3 sept 2010

Southern Sudan webpage at Pitt Rivers Museum

Recovering the Material and Visual Cultures of the Southern Sudan: A Museological Resource
Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford provides through its specific website, phiotos and information about Southern Sudan.
This website provides access to a detailed catalogue of the collections from Southern Sudan held at the Pitt Rivers Museum, the University of Oxford's museum of anthropology and world archaeology. The Museum's holdings from Southern Sudan comprise more than 1300 artefacts and 5000 photographs. Together, the artefacts and photographs provide a major resource for studying the cultural and visual history of the region. The site also provides a map; annotated lists of cultural groups, collectors, photographers, and people portrayed in the photographs; and a set of further resources (relevant literature, websites, and a site bibliography).
For example, this magnificent Zande jar of pottery collected from Sudan by Harold Alfred MacMichael in 1931.
The comments are no less than comprehensive:

©Pitt-Rivers Museum
Anthropomorphic jar, hand made from a moderately well levigated clay with small to large gold-coloured mica inclusions, slipped and burnished on the outside, and fired an orangey brown colour (Pantone 7525C) with mottled black areas (Pantone black 7C). Slight horizontal ridging up the vessel sides suggests that it may have been coil built.
The jar is circular in plan view. The top of the vessel has been modelled in the shape of a female head, with a small oval opening cut into the back. This area is curved, and modelled to represent a braided hairstyle, divided into a number of segments that, unlike the hair on 1950.12.118, follow the shape of the head and do not rise as convex bunches above it. The central part of the hair takes the form of a narrow strip that runs from the forehead to the base of the hair, and is recessed, its surface decorated with parallel incised grooves down the length. The rest of the hair is arranged in rows on either side and at right angle to this. Each row ends in a raised triangular peak where it reaches the centre, and is decorated with double rows of angular impressed marks down each parting, and a single row of similar marks down the middle of each section, flanked by oblique hatching running down in opposing directions on either side. A narrow band made up of 3 incised grooves runs along the front edge of the hair, framing the face. A similar band defines the back edge, with 3 curving rows of angular impressions, a row of impressed circular depressions, or dots, then a final row of angular marks below; there are incised lines between each of these rows. The hair is further decorated with rows of painted cream coloured dots (Pantone 7507C), that run down the centre of each bunch, at the tip of each peak, as lines or dots across the vertical central section, framing the edges of the oval hole, and along the bands that frame front and back edges. Some dots appear to have flaked away.
The face is shaped using a combination of plastic modelling, incision and impression. Modelled sections include the ears, which show detailed working of the interior, undercut brows, eyes in the form of raised lentoid-shaped area with a convex surface, a long nose with fleshy base and deep circular nostrils, a shallow groove that runs down to a slightly pouting mouth that stands out from the surface of the face and a broad, slightly cleft chin. Incised lines are used to further define the eyes and mouth, and to mark the eyebrows, which take the form of two parallel lines with faint impressed marks running between. An incised line runs vertically down the centre of the forehead, and stops at the top of the nose; this has circular impressions at its upper and lower ends. Other incised lines are used to mark facial scarring, which consists of various linear motifs: a block of 4 vertical lines with double horizontal lines at their base extending down from the base of each eye over the cheeks; a rectangle with 1 to 2 horizontal bars across the centre near the corners of the mouth, in line with the cheek bars, and on the outer edges of each cheek, a group of 3 triangles, meeting at their corners in the centre, filled with crosshatching on one side, and simpler hatching on the other. The head sits on top of a long neck that flares out to its base. This is decorated around the middle with a band made of two horizontal rows of impressed squares with a single row of dots between. There are traces of cream coloured pigment in some of the impressions, but the intended pattern of this added paint is not clear. A raised, slightly concave collar has been added around the base of the neck and decorated with impressed squares at top and bottom, and incised hatching between, that turns into crosshatching for a short section around the back of the jar.

Below this is a globular body, with its maximum diameter just above the centre, and convex sides that flare down and in to a narrow flat base. A broad flat collar has been added to the top, and stands out slightly from the rest of the body. This has been decorated with a row of cream painted dots, partially lost; a band of square impressed marks; a band of incised crosshatching; 2 rows of impressed squares with a row of dots between; a second crosshatched band then a final row of impressed squares, with the edge of the collar left undecorated. The rest of the body is divided into a series of broad bands alternating with undecorated areas. One such plain area begins the sequence, then there is a broad crosshatched band, framed above and below by 2 narrower bands of square impressed marks with a row of dots between; a gap, two further narrow square/dot bands framing a broader section filled with loose crosshatching, this time produced using the angular edged tool so that each line is formed from a row of interrupted impressions. Below this is another gap, a single row of impressed squares, a gap, then a band of the wide angular crosshatching with a square and dot band as its bottom frame. A further narrow undecorated band follows, another square and dot band and then a final section of this loose crosshatching. Finally, the flat underside of the jar is decorated with a central dot, surrounded by 6 further dots, then a series of square impressed spokes radiating out from this to the outside edge of the base, where a circle of similar marks forms a frame.
The decoration has therefore been added using at least 4 tool types. One has a sharp point and can create incised lines and grooves. The second has an angular leading edge that produces either square or wedge-shaped impressions. The third creates larger, circular depressions, and the fourth has been used to apply blobs of pigment to the surface.
The jar is nearly complete, but has some minor surface damage, consisting of wear to the surface of the right ear and part of the hair, one of the triangular hair peaks has broken off at its tip, and the surface of the base has worn away in patches. The vessel is otherwise in good condition. It has a weight of approximately 2900 grams and a height of 354 mm; the top of the head measures 95.5 mm across; the shoulder has a width of 242 mm and the base is 95 mm in diameter.
Collected by Harold Alfred MacMichael in 1931, when he was Civil Secretary for the Sudanese Administration. MacMichael does not record its local name, but says that it was used as a water vessel; Larken also recorded that long-necked jars, sometimes decorated with heads, were used for washing the face and hands
(P.M. Larken, 1927, "Impressions of the Azande", Sudan Notes and Records X, p. 131 ). Similar vessels were collected by Powell-Cotton at Tambura and Li Rangu and later donated to the British Museum; see 1934.3-8.27, a water vessel in the form of a female figure, and 1931.4-11.3, another female headed jar. Both were made by the male potter Mbitim (see N. Barley, Smashing Pots, fig. on p. 145 and J.C.H. King (ed.), 2000, Human Image ). These seem to be identical in style to our example - with elements such as the raised strips and roundels, the impressed designs and the shape of facial features making it probable that Mbitim was also the potter of the Pitt Rivers example. For other vessels in the museum that may have been produced by Mbitim, see anthropomorphic jars 1934.8.134, 1950.12.118, bowls 1930.86.43-44, 1931.66.2-3, and book ends 1934.8.135 and 1996.53.1. Powell-Cotton had visited Mbitim's workshop on April 28th 1933, collecting raw samples of clay, some of his tools (see 1934.8.132) and finished examples of his work. He also filmed him in action (see Mrs Powell Cotton, "Village Handicrafts in the Sudan", Man 34 (112), pp 90-91). By this period, Li Rangu had developed as a centre for foreign contact in the region (N. Barley, 1994, Smashing Pots, p. 144).
The mica inclusions noted in the clay of this example seem to be a characteristic of Zande pottery; mica occurs naturally in beds throughout the region, known as hilidiwe, meaning 'slough of the moon' (P.M. Larken, 1926, "An Account of the Zande", Sudan Notes and Records IX no. 1, p. 4). Schweinfurth noted the presence of mica in both Bongo and Zande pottery, which he suggested made their wares very brittle. He believed this mix to be naturally occurring and that potters did not know how to remove it from their fabrics: "... [Zande potters] have no idea of the method of giving their clay a proper consistency by washing out the particles of mica and by adding a small quantity of sand" (G. Schweinfurth, 1873, In the Heart of Africa Volume I, p. 292; Volume II, p. 25). This mica may well have been left in the clay deliberately, as it gives the vessels an attractive sparkle, and does not seem to have impaired the plasticity of the material, as the detailed modelling of several of these vessels demonstrates. According to Larken, clay was usually found on the banks of a stream, and prepared by pounding it in a mortar before shaping it by hand. Tools were limited to pieces of gourd or a rounded pebble for smoothing, while decoration was applied by something simple, such as a short stick bound with cord. He describes the firing and finishing as follows: "When dry, pots are turned upside down and baked in the open, only certain kinds of wood being suitable for the fire. While still red-hot, they are splashed with water in which bark of the ndili tree has been soaked, in order to blacken them. A black polish is sometimes given to the smooth surfaces, by means of graphite grains, which are mixed with water and a little powdered ironstone, painted on the clay and gently but continually rubbed into it with a polishing-pebble before the pot is fired". The resulting vessel is not very strong, and only slightly porous, if at all; broad leaves may be used for a lid, if required (P.M. Larken, 1927, "Impressions of the Azande", Sudan Notes and Records X, pp 129-131). According to Evans-Pritchard, all Zande potters were male (Evans-Pritchard 1971, The Azande, p. 95).
The head on this vessel shows facial scarring. According to Larken, while Zande men and women both practised cicatrisation, 'the face is usually not touched, except where an individual has come into contact with Arabs and copied their habit in this direction (P.M. Larken, 1926, "An Account of the Zande",
Sudan Notes and Records IX no. 1, p. 31)'. This practice may have become more widespread since Larken's time, however, as most of the modelled human figures made by Mbitim (1996.53.1, 1934.8.133-135, 1950.12.117, 1928.67.4), or Zande woodcarvers (1928.67.4, 1932.30.14-15) are depicted with this kind of facial scarring.
This vessel is currently on display in the Lower Gallery, Case 132B.
©Rachael Sparks 24/8/2005.

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