Eastern Africa, 1800–1900 A.D.

  • Eastern Africa, 1800–1900 A.D.



In the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia), the gradual dissolution of the Ethiopian kingdom is halted and reversed under the leadership of successive kings: Tewodros II (r. 1855–68), Yohannes IV (r. 1872–89), and Menelik II (r. 1889–1913). European encroachment on Ethiopian territories is neutralized by Menelik at the decisive Battle of Adwa in 1896. In central East Africa (present-day Kenya, Tanzania, and northern Mozambique), increased trade between eastern Central Africa and the Indian Ocean coast leads to social changes throughout the region. The role of traditional fraternal organizations and gerontocracies is disrupted as young men are presented with opportunities to empower themselves outside of the community through jobs as caravan porters and independent ivory hunters. Arab-Swahili trading families on the coast foster a favorable trade environment in the interior through strategic marriages with local chiefs, forming Islamic states that adopt elements of Arab political and material culture. Many inland communities that have been converted to Islam retain elements of traditional sculpture such as masks and figures but recast them as representations of shetani (the Arabic term for Satan). Collections of East African ethnographic materials compiled in the first decade of the twentieth century reveal that during the nineteenth century a broad range of sculpture was employed for religious and secular purposes by non-Muslim peoples of the region. Of particular importance are funerary sculptures acquired in what is today central and western Tanzania that take the form of articulated marionettes or figures with cavities meant to receive ancestral remains. Indigenous sculptors also begin to create artworks to sell to European visitors at this time.


“Eastern Africa, 1800–1900 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=10&region=afa (October 2004)