Power, value, and status in late nineteenth-century eastern Angolan exchanges: The Lunda and Chokwe art trade
David Gordon (Bowdoin College)
Paper short abstract:
Challenging scholarly conventions that distinguish between Western (or colonial) and vernacular understandings, the paper demonstrates how local forms of power, value and status imbued in art objects coalesced around global exchanges.
Paper long abstract:
By the late nineteenth century, African caravan traders linked to Atlantic commerce had transformed polities across eastern Angola. Locally manufactured objects of status and authority formed part of this trade, helping to constitute and change networks of government and religion. From the 1880s trade in art with Europeans further influenced networks of power. This paper uses the art trade as a window into economic, political, and religious change. How did prophets, titleholders, and warlords negotiate and consolidate positions through the trade in artefacts? Exchanges of items of status between Lunda notables and Portuguese explorer, Henrique de Carvalho, along with Carvalho's recording of Lunda oral traditions, consolidated the precarious legitimacy Lunda paramount, Mwaant Yav. Soon after, however, Chokwe titleholders, traders par excellence, offered artefacts to this bourgeoning market, including icons and carved thrones that represented Lunda oral traditions. They also began to trade objects that catered to an evolving European taste for the "fetish" and the "mask." Exchanges with colonial officials and ethnographic explorers, including Fonseca Cardoso, Emil Torday, and Frederick Starr, imbued select artefacts with new forms of authority. Art exchanges thus reveal relationships between Chokwe and Lunda notables, as well as their attempts to mobilize support with emerging colonial networks. Challenging long-established scholarly conventions that distinguish between Western (or colonial) and vernacular understandings, the paper demonstrates how vernacular forms of power, value and status - and even meanings - of objects coalesced around global exchanges rather than being discrete from them.
Reconnecting African art and artefacts