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Material Biographies: Saharan Trade and the Lives of Objects in Fourteenth and Fifteenth-Century West Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2015

Abstract

This article explores the lives of several copper alloy vessels (bowls, basins, and ewers), made in Egypt and England, that were carried across the Sahara just before the dawn of the European age of exploration, and that eventually found their way to central Ghana. It considers how and why prestige metal goods, some of them produced for specific individuals, became trade commodities that traveled thousands of kilometers, ending up in Akan communities where they were given new meanings. In thinking about material things and the mutability of meaning, the article attempts to address how we might understand these trade items as discursive “objects of knowledge” connecting peoples living in different times and different places.

Résumé

Cet article explore l’itinéraire de plusieurs récipients en alliage de cuivre (bols, cuvettes et aiguières) fabriqués en Egypte et en Angleterre et transportés à travers le Sahara jusqu’au centre du Ghana, leur destination finale, juste avant le début de l’ère des explorations européennes. Comment et pourquoi de luxueux objets en métal, certains fabriqués pour l’usage privé d’individus particuliers, voyagèrent sur plusieurs milliers de kilomètres, et atterrirent dans des communautés Akan qui leur attribuèrent de nouvelles significations? En réfléchissant à la matérialité des objets et à la mutabilité du sens, cet article propose de considérer ces pièces comme “objets de connaissance,” des sortes de “textes” permettant de mettre en relation des personnes vivant à des époques différentes et dans des endroits éloignés.

Type
Material Culture and Commerce in Precolonial Africa
Copyright
Copyright © African Studies Association 2015 

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