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Blade currency  (liganda)
Date: 19th century
Medium: Iron
Dimensions: H x W: 177.8 x 39.7 cm (70 x 15 5/8 in.)
Credit Line: Museum purchase
Geography: Lomami-Lualaba River region, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Object Number: 83-3-14
Search Terms:
Marriage
Currency
Trade
Exhibited: Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts

Central African blacksmiths have been smelting iron ore and forging metal for at least a thousand years. During the forging process, iron is repeatedly heated and hammered to achieve the desired form. The blacksmith's specialized ability to forge iron into ritual objects, implements and weapons is highly valued in his community. Before the introduction of coins among the equatorial Bantu groups, exaggerated blade forms--some blades range from five to six feet in height--were used to pay for large purchases, such as a canoe, or to pay bridewealth. The institution of bridewealth exists throughout Africa, having counterparts in the custom of the European dowry and, to a lesser extent, in prenuptial agreements. Bridewealth does not refer to purchasing a wife. Instead it is a way to compensate the bride's family for the loss of its daughter's services, which will now benefit her new family. The typical scenario requires the groom, or the family of the groom, to provide gifts, or brideprice, to the family of the bride. Many objects were acceptable as bridewealth, but among the most striking are the enormous iron blades of the Turumbu people. These spear blades span up to five feet long and typically weigh as much as four and a half pounds. The size of the blade determines its relative value. The blade serves as a measure of wealth and usually were not converted into more utilitarian objects. If the marriage failed, the groom's family might attempt to reclaim the bridewealth.

Roughly triangular iron blade in spearhead form, grooved on one half of each side.

Jean-Pierre Ghysels, Brussels, -- to 1983


Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2017-ongoing



Wedded Bliss: The Marriage of Art and Ceremony, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, April 26-September 14, 2008, no. 26



BIG/small, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., January 17-July 23, 2006



The Earth Moves - We Follow: Celebrating African Art, Frank H. McClung Museum, Knoxville, January 10-May 18, 2003



The Artistry of African Currency, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., March 12-July 23, 2000



Olowe of Ise, Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, April 20-September 7, 1998



History, Context, Materials: Selections from the Permanent Collection of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 12, 1985-January 5, 1986



Patterns and Forms, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., August 20-September 16, 1984


National Museum of African Art. 2006. BIG/small Family Guide. Exhibition booklet. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.



Richter, Paula Bradstreet (ed). 2008. Wedded Bliss: The Marriage of Art and Ceremony.


Salem: Peabody Essex Museum; Hanover: distributed by University Press of New England, p. 38, no. 26.


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