Date: 19th–20th century
Geography: South Africa
Culture: Zulu or Nguni peoples
Medium: Wood, brass and iron wire
Dimensions: H. 46 x W. 4 1/8 in. (116.8 x 10.5 cm)
Credit Line: The Bryce Holcombe Collection of African Decorative Art, Gift of Bryce Holcombe, 1982
Accession Number: 1982.485.15
Southern African sculptors created skillfully designed and executed functional artifacts used in everyday life. The role of the walking stick in Zulu society was so ubiquitous that there are more than seventy-five terms for different types of sticks. In that highly stratified society, they were carried by commoners and high-ranking officials alike for walking, dancing, hunting, and combat.
The refinement and creative embellishment of this example indicate that it was a prestige object intended for elderly men and women. It is carved from a single piece of wood, and its finial takes the form of a series of openwork triangles. The shaft is embellished through subtly inventive variations of textures and colors. Some segments of the wood surface are decorated with graphic motifs alternating with passages of delicately applied brass and iron wire work. The metal wires contrast against the rich, lustrous, dark patina of the wood, the result of extensive handling and the application of animal fats.