Clothing and Jewelry of Dancing Women, Sierra Leone, early 1820s

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Image Reference

Alexander Gordon Laing , Travels in the Timannee, Kooranko, and Soolima countries in Western Africa (London, 1825), facing p. 312. (Copy in Library Company of Philadelphia)

Caption, "Soolima Females Dancing". The author, who traveled in the region during the early 1820s, gives a lengthy description of a dance he witnessed and the attire of the women dancers. Their hair "was divided, and arranged into a number of small balls, which were . . . surmounted by beads, cowries, and pieces of red cloth, the interstices being smeared nearly an inch thick with fresh butter . . . adopted as a substitute for palm-oil; the ancles and wrists were beautifully ornamented with strings of pound beads of various colours, laced tightly together in depth about fifteen or twenty strings. The public dancing and singing women were distinguished from the others by the profusion of their head ornaments, their large gold ear-rings shaped like a heart, and rich silk or taffeta cloths and shawls, the latter of which, suspended from the shoulders, and supported on the arms, were brought into graceful action in the dance " (pp. 310-11).