Culture

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Sally Ann Ashton | Fitzwilliam Museum 

This book does not seek to present a definitive catalogue of types of African hair comb, but rather aims to understand what hair combs mean in African cultures.

 

The publication has been written as a result of research undertaken for a special exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge (2 July–3 November 2013) entitled Origins of the Afro Comb: 6,000 years of culture, politics and identity, and as such draws upon hair combs, mainly from British collections. 

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Shauna LaTosky | 2006

Mursi women are famous for the wooden and clay lip-plates with which they deco r a te their lower lips, yet, to the informed and uninformed observer, the specific layers of meanings and kinds of information that they communicate are poorly understood.

 

Building from initial observations and conversations during my first phase of field research among the Mursi, between May and August 2004, I will begin by discussing why most Mursi women adorn themselves with lip-plates, and what it is about the objects themselves that appear to hold such significance for the Mursi.

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Chukwuma Azuonye | University of Massachusetts, Boston

Since the middle of the 19th century, there have been numerous reports of the creation or, more probably, the (re)-discovery of various types of indigenous writing in some parts of West Africa by men commonly regarded as illiterate in the post-colonial situation in which literacy is measured exclusively in terms of proficiency in either the Arabic or the Roman script—the two systems of writing imposed on Africa through colonialism.

 

This extremely narrow colonialist yardstick further limits the conditions of literacy by insisting on defining it in terms of ability to read and write the colonial languages. Thus, even today, in many African countries, millions of ordinary rural and urban folk who can read and write their own indigenous languages, in the Roman and Arabic scripts, are not officially reckoned as literate in statistics published by various national governments and international organizations such as the UNESCO.

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It is simply too irresistible when considering the plethora of brilliant as­tronomers, philosophers, mathematicians, poets, geometers, linguists, and physicians who studded C6rdoba's starry intellectual firmament not to identify instead a fop, dandy, gadfly and fabric queen such as Abu i-Hasan ''.Ali ibn-Nafi" (789-857) as perhaps the iconic intellectual figure of Islamic Cordoba.

 

History may record him as responsible for popularizing chess, see-through clothing and toothpaste in medieval Europe, among many other style innovations, but perhaps the point of i-Hasan, nicknamed Ziryab, blackbird in Arabic, gold-hunter or gold-digger in Persian, Pajaro Negro (blackbird) in Spanish, is that this culture was sufficiently sophisti­cated to produce such a fabulous creature as Ziryab.

 

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