Village Scene and Ceremonial Dance, Corisco Island, 1840s-1850s


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This record was last updated on 23 May 2017

Image Reference
UVA03

Source
Drawings of Western Africa (University of Virginia Library, Special Collections, MSS 14357, no. 5).

Comments
Colored pencil, pencil, crayon. Captioned by the artist, “Bamboo town employments, Medicine Dance,” the location is identified as Corisco. This drawing undoubtedly depicts the Benga (Mbenga/Mbinga/Mabenga), the indigenous inhabitants of Corisco Island (as well as neighboring areas of the coastal mainland—see UVA21). The American Presbyterian Church had established a mission on Corisco, at Evangasimba on the western side of the island, in June-July 1850; this was followed not long after by two other stations, at Ugobi and Elongo, 2 and 3 miles distant, respectively The drawing shows a village with two rows of rectangular bamboo houses on either side of a main street (a house type and village layout typical of Corisco and neighboring coastal areas of the mainland; see image UVA21). Many residents (women?) are participating in what appears to be a public ceremony or dance. The headman or chief, seated on a chair and holding a spear and a long-stemmed pipe, is dressed in a red coat (probably from a discarded or traded European military uniform), much favored by wealthier men and those of high rank, while observing the scene from his house, the largest in the village (cf. image DuChaillu-450). A small child/infant is on a banana/plantain or palm leaf in the center, perhaps suggesting some type of naming ceremony; or the scene’s caption as a “medicine dance” might imply a curing ceremony. A variety of material objects are shown, including weapons, musical instruments, and baskets. The caption also refers to materials used in house construction and other activities, such as water carrying, children at play, people eating. Extensive marginal notations, visible on the drawing itself (but not on the image shown here), identify the plants and trees shown in the drawing, e.g., cocoanut, calabash, “medicine bush,” “leaves for roofing,” as well as occupational activities, e.g., “dressing hair,” “making cord for net,” sewing cloth,” “making rope.” A clear engraving of a village on Corisco island ca. 1860 is shown in Robert H. Nassau, Crowned in Palm-Land (Philadelphia, 1874, between pages 102-103). Other sources include: Nassau, Fetichism in West Africa (London, 1904}, pp. 212-213; Nassau, A History of the Presbytery of Corisco (Trenton, N.J., 1888); Paul DuChaillu, Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa (New York, 1862), pp. 28, 32-34, 265; Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (London, 1897), pp. 384-409; John Leighton Wilson, Western Africa (New York, 1856), pp. 257, 399-400. See other image references “UVA” on this site.