Village Scene and Dance, Corisco Island, Equatorial Guinea, mid-19th cent.

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This record was last updated on 08 Sep 2015

Image Reference

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

Colored pencil, pencil, crayon. Captioned, “Bamboo town employments, Medicine Dance,” and identified as Corisco, West Africa, this composite drawing probably represents aspects of life among the Benga/Mbenga, the indigenous inhabitants of Corisco Island. It shows a village with two rows of bamboo rectangular houses (a house type and village layout typical of this and neighboring coastal areas; for example, see image reference DuChaillu-450). Many residents (women?) are participating in what appears to be a public ceremony or dance, and the king or paramount chief, seated on a chair and holding a spear and a long-stemmed pipe, is dressed in a red coat (perhaps from a European military or naval uniform), 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 (see, Robert H. Nassau, Fetichism in West Africa [London, 1904], pp. 212-213; it is unclear why the artist labels this a “medicine dance”). 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, 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.” This is one of 22 works displayed on this website of West African coastal scenes -- out of a total of 32 -- held by University of Virginia Library. None of the works is dated or signed, and they seem to have been done by at least two different persons (perhaps associated with missionary activities in West Africa and/or the American Colonization Society). See also other image references “UVA” on this website. A very similar scene to the one shown here is published in Robert Nassau, Crowned in Palm-Land (Philadelphia, 1874), between pp. 102-103.