Object DomicileSAM-AE 6650 Xhosa Tobacco Bag,
Iziko Social History Centre, Spin Street in Cape Town, -33.92564604004673, 18.42205524444580
Object OriginTranskei, Eastern Cape, South Africa
GPS: Latitude: -32.0000 | Longitude: 27.0000. Unknown, but was donated by collector Dorothea Frances Bleek to the South African Museum in 1947
The Xhosa Tobacco Bag was collected in the Transkei Eastern Cape and presented by South Africa-born anthropologist and philologist Dorothea Frances Bleek to the South African Museum in 1947. Her interest in African languages was influenced by her father, Wilhelm Bleek; a philologist who pioneered the study of languages of some Southern African people in the 1860’s and 1870’s. This rubbed off on Dorothea, whose research primarily focused on the Khoisan - indigenous hunter-gatherer groups representing the first peoples of Southern Africa, whose territories spanned the entire Sub-Saharan African countries – and their languages. The object was later donated to the South African Museum (SAM) in Cape Town in the year 1948.
Dorothea Bleek is viewed as a significant figure in Southern African history, for the contributions she made to the Sub-Saharan regions ethnographic and historical value; as she devoted her life to the completion of her father’s research on South Africa’s most ancient culture. However, this does not dismiss her failure to acknowledge the creators of the objects she collected. It is understood that time passes, and language becomes a barrier at times, but when does the creator of the object become equally as important as the object collected from them?
Location, and our cultural associations to certain spaces entertain the concept of borders, and delve lengthily into colonial constructions of identity. Transkei, where the object was collected, is known as the home of Xhosa people who speak isiXhosa – a Bantu language. Although the language contains many words with click consonants borrowed from the Khoisan, it is closely related to Zulu, Swati and Ndebele. Without the name of the singular or collective creator, and a biography, and merely naming the object after the predominant cultural group in a location, collectors become engaged in something that is more than just a careless oversight; it becomes an entrenchment of colonial constructs, an “un-seeing” of the people in the group to whom the objects are assigned. .
The art of collecting ranges from didactic to completely selfish, depending on the information provided. At times, the purpose of the collection is to teach, preserve, address and highlight social issues. However, one could say that the collecting of indigenous objects that serve a ritual and spiritual purpose contributes to the dispossession of the indigenous people. The removal of cultural materials becomes part of the appropriation of land and ownership, and most importantly an alternative story and understanding far from the truth.
Transkei, Eastern Cape (1947) – Cape Town Western Cape (1948)