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Zulu baboon head finial stick, South Africa
22 3/4" tall
wood, pokerwork
late 19th/ early 20th century, definite signs of age and use
ex Hurst Gallery, Boston (1989)
ex Budrose Art Collection (inventory # 678)

Carved by a master hand, this stunning stick with a baboon head finial features two entwined snakes, carved in
high relief, encircling the base of the staff with their heads facing in opposite directions on opposite sides. A
lizard, whose long tail comes to rest between the snake heads, adorns the back of the stick. Three triangular
designs are found on the front of the stick. The pokerwork found on different areas has been worn away by use,
which, along with the general patina, indicates that the stick was carved for and used in a traditional context.

A carver, who has been identified as the "Baboon Master" produced a number of almost identical works depicting
two men with headrings surmounted by a baboon. As other examples have been collected and documented with
variations of the finial motif, it has been suggested that he, as a master carver, was involved in the training of
apprentices in a workshop context, some of whom became master carvers themselves producing inventive and
beautiful works.

It is not certain whether the baboon motif found on these staffs, and also on examples with only a baboon as the
finial, had any social or ritual importance, but there are numerous examples of staffs in both private and public
collections that combine baboons with human figures as well as examples with only a baboon head.


"While many of these carvers (Zulu) were highly skilled, most seem to have specialized in the production of
particular kinds of figurative motifs or combination of motifs. Some excelled in the observation of animals,
whereas others concentrated on the human form. The patrons who bought these staffs must have varied over
time, as well as from one context to another. Presumably, chiefs and other wealthy dignitaries bought many of
these staffs. But once the client base of these carvers began to grow in response to the entry into wage labour
of young men, who migrated in increasing numbers to South Africa's mines and cities in the second half of the
19th century, they seemed gradually to have expanded their repertoire of forms and figures. This market for
virtuoso carvings was further stimulated by the British solders who entered the region during the Anglo - Boer
War of 1879 and the Souther African War of 1899 - 1901, many whom appear to have bought staffs and other
carvings originally intended for indigenous consumption. The practice of ascribing aesthetic designations to
works like these tends to obscure the complex relations of exchange and patronage that sustained the
production of staffs and other carvings in Southern Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Text from - "The Art of Southern Africa - The Terence Pethica Collection", texts by Sandra Klopper, Anitra
Nettleton and Terence Pethica.
For additional detail, click on any photo below to see the higher resolution version of the image.