For many years, figures from southern Africa were almost universally attributed to the Zulu; the presence of a head ring on a male figure was frequently cited as support for the Zulu attribution. While the head ring, a fiber or sinew circle woven into a man’s hair that was then rubbed with gum, charcoal, and oil to preserve and blacken it, was certainly the mark of a mature Zulu married man, Zulu dominance in southeastern Africa during the nineteenth century meant that this distinctive coiffure was worn by peoples from various ethnic groups over an area that extended beyond the Zulu homeland. In addition, more recent research, particularly by Africanist art historian Anitra Nettleton, has suggested that most figures in this style were likely carved by Tsonga-speakers. Though it seems that some figures were used by the Zulu during initiations, Tsonga carvers who went to Natal for work began producing them for sale to Westerners during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Tsonga (?) peoples, South Africa/Mozambique/Swaziland
Late 19th or early 20th century
Wood, hair, fiber, glass beads
H. 17 3/8 in. (14.1 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 77.36