Previous News - Collection of Tribal Art brings colour and ritual to sale at The Canterbury Auction Galleries

30/11/12

Sale celebrates Kent couple’s devotion to Africa and its people

A Canterbury couple’s lifetime devotion to Africa and its people is celebrated in a sale of their colourful and fascinating collection of tribal art to be held at The Canterbury Auction Galleries on Tuesday and Wednesday December 11-12.

Now retired and looking to move to a smaller home, Charles and Ingrid Brook have decided to sell their collection of around 450 items, gathered over the last 35 years, hoping that they will be acquired by others who share their passion for the country.

Agriculturist Charles Brook fell in love with the continent when he was posted there in 1964 with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after graduating from Wye College, near Ashford, Kent, Clare College, Cambridge, and the University of the West Indies. His first experience of Africa was in the Northern and Luapula Provinces of Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia.

Mrs Brook, who studied languages and was raised in Bavaria, was posted initially to South Africa with the German Foreign Office. She met her husband in Nigeria in the late 1980s, by which time she was already collecting tribal art. Since then the couple have lived in Swaziland, and in Sudan, Zambia, and Ghana, where Mr Brook represented the European Union as the European Commission’s Ambassador. They retired in 2000, since when both have gained BA Honours degrees in Fine Art at the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury.

Said Mr Brook: “Over the years our love of Africa led to an intensifying interest in African tribal art. The opportunity of living in West and Central Africa enabled us to build contacts with the local people over time and to purchase, amongst an eclectic range of pieces, items that have their origins in the customs and culture of the regions.

“Ingrid’s passion for the collecting, in particular, involved many hours of direct discussion under the African sun. Now, however, the need to downsize and the passing of the years has prompted us to sell the collection in the hope that others will enjoy owning items which have strong connections with Africa, and not least with those countries that were integral to Britain’s past.”

Mrs Brook said her serious collecting began in Nigeria, buying through personal acquaintances rather than the vendors of tourist souvenirs, ensuring authenticity. “I would get to hear about the chief of a village wanting to sell some of his things, so I would go to meet him and one contact leads to another. When you get known as a collector, it’s like a magnet.”

The collection represents a guided tour through some of Africa’s rich and fascinating beliefs and ritual customs. It contains a number of masks created by the Songye and Luba tribes of South Eastern Congo, which are worn in connection with the Bwadi Bwa Kifwebe secret society. Kifwebe means mask in the Songye language. Dancers wear the masks and their bodies are covered in straw during initiation, circumcision or funeral ceremonies, They are estimated at £300-500.

The Yoruba are an ancient race of people who today make up one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa, predominantly in Nigeria. Their craftsmen are noted for their artistic traditions of ceramics, bronze casting, weaving and sculpting, while Yoruba wood carvers are among the most prolific producers of objects for domestic and ritual use.

Interestingly, the Yoruba people also produce the highest rate of twin births in the world. In ancient times, twins or ibeji, (from ibi = born, eji = two) were believed to be evil, but by the middle of the 18th century, such beliefs were reversed and twins were celebrated and revered. They were awarded the status of minor deities, called Orishas, and their arrival was viewed as an omen of good fortune.

Sadly, however, the death rate among them was high and was regarded as a great calamity which required immediate appeasement. The family priest was required to choose a wood carver to create a figure to house the soul of the dead child. Called Ere ibeji, (ere = sacred) these figures, six to 10 inches high and carved with the features and attributes of the child in adulthood, were cared for as if the child was still alive, the belief being that this helped ensure the survival of the other twin. The practice continues today.

The Brook collection includes two pairs of male and female figures, each with dramatic hair styles and wearing necklaces and waist and ankle ornaments. One pair is estimated at £300-500, the other at £400-600, while a Yoruba beaded crown, an ornate conical headdress covered in fine multi-coloured beadwork with bird pattern finial decorated with numerous masks and phallic ornament is estimated at £800-1,200.

Most valuable, however, is a rare Yoruba beaded rectangular stool covered in multi-coloured beadwork, the top depicting a mask, crocodile and bird. It is estimated at £1,500-2,500.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Lozi tribe of Western Zambia was one of the greatest central African chieftainships. Every year they migrate to higher ground above the Barotze floodplains of the Zambezi in a grand ceremony called the Kuomboka.

Ornamental bowls carved by members of subjugated groups were exclusively for use at the Lozi Court. A rare hardwood bowl and cover with rich red-brown patination, the cover carved with a hippopotamus, the head of a river god and a water bird, opens to reveal twin compartments for meat and vegetables. It is estimated at £4,000-6,000.

Carved wooden dolls were used by Ashanti women who fear infertility. Applied by an herbalist or priest, the doll is tied to the back of the woman in the position of a real child and is carried until the she becomes pregnant. The line of descent passes through the female, so women are expected to bear female children. Female children are given the doll to play with believing the influence of child-bearing in adult life.

An example in the collection carved with male and female figures with dramatic circular faces and seated back to back on an Ashanti stool is estimated at £1,000-1,500, while a stool, a status of power and the succession of chiefs and kings, is estimated at £500-700. The stools are spiritual as well as practical. They are understood to be the seat of the owner’s soul and when not in use, they were leaned against the wall so that other souls passing by would not settle on them.

A pair of male and female Senufo figures with ornate hair styles and elongated faces from the Ivory Coast, each seated on four legged stools, the man holding a club and a knife, the woman holding a young child, is estimated at £2,000-3,000, as is a well-figured carved ebony standing figure of a Chokwe hunter (Angola, Congo and Zambia).

One of the most unusual and colourful collections to be sold by The Canterbury Auction Galleries, estimates start from £150 and it is expected to raise a total of around £30,000 It can be viewed alongside the other fine art, antiques and collectors;’ items in the two-day sale on Saturday December 8 from 10.00am to 4.00pm; Sunday December 9 from 12.00 noon to 4.00pm; Monday, December 10 from 10.00am to 7.00pm and on the mornings of sale from 8.30am.

The catalogue can be viewed on-line at www.thecanterburyauctiongalleries/com and the sale will be broadcast on the Internet allowing for live bidding on www.the-saleroom.com. For further information, please contact the auctioneer on 01227 763337 or auctionrooms@btconnect.com.

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