Bijogo Africa; Guinea-Bissau, Figural Spoon, 19th century, Painted wood; 23.2 cm (9 1/8 inches) (length), Gift of Dr. Marion Shepard 44.021
Spoons have been imported into Europe from the west coast of Africa since the fifteenth century. They were probably made by people referred to as the Sapi, who lived along the coast from Sierra Leone to Guinea-Bissau and were ancestors of the current population residing there. The RISD spoon draws upon this long tradition of carving. It shows a man attired in European clothing and top hat, a late nineteenth-and- early twentieth-century mode of dress affected by local leaders. The figure also displays the conventionalized indication of health and well-being in the ringed neck typical of sculpture from this area. Decorated functional objects such as spoons or combs likely were status markers, indicating the prosperity and importance of their owners.