Pipe bowl in the form of a seated female

Ovimbundu peoples
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General Description

The Portuguese introduced tobacco (Nicotiana tobacum and Nicotiana rustica) to West Africa in the 17th century after they discovered it in the Americas. Tobacco usage in sub-Saharan Africa is recorded on an elaborately decorated Ifa divination tray that originally belonged to a Yoruba king of Adra, in present-day Benin, and was taken to Ulm, Germany, before 1659. Among the motifs is a standing male figure smoking a long-stemmed pipe that was probably made of terracotta and is an example of the earliest type of pipe that has been excavated. Other explorers and merchants, including the Dutch and the Arabs, reintroduced tobacco at different times and at various points along the west and east coasts from which it spread to the interior of the continent. Access to tobacco, whether in the form of leaves or snuff, was a prerogative of African rulers.

The introduction of tobacco inspired artists to create pipes, snuff containers, and other tobacco paraphernalia. These were initially prestige objects for African leadership and for use in indigenous religious and social rituals; however, by the late 19th century, Europeans bought them as souvenirs of their time in Africa. Some African sculptors carved pipes in the form of female figures to sell on the Loango Coast. This one was carved from two pieces of wood. The head—with eyes made of imported beads—was carved from one piece, while the pipe bowl in the form of a seated figure was carved from another. The artist blackened details of the figure's coiffure, facial scarification, and hands, as well as the chair and platform. The pipe stem, which is missing, fit into the hole in the figure's abdomen.

Adapted from

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

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 282-285.

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