Listen to the Afro Historyscapes podcast

Afro Historyscapes is a ten-episode podcast series that gives a fresh perspective on African history.

We tell the story of African Histories through objects at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in South London.

The podcast has been developed alongside our Community Action Research project and shares the research of our curators, project team and Community Action Researchers.

The overarching theme of the series is movement with three episodes each featuring Trade, Religion and Technology.

We also feature a special episode hosted by Sherry Davis, a Community Researcher, musician and filmmaker.

We tell the sorts of stories about the objects in our collections that answer questions you didn’t know who to ask. At 10-15 minutes each they are made to be enjoyed over a cup of your favourite hot drink.

The special episode shares insights from the East African Coast and so is around twice as long. In it, Sherry talks with Jimbi Katana a renowned Kenyan Heritage professional who shares his experiences of a lifetime of work in African Archaeology.

Listen below, or subscribe via your preferred podcast platform.

Produced by: JC Niala & Tom Fearon

Co-producer: Sian Brett

Music: Edmund Jolliffe

JC Niala gratefully acknowledges the support provided by the Joint BME Events and Activities scheme administered by the Social History Society in partnership with Economic History Society, History UK, History of Education Society (UK), History Workshop Journal, Royal Historical Society, Society for the Study of Labour History and Women’s History Network.

Episode 1

Indian Ocean trade routes from the Swahili East African Coast

Welcome to Episode One of the Afro Historyscapes podcast.

We begin by exploring the theme of trade on the Swahili East African Coast. We will look at how cigarette cards from the 1920’s show the diversity of people who visited, lived and thrived on the Swahili Coast over the centuries. ​

Left side of whole of Horniman Museum object no 28.11.53/1

coffee pot

Anthropology

SILVER COFFEE POT
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General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 2.5.60/33

coffee pot

Anthropology

COFFEE POT
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Frontal view of object no. 2011.44.

cigarette cards

Anthropology

Set of 52 cigarette cards in German (Cigaretten Melachrino cards) of 'Exotic Peoples' (Peuples Exotiques).
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Episode 2

The Chair of Power on the Swahili Coast

Welcome to episode 2 of Afro Historyscapes Podcast. In this episode we remain on the Swahili East African Coast, particularly the island of Pate. We look at the relationship between Kiti cha Enzi – or the chair of power – and poet Mwana Kupona, to explore the history and traditions of this beautiful island.

Read Mwanan Kupona’s ‘Poem to Her Daughter’ mentioned in the podcast.

General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 1971.32

chair (furniture)

Anthropology

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Episode 3

Sounds of Mpingo – Musical Journeys from the Swahili Coast

In Episode 3 of Afro Historyscapes podcast we trace how wood from the Mpingo tree, which grows on the Swahili coast is used to make woodwind instruments in Europe.

We trace the ways that the sounds made by Mpingo wood have spiritual connections in Europe and among Congolese Kimbaguiste orchestras.

General view of object no. 2004.1080.1.

clarinet blanks

Musical Instruments

Two blanks for clarinet upper and lower joints.
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One page of handwritten notes relating to Eric McGavin's drafts of 'The Story of Vintage Wood'

Archive

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FAKI – Soldiers of God – David Garbin and Enrico Masi – 2013

Special episode

Community Action Researcher Sherry Davis

In an interview hosted by Sherry Davis, a musician, filmmaker and community researcher, we spotlight the incredible work of Phillip Jimbi Katana, an archaeologist and heritage conservationist who has led the excavation and restoration of several monuments along the Kenyan coast.

His prolific career has included spearheading a campaign to return the sacred Vigango artefacts back to the local Mijikenda community and converting the abandoned British East Africa Protectorate HQ into a museum.

Episode 4

African Islamic Worlds: Trade, Spirits, and Art with Sabrina Al Sayed

In this episode we are joined by Community Action Researcher Sabrina Al-Sayed, where we explore the influence of Islam on Saharan trade routes. We discuss how the Kel-Tamashek peoples keep themselves safe from spirits known in Islam as Jinn, and how Islamic spirituality has been embraced and shaped by African people throughout history in the form of art.

amulet

Anthropology

This decorative amulet consists of a silver square to which is attached by a copper ring a large silver triangle. Attached to this are three smaller triangles. All four have small shatshat triangles attached to their bottom sides. The two pointed horizontal edges of the large triangle are coated with copper, the third edge is coated first with copper, on top of which is another brass "cap". All five silver containers are decorated with geometrical patterns by the repoussé technique. The prevalent shape and decorative motif is the triangle, one of the most common motifs in the Tuareg "artistic canon". A leather band is attached to the silver square.
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Frontal view of object no. 2007.158.

amulet

Anthropology

Cylindrical and silver container, decorated with geometical patterns made through the repoussé technique. There are vaulted sealing caps on either side (which cannot be removed). There are two rings attached to the bottom of the cylinder, through which the turban cloth is threaded. It is supposed to contain Koranic verses written on paper by a marabout, although some say that it is often empty. The Korkoro is a decorative amulet worn by Tuareg men (and some Peul / Wodaabe men) on the side of their turban.
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mask (dance & live theatre)

Anthropology

Mask for a masquerade costume made with cowrie shells, string, beads, and hair. Dogon people, Mali. Fulani.
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Episode 5

Another history of Christianity in Africa

The Horniman collections tell a very different story than is usually heard about Christianity in Africa.

Find out about how Christianity was practised in Africa several centuries before the arrival of European missionaries, how Africans themselves have embraced, interpreted, and transformed the faith, and when Stormzy took 100,000 people to church at Glastonbury festival.

General view of object no. nn17962.

Figures with swords

Anthropology

Painting on parchment depicting a single scene from the story of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. Menelik, the son of Solomon and Sheba, and his four retainers meet King Solomon at the entrance to his palace.
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General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 1973.268

cross (ritual & belief: ritual apparatus)

Anthropology

Coptic Xian's cross, silver
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Episode 6

Ifá Divination – The Travelling Religion of the Yoruba peoples

In this episode we discuss the traditional Yoruba religion know as Ifá. This religious tradition forms the bedrock of Yoruba culture and spiritual life, where people, ancestors, and spirits interact through ritual and worship.

We discuss with Community Action Researcher, Abiola Balogun, some of the main features of this religious tradition, how its rich material culture can take on a life of its own, and how it has travelled the world, inspiring music in Cuba.

Top view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 23.34

divination board

Anthropology

Carved wooden divining board with 'zodiac' border.
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General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 6.12.65/546

divination object

Anthropology

divination object
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Episode 7

African Milk Technologies

In this episode we speak to Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp, one of the Horniman’s curators, about her recent interest in the colonial history of milk.

We discuss Horniman collections relating to an incredible technology developed by pastoralist communities in Kenya and elsewhere in East and North Eastern Africa, to process milk, making it safe to drink. We explore how this mobile technology contrasts with European industrial milk practices which have dominated the global expansion of dairy.

Milk offers a fascinating way into thinking about colonialism, technology and science, and who gets to decide what is useful and good for us, and what knowledge counts.

General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 1972.106

bleeding arrow

Anthropology

bleeding arrow
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General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 1972.82

milk container; lid (containers)

Anthropology

Milk container (`nkirrau') made from a gourd, with leather straps decorated with beads and cowrie shells. The wooden lid is conical in shape and hollow.
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General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 1972.128

gourd cleaner

Anthropology

GOURD CLEANER
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General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 1990.544.6

mould (general & multipurpose)

Anthropology

Soap mould, one of 24
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Mounted 35mm slide of Devonshire Fresian, dairy cow. Moor Plantation.

Archive

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Additional material

Read more about Roger Brain

 

Episode 8

Igbo and Nigerian Crafting Practices: A community research journey with Chinelo L. Njaka PhD

In this episode, we are joined by Community Action Researcher and Maker, Chinelo L. Njaka PhD.

Chinelo will share with us her experience of carrying out research into the Horniman collections as part of the Community Action Research project. Her research takes a look at the presence – and absence – of Igbo and Nigerian craft technologies and what this can tell us about the creativity of Igbo peoples as well as colonial legacies. Chinelo used the incredible Nancy Stanfield collection held at the Horniman to help tell this story.

Listen to the episode and find the objects spoken about below:

General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 28.11.66/33

spindles (textileworking: yarn preparation & felting)

Anthropology

Two spindles, thin wooden sticks with spherical clay heads. The heads are painted and there is a sample of white cotton wrapped around both objects.
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General View of whole of Horniman Museum object no ARC/HMG/RS/STANFIELD/597/006

Stanfield Photographs

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Episode 9

African Headrests: Technology and design in the past and the future

Join us this week for the final episode of the Afro Historyscapes podcast series.

This week we are joined from Nairobi, Kenya by Community Researcher Yyvette Waweru. Yvette will discuss her research into African headrests – otherwise known as ‘dream machines’, an important example of African design and technology.

Not only do headrests tell us so much about their function and aesthetics but also the people who use them. Yvette will also discuss how headrests have inspired her Afrofuturist film that explores how they might be used in the future.

General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 21.81

headrest

Anthropology

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headrest

Anthropology

Neckrest.
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General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 2019.63

headrest

Anthropology

Three legged dinka headrest in light wood with raffia carrying handle.
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General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 1972.119

stool (furniture)

Anthropology

Three-legged stool or headrest with incised decoration along the back and down one leg. The decorated leg also has small coloured beads embedded in it. The object is mended with a nail at one end of the back.
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headrest; neckrest

Anthropology

A carved wooden head or neck rest, used by men among the Karanuja nomads, and widely distributed among other pastoralist societies of Africa. The headrest has a small iron chain attached, which is used to carry it. The two-parted legs are usually sunk into the sand to allow better positioning of the rest. It is used by warriors to avoid spoiling their beautiful head ornamentation.
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General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 2013.156

headrest

Anthropology

Wooden head rest.
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General view of whole of Horniman Museum object no 2676

headrest

Anthropology

Overall, the form of the present headrest resembles a bovine. It is of the ‘fat-legged’ type described by Nettleton, 2007, 268. Its four pairs of legs may be intended to ‘invoke the idea of a large herd [of cattle]’ see Klopper, S. in Phillips, T., 1995, 207. The reference to cattle has a dual function; cattle are a source of wealth and also vital for communicating with the ancestors (Ibid.). The legs of this headrest also suggest the hips and thighs of a young, nubile woman, apt for an object presented as part of a woman’s dowry. References: Phillips, T., 1995, 207- 208. Nettleton, 2007.
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