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Boston Children’s Museum
308 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210
(617) 426-6500
 

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Material Culture from Africa

How can objects from Africa tell us stories about different people and cultures, and what can we learn from engaging with these objects? Boston Children’s Museum’s collection of over three hundred items from Africa can teach us about what games children might play, the way people dress, and what objects are used in the home across the continent.Almost every region of Africa is represented in the collection, including Morocco, Algeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Liberia, Ivory Coast, South Africa, and Madagascar, among others.

The collection encompasses a wide variety of items, from instruments, textiles, jewelry, tools, and sculptures to objects for everyday use or for occasional ceremonial events. Pictured above, for example, is a narrow strip of kente cloth, a type of vibrant, woven textile from the Asante area in Ghana. While originally intended to be worn as royal regalia in the Asante Kingdom, today kente cloth has become a symbol of pan-African identity.

Beyond more common instruments such as drums, thumb pianos, and rattles, the collection also features two examples of the ‘valiha,’ a special type of stringed bamboo tube that are made and played in Madagascar. The two in the Museum’s collection come from Nosy Be (“big island”), an island off the northwest coast of Madagascar.

To see more objects from the Museum’s Africa collection, stop by the Museum’s window displays, located across the main hallway of each floor, or check out some of the feature photos below.

Kelsey Petersen was the Growdon Collections Intern for fall 2018. She is a second year Master’s candidate at Tufts University studying Art History and Museum Studies, with a focus on the arts of Africa and its display in museum contexts. While at Boston Children’s Museum, she worked on researching, cataloging, and digitizing the Museum’s collection of items from Africa.

Browse the collection:
Flywhisk from West Africa, mid-20thcentury

 

Flywhisk from West Africa, mid-20thcentury


Ashanti stool from Ghana, n.d.

 

Ashanti stool from Ghana, n.d.


Oware (mancala) board from Ghana, mid-20thc.

 

Oware (mancala) board from Ghana, mid-20thc.


Doll from West Africa, c. 1935-1948

 

Doll from West Africa, c. 1935-1948


Woven tray from West Africa, n.d.

 

Woven tray from West Africa, n.d.


Kente cloth, c. 1960s

 

Kente cloth, c. 1960s


Caxixi, c. 1940s

 

Caxixi, c. 1940s


Embroidered cap from West Africa, c. 1970s

 

Embroidered cap from West Africa, c. 1970s


Nubian skirt from Sudan, before 1941

 

Nubian skirt from Sudan, before 1941


Clogs from Tanzania, before 1967

 

Clogs from Tanzania, before 1967


Mapoto skirt from South Africa, before 1970

 

Mapoto skirt from South Africa, before 1970


Galimoto bike from South Africa, n.d.

 

Galimoto bike from South Africa, n.d.


Mbira from Zimbabwe, n.d.

 

Mbira from Zimbabwe, n.d.


Doll from South Africa, c. 1988

 

Doll from South Africa, c. 1988


Ceremonial drum from Congo, before 1961

 

Ceremonial drum from Congo, before 1961


Knife from Congo, n.d.

 

Knife from Congo, n.d.


Valiha from Nosy Be Island, Madagascar

 

Valiha from Nosy Be Island, Madagascar


Brass Bracelet from Ethiopia, before 1973

 

Brass Bracelet from Ethiopia, before 1973


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