African Museum Essay, Research Paper
April. 01, 2000
The first museum I went to was my favorite. I went to the Museum for African
Art displaying the Hair exhibit. The name of the exhibit sounded very uninteresting, but I
was proven wrong. The first thing that I learned from this exhibit is that in Africa the way
your hair is done represents your position in society. Your hair was probably one of the
most important if not thee most important thing to an African person. A person was
distinguished into which clan or group he or she was in by his or her hair style. If you
were a very wealthy person your hair was extremely well done to make you stand out, be
respected and to show that you were from a high class. Leadership was usually associated
with wealth. Also if a female?s hair was messy that showed that she was a prostitute. The
way a child hair was showed how old he or she is. For a baby child the hair was mostly
compacted near the fontanel part of the brain to protect the baby since that is the most
sensitive part of the baby?s brain. Other signs that distinguished an African from another
African was his facial scars. Facial scars doesn?t mean he was sliced with a knife and was
physically scared. Facial scars was done by wearing masks. They had three types of
masks: helmet, paint, and face mask. Some clans that used these types of masks were
used by the Igala people in Nigeria and the Ngangala people in Angola.
One of my favorite exhibitions was the showing of the children doll by the Ashanti
people. The Ashanti people gave their children dolls. They didn?t give their children the
dolls to play with. They gave it to them so that they can socialize with them and to take
care of them as if they were real human beings. I don?t think it was a good idea for the
parents to give a child a doll to socialize because the doll couldn?t talk back and
communicate. Why not socialize with the neighbors kids? Most families kept to
themselves. They didn?t socialize outside their clan or group. They were very close to
each other. The children?s were given dolls to take care of to get them ready for
parenthood. The reason was that they get married at a very early age, probably around 12
years old for a female. This showed that them to be responsible. The children in Africa
grow up fast. They start working at a very early age, around 6-7 years old.
My other favorite exhibition was the twin doll by the Yurola people in Nigeria.
The yuroba people thought that twins were double trouble or double prosperity. They
thought that since a person had a twin, then they like the same things, which we all know
is not true for all twins. But they associated the twins to be very close to each other.
They perceived the twins as having one spirit. If one twin dies then the other one makes a
doll of the other twin that has died so that he or she can stay ?alive.? I thought that this
ideas and concepts of the twins as being fascinating. I think I was drawn to this exhibition
because when I have children I want to have twins.
The second museum that I went to was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When I
walked into the Temple of Dendur I was really fascinated. Walking in I looked around
and saw about a dozen statues guarding the temple. There is also a waterway (most likely
coming from springs) and palm trees around the temple. This waterway has crocodiles in
it. This temple was put in a very strategic place and very well protected. Once you go up
to the temple you are able to see carvings on the walls. There are all types of carvings.
Some of the carvings show people eating, working, people trading, slaves and guards.
Basically all different types of lifes activities. The pharaoh that lived in this temple must
have been very strong and smart. He probably lived a very happy and prosperous life.
The next exhibit that I like a lot was Nur al din. This room was gorgeous. Nur al
din was most likely rich. This room was his living room. When you first walk in there is a
beautiful little water fountain to welcome you in. The couches were very low and wide,
but looks very comfortable. The colors of the couches were a rich burgundy color. The
couches could fit approximately 33 people. To add to this nice design Nur al din had a
nice symmetric pattern designed on his ceiling. This pattern went nicely with his rooms
pattern. Nur al din is an Islamic name. This name means the (sun) rise of Islam. On the
walls of this room there is writings of the holy Quran. Also there is no figures or statues
of anyone or anything in this room because idol worshipping is forbidden in Islam. This
room is beautiful and looks like it had a nice social atmosphere.
Another item that caught my attention somewhat was a exhibition called Monkey
Figure by the Baule people in Cote d?Ivoire. This was a wooden hand carved sculpture of
a monkey?s face with a human being?s body. There is two ways to interpret this sculpture.
The first way is that the humans evolved from monkey and/or that they live with them in
the wilderness now. I don?t think that this is the reason why the sculpture was done. The
second way to interpret it is that humans beings are acting like animals, or as this sculpture
shows a monkey. The person who carved this must not like his type of people or must
feel ashamed of what and who he is. Living in Africa is not easy. It has a lot of hardships
and responsibilities. People in Africa do have fun also but this person probably had
nothing positive in his life. Another exhibition that I found interesting was a sculptor
called Nkisi N? Kondi. It was a hand made metal sculptor of a person with many metal
object going through it. Some of the object going through the person were knives, nails,
and other foreign objects. This sculptor was made to punish someone. It is somewhat
like a Voodoo doll. It is suppose to give bring you bad luck and misery.
The third museum that I went to was the Museum of Natural History. It was my
least favorite. One exhibition that was in this museum was of the Mbuti pygamies in the
Ituri forest. It is very detailed. It showed that this group of people lived in the forest.
They mostly had a natural diet. They lived off the plants and animals in the forest. The
hunting for food is done as a family. Every member of the family must participate in this
activity. Everyone has there own special role. The teenage male children and father shoot
the animal with bows and arrows while the female and the young children flush the game
(animal). Before hunting a fire is lit to give thanks to the forest g-d.
The next exhibition that I found uninteresting was the exhibition called Dance. In
this exhibition it shows you the different reasons someone dances. One reason is to
celebrate ones development into adulthood. Also it is there custom to dance in rituals.
One of the beliefs this African group has is while having their ritual their ancestors? is
watching them and will punish any transgressor. For example if something goes wrong in
the ritual the people believe that the ancestors are trying to punish someone in the ritual
that is doing something wrong. The people then go and try to find out who this person is
and punish them so that they wouldn?t be cursed or punished.
Going to the museum was very helpful. I learned many things. I learned that the
African people are very superstitious. They believe in dolls and other supernatural spirits.
They also have many ways of expressing themselves. For example their hairstyle, facial
cover, like different types of masks, hair pins and other objects that they put in their hair to
show status and clan distinction. The African clans people are very close to each other. I
also learned that they are a very primitive type of people. They don?t rely on any outside
goods or factory made goods for survival. Everything was and is hand made. I was very
fascinated with the Nur al din room. It showed the very rich Islamic art. It showed the
respect that one had for his religion. It also showed that the Islamic religion was part of a
persons daily life. What I didn?t understand is that Islam was spread through much of
Northern Africa but the people in Northern Africa were not practicing the religion of Islam
in the right way. These people used dolls and carved out statues and used them for
guidance and for socializing. Probably some of the African groups that used figures
shown in the museum were not Muslims, but I am sure some of them were Muslim. It is
forbidden for a Muslim to worship any sort of idols or use them to possess power or to
tell their fortune.