Uses

Iron is mainly the metal for tools for farmers and craftspeople requiring a sharp edge, without which they would not be able to produce anything, but it has also been used to make a huge variety of implements, plus personal ornaments, figures, (mostly from wrought iron, but some which have been cast), musical instruments requiring a ringing sound, like bells, gongs, mbiras, castanets, rattles.

Iron has also been the chosen metal for a variety of high-status items, usually based on everyday things, like the axes, knives, swords, spears illustrated here.

Items made from copper and copper alloys are often used as a demonstration of power, by kings, chiefs, priests or other important people, also to indicate membership of particular groups. Good examples are the cast commemorative figure of the head of an Oba or King of Benin, placed on an altar by his successor, the wand of Khama, King of the Tswana and the enormous anklets worn by the wives of chiefs in South East Nigeria. There are many other examples of objects made for less exalted purposes, such as in jewellery, weights for weighing gold, small figures, decorative additions to other objects often in the form of sheet metal, but also wire and beads.

Some objects of gold and silver as well as copper and iron are made into currency and stores of wealth. In addition, all of these metals have been used to create and adorn works which now form an important feature of the art and tourist markets both in Africa and throughout the world.

Visit the Gallery to view the objects in our collection by their use.