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Arm Ring

1870-1880 (made)
Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Unlike iron, copper, which is the main component of brass, was not available to the Zulu people locally in any great quantity. Instead it was acquired through European traders at Delagoa Bay (Mozambique) and traded to the Zulu by Thonga people living in the bay’s vicinity. Purchased in the form of unworked blocks, the Zulu used brass to create neck, leg and arm rings, beads and studs.

Rings of twisted or plaited brass wire (ubusenga) such as this example were made for the wrist, the upper arm and calf of the leg. The brass wire was wrapped around a core of plant fibre or animal hair to keep the ring flexible. Brass and copper beads were sometimes added as decoration. The rings became popular during the reign of the Zulu leader Cetshwayo (r.1872-1879). Today they are still worn but are more frequently made of lightweight aluminium.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Coiled brass wire, cast brass beads
Brief Description
One of three arm rings of coiled brass wire with brass beads, Zulu, South Africa, ca. 1870-1880
Physical Description
Arm ring of brass wire coiled about a ring of horsehair, gripped at short intervals by brass rings.
Dimensions
  • Diameter: 9cm
Style
Credit line
Bequeathed by Edmond Dresden
Object history
NB In South Africa the word "Kaffir" has been used as a strongly derogatory term for black Africans. The term is repeated here in its original historical context.



Accessions register entry - 'Three Bracelets of brass wire coiled about a ring of horsehair, gripped at short intervals by brass rings. / South African (Kaffir). / Diam. Each about 3 1/4 in.'
Historical context
See - 'Prestige Ornaments, The use of brass in the Zulu kingdom', Carolee G. Kennedy, African Arts, vol. 24, no. 3, July 1991
Summary
Unlike iron, copper, which is the main component of brass, was not available to the Zulu people locally in any great quantity. Instead it was acquired through European traders at Delagoa Bay (Mozambique) and traded to the Zulu by Thonga people living in the bay’s vicinity. Purchased in the form of unworked blocks, the Zulu used brass to create neck, leg and arm rings, beads and studs.



Rings of twisted or plaited brass wire (ubusenga) such as this example were made for the wrist, the upper arm and calf of the leg. The brass wire was wrapped around a core of plant fibre or animal hair to keep the ring flexible. Brass and copper beads were sometimes added as decoration. The rings became popular during the reign of the Zulu leader Cetshwayo (r.1872-1879). Today they are still worn but are more frequently made of lightweight aluminium.
Associated Objects
Collection
Accession Number
324B-1904

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record createdSeptember 26, 2007
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