Cape Nguni/Thembu Pipe - South Africa

The basket-shaped bowl of this pipe likely references the form of an umncedo, or traditional penis cap. An essential item in the ensemble of a properly dressed male, umncedo were made from palm leaves, wood, horn, or gourd. Its appearance here aligns with the abundant symbolism in some southern African cultures connecting tobacco with masculine identity and the male sexual aspect. The strong relation of tobacco to ancestral communion and generative energies is in some cases enough to attach to it a procreative connotation, but for certain peoples the parallel is far more specific. Among the Basotho of Lesotho, for example, the very word for tobacco, kwae, is sometimes used as an alternative term for penis.

Late 19th century
5 3/4” l 2” h
Wood, metal
Provenance: Astley Collection, London; Christine Valluet, Paris; private European collection
#488
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