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Re: [African_Arts] Tongwe...and IRAQW skirt

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  • CHRISTINE SCHOPEN
    I have been lurking on this list for a few months. I purchased an Iraqw skirt in Tanzania when we were there 2 years ago. I still have the contact
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 20, 2006
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      I have been lurking on this list for a few months.  I purchased an Iraqw skirt in Tanzania when we were there 2 years ago.  I still have the contact information for purchasing one if anyone is interested.  Thanks.

      Paul De Lucco <pauldelucco@...> wrote:
      Lee, thanks for the correction on the Iraqw skirt.  I saw a very similar skirt, albeit not as wrinkled, in a Nairobi collection a few years ago, the property of a Maasai woman, also an anthropologist, who explained to me how it was used.  I do not know anything about the Iraqw culture and am suprised to hear they are Cushitic.  I would have guessed Nilotic on the basis of their art which seems related to that of the Luo.  For example, I attach a (not very good) photo of a hide mask in my collection that I have never been able to identify as either Luo or Iraqw.   
       
      Regards,
       
      Paul
       
       
       
      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Thursday, July 20, 2006 3:41 PM
      Subject: Re: [African_Arts] Tongwe...and IRAQW skirt

      Thanks, Paul, for confirmation on the attribution of the Tongwe figure.  Please do advise if you access any sources that explicate Tongwe culture and/or illustrate other material culture therefrom. 
       
      Also, please note that the skirt which hangs above the Tongwe figure (partial view in the image) is -- although similar indeed to Maasai skirts from the surrounding region, actually from the Iraqw, a linguistically unique Cushitic community in the Mbulu Distirct of the Arusha region of Northern Tanazania. 
       
      According to Jeremy Coote, who wrote the accompanying text for the Iraqw skirt that was included in Africa:  Art of a Continent, the Iraqw skirt was used as part of the girls' Marmo (MARMO) initiation ceremony, which was officially abolished de juro in 1930. 
       
      For a medium quality (image-wise) but still very interesting video of an Iraqw house with glimpses of various objects, check this out:
       
      ...and then see more still images of Iraqw Material Culture from the same site:  http://homepages.wmich.edu/~bstraigh/eastafrica/matculture_main.html
       
      Here is a link to the page from the "Africa:  Art of a Continent Exhibition" which has a small image of the Iraqw skirt which was included in the exhibition:
       
      ...and an explication of Iraqw skirts in an article from "Beads of Life:  Eastern and Southern African Adornments" Review article of current exhibition*, written by the curator Marie-Louise Labelle in African Arts (Spring, 2005):
       
      "Iraqw girls decorated a leather skirt with glass beads during their seclusion period (marmo) to wear at their coming-out ceremony and then, later, once married. Some elements of the social organization of the Iraqw--in particular, the "ritualization of space" which has been outlined in Robert Thornton's work (Space, Time and 1980)--suggest that the specific topography of Iraqw skirts, (5) their patterns and their colors, could refer to their immediate environment, either spiritual, social, or physical. All of these skirts are divided vertically as well as horizontally into three sections (for a total of nine sections), each of which perhaps corresponds to a specific area of Iraqw life. These divisions could also evoke the Iraqw landscape.
      The patterns on these skirts are of two types: circles and lines. The circles, with rays or else divided in three or six sections, could evoke either suns--one of the representations of the spirit Lo'a--or the Iraqw's traditional round houses. Wavy lines could represent either real rivers or the subterranean Netlaang spirits, which are depicted by streams. Lines are often crenellated, as on this particular skirt, and define open and closed spaces which would represent communal spaces, such as the courtyards surrounding their houses, or other nearby spaces, such as fields.
      Finally, the use of the three colors, white, red, and blue, could be related to Iraqw cosmology, in which there are two opposing spirits associated with colors: the benevolent Lo'a, associated with the sky and the sun, responsible for producing rain as well as heat, who is brilliant, therefore white; and Netlaang, harmful "spirits of below," associated with the earth (red) and with stream beds, springs and dampness, dark, and cold (thus black or dark blue). Among the Iraqw, white also plays an important role in certain purification or healing rituals. The contrasts of white/red and white/dark blue are thus perhaps references to Iraqw cosmology.
      This skirt could represent the living space of the future married woman--her house, her neighborhood, and her fields--while also evoking the opposing spirits Lo'a and Netlaang. It can be read like a map: an aerial view of the physical and spiritual space of the Iraqw. Today, Iraqw women make simplified versions of these skirts to sell to tourists."                          Link to article:  http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0438/is_1_38/ai_n15338405  *Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec April 14, 2005-February 26, 2006.
      The exhibition catalogue:  Beads of Life: Eastern and Southern African Beadwork from Canadian Collections  [ISBN 0660194023] has been published by the Canadian Museum of Civilization. For more details, see http://www.civilization.ca.
      The most recent and easily accessible study of the Iraqw was written by Katherine A. Snyder of Queens College/CUNY:  The Iraqw of Tanzania:  Negotiating Rural Development (Cambridge, MA:  Westview Press, 2005). [ISBN 08133-42457].  While it does not focus on art and/or material culture, specifically, it is a very interesting read.
      One more Iraqw skirt:  http://www.ima-art.org/cIraqw.html 
      Lee

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