Dithipa: (re)collecting animals and their depictions from southern Africa’s Missionary Road – Chris Wingfield

March 8, 2021 @ 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Joanne Green

The association of ethnography and natural history collections in the museum of the London Missionary Society during the early 19th century has been interpreted as suggestive of a European vision ‘of people who lived in unity with nature’. Through a focus on southern Africa, this paper asks whether these collections can also provide an insight into the ways in which animals were understood in the contexts from which they were collected. Can we read the predominance of large mammals from southern Africa as indicative of the significance of large mammals for precolonial southern African societies, or are they simply indicative of European concerns? It will be suggested that a consideration of artefactual forms, and in particular the carved ivory handled knives, dithipa, suggest a precolonial cultural significance for wild animals that was significantly altered by the ecological transformations associated with missionary and colonial encounters.

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