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HomeArchaeologyClay Wonders: The Handmade Figurines of Djenne-Djenno

Clay Wonders: The Handmade Figurines of Djenne-Djenno

Amidst the huge expanses of the Malian area, there as soon as flourished a outstanding civilization. How do we all know? The distinctive terracotta collectible figurines of Djenne-Djenno give historians a glimpse into the wealthy and interesting historical past of this area. 

These valuable artifacts usually are not solely lovely works of artwork but in addition supply deep insights into the day by day life, beliefs, and practices of the traditional individuals who as soon as lived in Djenne-Djenno. From non secular and ceremonial significance to their historic and academic worth, these collectible figurines supply a tangible hyperlink to the previous, and an opportunity to discover a civilization that existed 1000’s of years in the past.

A Glimpse into the Crafty Region of Djenne-Djenno

Djenne-Djenno was an historical metropolis positioned in what’s now Mali, West Africa. It was one of the oldest identified cities in sub-Saharan Africa and is believed to have been based round 800 BCE, making it over 2,800 years previous. The origins of Djenne-Djenno are linked to the Nok tradition , a prehistoric civilization that existed in what’s now Nigeria. The Nok folks had been identified for his or her ironworking and terracotta sculptures , and their affect will be seen within the artwork and know-how of Djenne-Djenno.


Character with chin resting on his knee. Nok sculpture, Nigeria. (Public domain)

Character with chin resting on his knee. Nok sculpture, Nigeria . ( Public area )

Over time, Djenne-Djenno turned a middle of commerce and tradition, with a thriving economic system based mostly on agriculture, fishing, and ironworking. It was strategically positioned on the confluence of the Niger and Bani rivers, which allowed it to turn out to be a main buying and selling heart for items like salt, gold, and slaves. The metropolis additionally developed a particular city tradition, with spectacular structure, public areas, and non secular practices.

Djenne-Djenno was identified for its superior know-how and expert craftsmen, notably within the fields of pottery and metalworking. The metropolis was dwelling to quite a few ironworkers, who produced high-quality iron instruments and weapons that had been traded all through West Africa. The folks of Djenne-Djenno had been expert potters and sculptors, they usually produced all kinds of intricate and high-quality clay objects, together with collectible figurines.

A terracotta figurine depicting a cavalry warrior of the Mali Empire, 13th-15th century at the National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C. (Public Domain)

A terracotta figurine depicting a cavalry warrior of the Mali Empire, Thirteenth-Fifteenth century on the National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C. ( Public Domain )

The Djenne-Djenno collectible figurines had been created over a interval of greater than 1,000 years, from the third century BC to the Thirteenth century AD. Although the precise causes for the decline of Djenne-Djenno are unclear, it’s believed to have declined within the Thirteenth century CE because of a mix of elements, together with local weather change, shifting commerce patterns, and political instability. 

An Essential Piece of Djenne-Djenno’s Puzzle

Discovered throughout archaeological excavations that started within the early twentieth century, the Djenne-Djenno distinctive collectible figurines had been made completely by hand utilizing a coiling method that concerned rolling clay into lengthy ropes after which layering them to create the specified form. The collectible figurines had been then fired in kilns to make them onerous and sturdy.

The discovery of these remarkably crafted collectible figurines was important to studying extra concerning the historical past of Djenne-Djenno. These collectible figurines supply invaluable insights into the day by day life, beliefs, and practices of the individuals who as soon as lived on this now-abandoned area, giving historians a glimpse into the wealthy cultural heritage of the area. They usually are not solely historic treasures, but in addition religious objects that had been extremely invaluable to the group that after thrived there. 

The Stunning and Intricate Beauty of Djenne-Djenno’s Handmade Figurines

The collectible figurines of Djenne-Djenno are small, handmade clay collectible figurines that adjust in dimension, starting from a number of centimeters to a number of inches in top. They are made of terracotta, a sort of clay that has turns into onerous and sturdy as soon as it’s fired.

The collectible figurines depict all kinds of topics, together with human figures, animals, and legendary creatures. What units them aside is their extremely stylized look with exaggerated options. Some of the human figures have elongated necks, arms, and legs, whereas the animal figures are sometimes depicted with outsized heads and lengthy, skinny our bodies. 

Each figurine is a outstanding work of artwork that demonstrates a excessive degree of talent and craftsmanship. They are adorned with intricate designs and patterns, and a few are embellished with beads, shells, and different supplies. Finally, many of them are painted with pure pigments, corresponding to pink and yellow ochre, which give them a vibrant and colourful look.

Offerings to the Gods or Simple Kid’s Toys?

The collectible figurines of Djenne-Djenno maintain many secrets and techniques, and whereas their actual makes use of usually are not absolutely understood, the clues left behind trace at a variety of intriguing prospects. According to students, the collectible figurines had been probably used for a range of functions, together with non secular, ceremonial, and sensible makes use of. 

One principle means that the collectible figurines had been utilized in non secular ceremonies as choices to the gods, or as representations of necessary figures within the non secular pantheon. It’s additionally believed that the collectible figurines had been utilized in ancestor worship, the place they represented deceased members of the family and had been believed to carry religious energy. 

Mali culture Djenne anthropomorphic figure from the 11th century to 16th century. (Fundacion Arellano Alonso/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Mali tradition Djenne anthropomorphic determine from the eleventh century to sixteenth century. (Fundacion Arellano Alonso/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Some of the collectible figurines had been additionally discovered within the stays of houses, suggesting they could have additionally been used as family decorations or maybe even as toys. The inclusion of animal figures within the assortment raises the likelihood that the collectible figurines had been additionally used as playthings for youngsters. The actual makes use of of the collectible figurines stay shrouded in thriller, however their versatility and flexibility make all of them the extra intriguing.

A Source of Pride for Mali

Djenne-Djenno, although now in ruins, is a robust supply of cultural delight for the folks of Mali. Now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage web site, it stands as a testomony to the ingenuity and creativity of the traditional civilization that after known as it dwelling. 

The terracotta collectible figurines of Djenne-Djenno, particularly, have captivated the eye of collectors and students alike, inspiring artists and designers with their magnificence and historic significance. These treasured artifacts supply a tangible hyperlink to the previous and proceed to offer invaluable insights into the wealthy cultural heritage of West Africa. 

With many of the collectible figurines now on show in museums all over the world, the collectible figurines of Djenne-Djenno function an enduring legacy of the individuals who created them and the civilization that after flourished there.

Top picture: Male determine, 14th-Seventeenth century and feminine determine, Thirteenth-–Fifteenth century.  Source: Sailko/ CC BY 3.0 /Musée du quai Branly/ CC BY-SA 3.0

By Lex Leigh


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