Art of the Maasai: 300 Newly Discovered Objects and Works of Art

Overview

This book presents for the first time 300 extraordinary ceremonial artifacts - discovered by Gillies Turle and never before seen outside the villages to which they belong - that were created over many generations by members of the Maasai tribe of Kenya. What makes their discovery particularly exciting is that high art has been found in a part of the world in which, until now, it was believed no art had ever been created. In his text, Turle talks about the significance of these objects - symbols of Maasai ...
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Overview

This book presents for the first time 300 extraordinary ceremonial artifacts - discovered by Gillies Turle and never before seen outside the villages to which they belong - that were created over many generations by members of the Maasai tribe of Kenya. What makes their discovery particularly exciting is that high art has been found in a part of the world in which, until now, it was believed no art had ever been created. In his text, Turle talks about the significance of these objects - symbols of Maasai spiritual life used by the tribe's leader, the laibon, in ceremonies of healing, marriage, circumcision, admission into elderhood, and other crucial human occasions. We see a sculpted hippopotamus tooth, mortars made from elephants' pelvic bone sockets, ivory clubs, and carved rhinoceros horns, especially honored for the power of the great beasts themselves and for the courage of the men who captured them... Turle gives us, as well, the feeling and the rhythm of the Kenya he has come to know, from the Ngong Hills and the Great Rift Valley to the Magadi Flats and the Aberdare Range. During the ten years of his friendship with the Maasai, they revealed to him their past and the hidden heart of their world. He describes their ceremonies and rituals, and the ways in which they have retained their own culture. He tells how they shielded themselves from the outside world until, in recent years, the Kenyan government outlawed many of their customs and seized their open tribal plains, so that now they must struggle to maintain space for themselves and for the cattle that are their most precious possessions. The ceremonial objects brought together here are extraordinary, and Peter Beard's photographs of them are in themselves works of art. This is a book whose publication is an event in the worlds of art and African culture.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As much about culture as about art, this handsome book pays homage to Kenya's most notable tribe, the Maasai, who are ``content with one God who had granted them life, children and all cattle.'' Turle, an antiques dealer in Nairobi, began to acquire Maasai objects, such as a rhinoceros horn club known as an o-rinka ; he gained the trust of the Maasai and became increasingly convinced that Africa ``had much to teach me.'' The 115 photos, 80 of which are in color, are as striking as might be expected from the veteran Beard ( The End of the Game ), who was assisted here by Greenberg. Turle's long, thoughtful essay, punctuated by Maasai proverbs, demonstrates his enthusiasm for his subject even if he does not always focus on the photographed art objects. However, the quotations that amplify the photo captions often are from older books such as Out of Africa , and more information is needed on the Maasai struggle against ``progress'' today. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Turle, a Nairobi art collector, here provides a sympathetic portrait of life and art among the Maasai tribes of Kenya. His never-stale anecdotal account of visits to Maasai villages and meetings with tribal elders is spiced with details about the rituals and the place of art among these nomadic hunters. Turle relates the purpose, use, and spiritual significance of the artifacts portrayed, from ivory spears to carved rhinoceros horn and sculptured giraffe vertebrae. Close-up photos of the objects, reproductions of historical photographs of the Maasai peoples, and quotations from famous authors on East Africa amplify the experience. Of interest for its unusual art and its ethnographical and historical value.-- Russell T. Clement, Brigham Young Univ. Lib., Provo, Ut.
Pat Monaghan
A gorgeous melding of fluid prose and starkly beautiful photographs treats a subject on which little has been previously published. Art collector Turle, rapt by the sculptural beauty of the ancient objects he presents here, drew them together despite government sanctions on trafficking in endangered animals' remains. Such sanctions, he argues effectively, have destroyed the ecologically sensitive Maasai culture by eroding its basic contact with the animals of Kenya's plains. This culture he documents in marvelous anecdotes and descriptions. He recounts, always respectfully and compellingly, gluttonous goat killings and fierce trading, raiding parties and visits to sacred trees. And if Turle's prose is exquisitely suited to his subject, the photographs are, too. In addition to dozens of historic views of the Maasai and Maasailand, they include the magnificent works of Peter Beard and Mark Greenberg, who capture the unique aesthetic and spiritual presence of the artworks. A must for libraries with strong African collections; highly recommended for others.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780394583235
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/3/1992
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 160

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