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Decorative Arts Exhibit

African Furniture: objects for living

While African furniture is made to serve a specific function, many of these furnishings move beyond function and into the realm of sculpture. All are intimate elements of the lives of their owners. The same stools, headrests, beds, or chairs often accompany people throughout their lives. These objects may be buried with their owners, or they may be placed on a grave as a visible reminder of the deceased. Other items are passed on as treasured heirlooms.

For nomads who travel with few possessions, household items tend to be more portable, while more settled groups often own larger more permanent furnishings such as beds. African beds are traditionally made of hard materials like wood or clay. Mats are used to cushion those surfaces, often made of elaborately woven raffia. Household furnishings frequently incorporate intricately carved designs that enhance the beauty and meaning of the object. In addition, beads and shells are sometimes added as a literal and symbolic reference to the wealth of the owner. Shells were used as currency in many parts of Africa before the introduction of European-style money, and beads have long been important trade goods.

Few types of furniture have the deep cultural significance of stools. Stools are often associated with leadership and spiritual power. For the Asante people who live in Ghana, stools contain the soul of the owner, thus it is improper to sit on another person's stool as it would contaminate the owner's purity. However, among the Asante, one stool takes precedence over all others, and that is the Golden Stool. The Asante kingdom was founded in 1701 when the Golden Stool, containing the soul of all Asante people, descended from the heavens. The Asante king continues to protect the Golden Stool to ensure the prosperity of his people. Regardless if owned by a king or a nomad, African domestic furnishings continue to express cultural, ethnic and personal identities, while enhancing the lives of their owners.

For more information on furniture, call Corinne at 239-220-1018.

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