketches and the map were supplied by German apothecary Heinrich Claudius to the French traveller Guy Tachard in 1686. Claudius was sent by the Dutch East India Company to the Cape during the time of Governor Simon van der Stel to draw plants and study their medicinal properties.  He not only drew plants, but animals, landscapes and the indigenous people. He took part in the historic expedition to Namaqualand with van der Stel.

Mendelson Collection, Parliament

3. Blaeu, Willem Janszoon, 1571-1638

Africae nova descriptio/auct Guiljelmo Bleau. 1630.

Blaeu was a Dutch mapmaker in Amsterdam, trained in astronomy and the sciences by Tycho Brache (the celebrated Danish astronomer) founded a business in Amsterdam in 1599 as a globe and instrument maker. The business expanded to publishing maps, topographical works and books of sea charts as well as constructing globes.  Appointed Hydrographer to the Dutch East India Company. On his death the business passed to his sons Joan and Cornelis, who continued and expanded their father’s ambitious plans of producing a major atlas of up-to-date maps of the whole known world.

The side boarders show double costume figures and a top border of vignette plans of nine of the principal cities. Ships, sea monsters, flying fish, compass rose, elephants and ostriches are drawn in the interior. The text is in Latin. It was the most decorative an popular of all the early maps of Africa, reprinted many times between 1631 and 1667.


- The ships flying the Dutch flag and the flag of the VOC (Chamber of Amsterdam - responsible for the Cape of Good Hope).

- The southern area entitled MONOMOTAPA, the site of the legendary gold mines.

Mendelson Collection, Parliament

4. Speed, John, 1552-1629

Africae, described, the manners of their habits, and building he newly done into English by I.S. and published at the charges of G. Humble Ano 1626. At foot: Abraham Goos sculpsit.

Speed was by profession a tailor in London, Speed was passionately interested in map making and history, eventually producing decorative maps for Queen Elizabeth and others. He is notable for his early county maps of Great Britain and the compilation of the first world atlas (1627) produced by an Englishman. His maps are examples of beautiful engravings, fine lettering and elaborate ornamentation.

On the side boarders are single figures, on the top border are vignettes of towns outlined in blue. Verso: English text.

Note: His drafts were sent to Amsterdam to be engraved by Jodocus Hondius, the plates being subsequently returned to London for printing. This “Africa” map is an updated of that issued by J. Hondius in 1606.

Mendelson Collection, Parliament


Survey Instruments

Level by Wild (No: 268)

Instrument for giving or testing a horizontal line or plane. It is tripod mounted and so constructed for the sole purpose of measuring the difference in height between two points situated fairly close together.

Mapping and Survey Department

Level by Starret

Unknown, Instrument for giving or testing a horizontal line or plane. It is tripod mounted and so constructed for the sole purpose of measuring the difference in height between two points situated fairly close together. Maybe more precise then the Wild level or even ‘automatic’.

Mapping and Survey Department


What are staffs?

Thoughts about the cultural meaning of staffs. People carry staffs and staffs carry messages about the people who carry them.  The three staffs on display carry different messages and meanings despite the fact that they all come from the same country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The staff of the Tabwa dignitary has a metal end and as metal was a significant material in the Congo means that the metal provides a clue to the status of the person who used this stick.  The staff with the figure dressed in a costume with a tall mask is perhaps easier to understand because it is a direct representation of a performer in a Mkishi ceremony.  It is simply then a ceremonial staff.  The third stick is a narrative, a stick that tells a story of a journey by a couple with the man leading the way.  In contrast to the ceremonial staff the figures on this are dressed in western clothing.  Such figures are called colon, a short version of colonial, and in this way shows one of the ways in which western contact was incorporated into a specifically African form.

Staff, possibly early 20th century

Chokwe (Angola)


Collection: Profiles of Africa

Staff, late 19th or early 20th century

Songo, (Angola)

Wood, glass beads, metal and rubber

Collection: Profiles of Africa


Staff, date unknown

Luba (Democratic Republic of Congo)

Wood, copper-strip binding, brass tacks, metal spike

Collection: Profiles of Africa


Mamiwata (Water spirit)

Sudan, Wood

The tradition of the Mamiwata spirit, which evolved in West Africa, is based on a mermaid – a female with a fish tail.  On the one hand, Mamiwata is connected to the foreigners who came to Africa and brought with them the power to create their idea of great wealth and personal achievement.  From this point of view she can be seen as a syncretic image, which shows the ways Africans adopted imports and made them their own.  On the other Mamiwata can be seen in universal terms because mermaids or Mamiwatas appear in many myths across the world.  In Africa, the colour blue, glass and mirrors are used in Mamiwata shrines to depict the water in which she lives.  The shrines dedicated to her are often decorated with objects that signify material success or with western style furniture, such as tables and ships.  It is said that she especially likes things that smell good, taste sweet and shine and glitter.

Collection: Profiles of Africa

Sao Beads

Beads, 8-15th centuries

Sao (Chad)

Terra-cotta beads that were made from fired clay between the 8th and 15th centuries.  Little information is available about such beads and we do not know exactly what they were used for.  They are far larger than conventional beads but if one imagines them strung and worn they would have made an assertive statement about the identity of the wearer, providing an overt sign for cultural mapping. The Sao are one of the four linguistic groups of Chad and have been noted as living in large cities over 2000 years ago.

Collection: Profiles of Africa

Cartouches onto plates

Crocodile and Negro - CD

Crocodiles and maiden - green Book

Slave map of braai (from trannie)

Bowen (trade no. 11) - from trannies

Canal map no. 8 - from trannies

Ancient Filled teeth no. 5 - from trannies

Jeffrey’s trade no. 3

Blaeu coloured cartouche x 2 - (not using in exhib) from trannies 

Price Cartouches from trannie Cannibals

Monoculi from Munster’s map (Norwich p. 6) 

(Story Board)

Iconography for mapping people

Interior shaping of Africa

Prints made in Europe of colonial subjects were often created from descriptions or else redrawn onto plates for printing from sketches. These prints took the form of woodcuts or copperplate engravings. Published illustrations of Khoikhoi from Europe, for example, were often fanciful, prejudiced or imaginative. The texts that accompanied the images were also not always controlled by those who made the initial observations. Hence many printed images that circulated in Europe often fed the European imagination and perpetuated an image of strange and outlandish people at the very edge of globe.

Pliny’s Faces

To understand how the imagination of the medieval Europeans we must remember that for them the entire world had been inhabited after the Flood by the sons of Noah. Beyond the experiences of the Europeans the world was inhabited by monstrous races.  These had originally been defined by Pliny in his Historia Naturalis. The contradictions that appeared with the discovery that there were different human beings in the New World or in Africa tended to be downplayed. The idea of the non-European had to be accommodated within the concept of the perceived world and how it all hung together. (from Smith) 

Chinese’s Pliny’s Faces

Label: from Chinese Travels - shows how images were shared with China

The printed image in European Iconography - “we have to recognize that all the published illustrations of Khoikhoi from Europe were ‘filtered’ through a woodblock cutter or engraver who had never been to the Cape or seen the Khoikhoi. “there was the choice between the woodcut, which could be inserted in the same print form as the type characters and be printed by the same press, and the copperplate engraving, which was considered superior as early as the end of the sixteenth century but which required a special printing press, cost more, and was the monopoly of the engravers” (Chartier 1989:6) “We can also see that text and illustrations were not necessarily controlled by the author. In contrast, the situation occurred in reverse, i.e. the artist having his drawings later annotated for publication” Smith 1993)

‘The Inhabitants and animals of the Cape of Good Hope.’ (from Lodewijcksz’s account: 1597)

‘Representation and form of the inhabitants of the Cabo de Esperanca, called Caphers, which are very plucky and stalwart fellows, but despicable people. They are clothed with an ox- or sheepskin worn like a cloak.  Their weapons are fairly long spears, some with iron points but most burned hard at the ends.  They cover their privates with the tail of a sheep held up by a thong. Their horned cattle are very well made, like those of Spain. The sheep are large and fine, but have no wool, only hair like calves: they are very tasty because of the sweet-smelling herbs which they eat.  Also are set here from the life the penguins and sea-dogs which live here in the winter, and in summer seek their food in the sea.’

Burgmair’s Khoikhoi family at Algoa Bay (1508) (Hirschberg: 1962) Hans Burgmair was commissioned by Francisco d’Almeida  to be involved in the illustration of his voyage to India.  The similarity between the styles of Durer and Burgmair is understandable since they both were members of the same club of scholars, of which Hartman Schedel, author of the Nuremburg Chronicle (which include the Pliny Monstrous Races), was also a member.

Durer - ‘Garden of Eden’ (1504) “The Fall of Man”

An engraving of Adam and Eve about to take the Forbidden Fruit   show the conventions of posture and visual emblem in European art. These conventions were carried over into the way in which indigenous people were drawn thus reflecting an idea of what people might look like, rather than careful observation. 

Indo-Portuguese drawing of Cape Knoi, c. 1540 (after Boxer 1968) (in Smith) This was the first depiction, in a Portuguese publication, of the Khoikhoi. As can be seen it is in a different style from all the other examples. It includes a triple-curved bow, known at the Cape from rock art (Manhire et al. 1985)

Khoikhoi Dutch interaction. These drawings are very much in the style of the Dutch School of the seventeenth century, and appear to be vignettes from an artistπs book ... the relaxed tenor of the drawings would indicate that they precede the terrible smallpox epidemic of 1713. What we can see in the drawings are people most probably drawn from life.

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