Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Exhibitions - The Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886

The West  African Court of the Colonial Exhibition is the ethnologist's paradise. Mumbo Jumbo with his gods and his gauds has taken complete possession of the court. Even palm oil is nowhere in presence of the barbaric display ; it has to be sought for in the obscurity of a few shabby bottles. The black devices on a yellow ground which form the ornamentation of the court are themselves borrowed from the patterns on the cloths beneath. Everywhere about we see fetishes in all degrees of hideousness ; wooden millet mortars ; utensils of brass and clay of the rudest designs; drums; stringed instruments which look like the common ancestors of the banjo, the fiddle, and the tambourine; primitive weapon& of all kinds ; models of native houses and villages; cloths of all degrees of elaboration ; jewelry of true barbaric clumsiness. There are hundreds of strings of cowrie shells, the favourite money of a large part of the interior with which the British merchant has to deal. It takes a dozen of these strings to make up the value of sixpence, which will give some idea of the enormous treasury which a trader or a traveller must drag about with him. Our Niger protectorate is fairly well represented by the curiosities which Mr. Joseph Thom son brought back with him from his recent journey. Some of the brass work has a certain rude artistic value, while the cloths bear evidence of foreign. influences. Indeed in all the sections of the West African Court the patterns of the various articles of native make bear very marked traces of intercourse with Northern Africa. Mahomedanism is very widespread throughout the interior, and is still spreading rapidly. Where the people have not actually been converted they have been clearly influenced indirectly by Mahomedan ideas. This is most strikingly seen in the fashion and patterns of the various textile materials. The prevailing native colour is a darkish blue, but most of the cloths in the West African Court contain a variety of colours, and the patterns employed suggest Egyptian influences and intercourse with the Mahomedan States of Northern Africa. In the jewelry from the Gold Coast both European and Mahomedan designs are of course evident. Withal, however, there is a sufficient element of unadulterated barbarism in this court to delight the heart of the most exacting ethnologist.

the Times, July 17, 1886