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  • Place of origin:

    Zanzibar (made)

  • Date:

    1850-1899 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Sheet silver decorated with applied and open twisted wires, discs and granules

  • Credit Line:

    Gift of Jane Souter Hipkins

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The jewellery worn with traditional or national costume often looks different, and is used in different ways, from fashionable jewellery of the same period, and can be difficult to recognise as jewellery.

This box was described as for holding betel nuts when it was acquired by the Museum in 1911. But it was also described as an ear lobe ornament. Almost from birth, Swahili women in Zanzibar enlarged a hole in the lobe of their ear until it was large enough to allow the skin to be stretched round the circumference of a silver cylinder like this. It was not necessary for the box to open; a hollow cylinder was sufficient, as long as it was large enough.

Similar hollow silver ear plugs are found in South-east Asia, and it is possible that this custom came to Zanzibar by trade. Ear plugs like this are not found elsewhere in Africa.

Physical description

Shallow cylindrical box with a lid that pushes on. The box is made of very thin sheet silver with a base that is slightly larger in diameter than the sides. The joint between the base and sides is concealed by a strip of beaded wire. The lid is made of thin sheet silver with a pierced design, like the spokes of a wheel, which is covered by applied strips of twisted wire, open rings of twisted wire, and flat discs. There is a disc of sheet silver in the centre of the lid with a small pyramid of granules, and the rim is edged with twisted and beaded wire. The diameter of the lid matches that of the base.

Place of Origin

Zanzibar (made)


1850-1899 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Sheet silver decorated with applied and open twisted wires, discs and granules

Descriptive line

Cylindrical box worn in the ear with open filigree face, Zanzibar, 1850-1899.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

for similar examples, see:
Fisher, Angela. 'Africa Adorned', Harry N. Abrams, 1984, ISBN: 9780810918238, pp.286-9






Jewellery; Metalwork


Metalwork Collection

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