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Ring

  • Place of origin:

    South Africa (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1870-1880 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Coiled brass wire around core of horsehair

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Edmond Dresden

  • Museum number:

    337A-1904

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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) 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. This example shows the same technique used to make a finger ring. The brass 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.

Physical description

Ring of fine brass wire wrapped around a core of horse hair. The ring is formed of a length twisted on itself four times.

Place of Origin

South Africa (made)

Date

ca. 1870-1880 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Coiled brass wire around core of horsehair

Dimensions

Diameter: 3.4 cm

Object history note

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 Rings of brass-bound horse hair. / The horse-hair is covered with fine brass wire wrapped round it spirally. No 337 is formed of a length twisted on itself to three thicknesses, the other two each to four thicknesses. / South African (Kaffir)? / 337, diam. 1 9/16 in., 337a and 337b, diam. 1 3/8 in.'

Historical context note

See - 'Prestige Ornaments, The use of brass in the Zulu kingdom', Carolee G. Kennedy, African Arts, vol. 24, no. 3, July 1991

Descriptive line

One of three finger rings of coiled brass wire, Zulu, South Africa, ca. 1870-1880

Materials

Brass; Horsehair

Categories

Africa; Jewellery

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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