Gunpowder container

Kongo peoples
19th–20th century
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General Description

This pear-shaped container is entirely decorated with incised vertical, horizontal, and semicircular ribs, alternating with delicate cross-hatching, that occur not only on the sides but under the round foot as well. It was once filled with black gunpowder used in a flintlock muzzle-loading musket—a type of firearm that was introduced through trade in the 17th century.

Guns and gunpowder have been important European trade goods since the late 15th century, when they arrived in West Africa with Portuguese voyagers. Instrumental in expanding the Atlantic slave trade, firearms were at the top of the list of trade goods that were "everywhere called for" by the 17th century, according to a British merchant. African rulers, who were the first to own them, commissioned artists to make beautiful containers for the precious gunpowder that would be used to expand their territory and maintain their status as leaders.

Excerpt from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.