ear plugs

Pair of wooden ear ornaments, with incised decoration.

Possibly dating to the mid-19th century, these ear plugs are of a type that can be traced to the Cele living in the British colony of Natal, which lay to the south of the independent Zulu kingdom. These ear ornaments are formally suggestive of the amasumpa, or warts motif, and each is incised with small amasumpa. This motif is associated with scarification on women’s bodies, a sign of beauty, and with heads of cattle (and therefore wealth). A single ornament from a string of twenty-five (Af.3211) was recently sampled at the British Museum and found to be carved out of Trema orientalis, a shrub or tree associated with Zulu medicine. The present ear ornaments appear to be carved out of this same pinkish wood. Like the British Museum ear ornaments, the present ornaments are incised and darkened.

Collection Information

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