Museums are in the business of collecting and preserving objects from the past and using these in research, exhibitions and education to help us understand our place in the world and the universe. Each year, the University of Cape Town Honours in Curatorship students who are doing the Working with Museum Collections module undertake an object study where they research and annotate an object from the Iziko collections. In past years the outcome has taken the form of a booklet, but this year (2017) we have produced cards that are not only attractive and can be used as greeting cards but are also agents for gaining new knowledge and insight. So, the Kouga Meteorite reminds us of our place in the universe; the Bes Vase provides a glimpse of ordinary life in Ancient Egypt; the Coldstream Stone relates to a burial at the southern tip of Africa 2000 years ago; the AK-47 rifle evokes ambivalent feelings of power, freedom and pain; and both the calabash and the ghoema drum assume cultural meanings beyond their practical purpose. These objects from Africa invite curiosity and respect for our diverse heritage.
Hamish Robertson Convenor – Working with Museum Collections
Ghoema Drum (Gammie)
More Than A Great Musical Instrument
The ghoema drum is a symbol of slavery, innovation, unified creativity, and my personal heritage. Rosca Warries, UCT Honours in Curatorship student
This ghoema drum is made out goat’s skin and wood and was prepared by Achmat Sabera. The detailed process of Boeta Achmat in skinning the goat and bending the wood to create a barrel with a hollow end results in a drum that is respected by many Minstrel Carnival members. Each part of the drum is made with precision and patience to create the distinctive sounds of ghoema.
The origin of the drum, however, is not with the Carnival. Its story begins with the slaves of the Cape. The ghoema drum is a creole instrument that was made in wine-making country with materials that were available to slaves, some who served as coopers. Perhaps the slaves made the drum to remind them of home and to bring together a community that was forced to integrate. This forced integration of people from Africa, Europe and Asia brought about a new sound, the sound of ghoema, which became apparent whenever the slaves had time off and gathered. They would play the ghoema drum and sing songs about their lives. It was used to carry the beat of many songs – from Afrikaans, Dutch, Malay, to African languages, all combining the cultures of the time. Not only is the drum a representation of innovation and creativity, but it is also a symbol of unifying a diverse community through making rhythms and lyrics.
AK-47 Assault Rifle
Power, Pain, And Freedom
The well-known AK-47 was invented by a Russian gun designer Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1947. The “AK” stands for Avtomat Kalashnikova while “47” is the year in which the gun was first put into service by the Soviets. In the early 1950s it was adopted as an official assault rifle for the Russian Red Army and its production increased. Many countries have since developed their own variants of the original AK-47. One such country is China which developed its first copy of the AK in 1956, called Type-56 or, more commonly, AK-56. The AK-47 has numerous advantages over other assault rifles and is favoured by many armed forces, rebel groups and armed gangs. Politically, the AK is used by some countries as a symbol of power and freedom. It is represented on national flags, coins and other national symbols. Culturally, some African groups have embraced the AK as part of their cultural and economic traditions. However, by contrast, it has also been associated with unlawful killing, wounding, and inflicting pain and suffering, especially in countries such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Syria and Yemen. AK-47 Assault Rifle Living near the border of Mozambique during the civil war, I encountered the AK-47 at a tender age. Trading stores, villages and even boarding schools in the vicinity were terrorised by gangs armed with AK-47s. We lived in fear, not knowing when these people would strike next. Back then any gun was an AK-47 to me, and stories and images of the rifle seemed to be everywhere. I never had an opportunity to understand the AK-47, but now I am glad to have documented the history of this iconic rife. Innocent Langwe, UCT Honours in Curatorship student
The well-known AK-47 was invented by a Russian gun designer Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1947. The “AK” stands for Avtomat Kalashnikova while “47” is the year in which the gun was first put into service by the Soviets. In the early 1950s it was adopted as an official assault rifle for the Russian Red Army and its production increased. Many countries have since developed their own variants of the original AK-47. One such country is China which developed its first copy of the AK in 1956, called Type-56 or, more commonly, AK-56.
The AK-47 has numerous advantages over other assault rifles and is favoured by many armed forces, rebel groups and armed gangs. Politically, the AK is used by some countries as a symbol of power and freedom. It is represented on national flags, coins and other national symbols. Culturally, some African groups have embraced the AK as part of their cultural and economic traditions. However, by contrast, it has also been associated with unlawful killing, wounding, and inflicting pain and suffering, especially in countries such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Syria and Yemen.
The Kouga Meteorite
Remains From A Long Dead Star
The meteorites on display at the South African Museum have always fascinated me since visiting the museum for the first time as a young child. I have vivid memories of tracing my fingers over the hollows and grooves of the rock and thinking all the while how incredible it was that this object had been formed in space. Laura Chittenden, UCT Honours in Curatorship student
The Kouga Meteorite was found in 1903 by Mr J. A. Kritzinger on his farm, Joubert’s Kraal. The date of the fall is unknown. It is classified as a medium octahedrite which means it is principally made up of iron. Although the meteorite was found in South Africa, its story begins somewhere in the expanse of our universe. Iron is formed in space through a series of massive stellar explosions occurring when a star’s core runs out of hydrogen and begins to die out. The elements produced from the reaction are expelled into space. Some may form asteroids or comets. These bits of dust and rock occasionally enter the Earth’s atmosphere at high speeds to create what we call shooting stars. When a part of the meteoroid survives burning up and hits the Earth, such as this piece of space debris, the remaining part is termed a meteorite.
This seemingly uninteresting rock is made up of the ashes of a long dead star that landed here from the depths of space – burning up in a streak of light across the sky and coming to rest in the Kouga Mountains.
The Coldstream Stone
A Vestige Of The Past
Rock paintings have the power to inform us about the beliefs and customs of the artists, and also to reveal how images were symbolic of the mystical spirit world. Juliana Caffé, UCT Honours in Curatorship student
In 1911 a remarkable painted stone was found in association with a human burial during excavations in a rock shelter on the southern coast of South Africa, in what is now the Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park. The Coldstream Stone, as it became known, is unique because of the unusual state of preservation of the painting and because it is the only known polychrome painted stone to have come from an archaeological deposit in South Africa.
Three figures with white faces and ochre bodies are painted on the surface of the stone. The central figure is carrying what looks like hunting equipment, including a sheath of arrows over one shoulder. Traces of additional drawn lines suggest movement of the three figures. Rock art researchers interpret these figures as possibly being shamans involved in a trance or healing dance. Rock paintings and engravings are Africa’s oldest art forms and can be divided into three broad geographical zones — southern, central, and northern. The rock art of each zone is not homogeneous – its variation in style is due to the diversity of peoples that inhabited the regions and their respective customs. However, the variety also reveals how humans have used art since the earliest times as a form of expression.
An Amulet For The Ages
It is enchanting to look at an object from more than 2500 years ago and imagine it being made by a family as a symbol of their protection, displayed in their home at a time we have little connection with today. Magdaleen du Toit, UCT Honours in Curatorship student
This vase is an amulet representing the Egyptian god Bes – a family god and protector of women in childbirth. It may have been used for storing milk for babies. According to its style of manufacture, the vase dates to the Iron Age IIC (700 BC to 586 BC). At this time, Egyptians lived in square houses made of mud-brick, complete with a door lintel inscribed with hieroglyphics. It was made about 1880 years after the building of the Pyramid of Giza started, when the Assyrians of Mesopotamia ruled Egypt.
The features of this vase are simple with the eyes, ears, nose and mouth having been applied rather than having been made with incisions. It is a dark cream colour with light red to pink blotches, dented on one side. The neck is flared – its rim double, deeply grooved and funnel-like and it has a narrow base. The vase was most likely wheel-turned, but whom it was made by remains a mystery. It is part of a collection, excavated by Egyptologist W. Flinders Petrie, but with little detail as to provenance, so the social context of the vase is not well understood.
Calabash Flask (Igula)
A Container From An Age-Old Crop
Calabashes have been part of traditional African households for many years and they are still used today. I remember in my childhood I had a familiar meal of sour milk prepared using a gourd container like this. This memory came back to me when I saw this calabash in the Iziko Social History collections. Nondumiso Nzama, UCT Honours in Curatorship student
Common names of the calabash or bottle gourd include kalbas (Afrikaans); moraka (North Sotho); segwana (Tswana); igula (Zulu)- a larger gourd used as a container for making sour milk; and mbuyu or mmumunye (Swahili).
Gourds come from the plant Lagenaria siceraria, which is among the oldest cultivated plants in history. Today gourds may owe their strong, waterproof outer shell to selection over the long period of cultivation. Some gourds play a major function in traditional African households. In Zulu culture, larger calabashes are used for holding liquids because they are relatively strong and good for preserving and preparing sour milk, called amasi. These containers typically have the narrow neck-end cut off and a small hole drilled in the bottom in which is fitted a wooden plug. This is for draining the thin watery whey from the fermented souring milk curds.