ZULU EARPLUGS, KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA
In the 19th century, the use of earplugs was intimately related to the custom of ear-piercing. Among the Zulus, piercing gave rise to an important ceremony, “qhumbuza“, the first in a series of ceremonies marking the transition from childhood to adulthood. At the end of this ceremony, the child, girl or boy, was supposedly able to hear and understand at last.
A piece of corn stalk was placed into the newly made hole, which was replaced by larger inserts as the lobe enlarged. The aim was to make this distinctive mark of Zulu belonging visible.
From the 1950s onwards, this ceremony seems to have lost its symbolic importance and was only practised on young girls who wanted it, for purely aesthetic reasons.
Whereas in the 19th century the inserts were small to moderate in size, the use of much larger wooden inserts became fashionable from the second quarter of the 20th century.
The first wooden earrings were carved from pink ivory, Berchemia Zeyheri, whose vernacular name gave the earrings their name: umnimi (pl. iminimi) or umncaka (pl. imincaka). Very heavy (up to 80 g), they were carved from lighter woods from the 1930s and 40s. As these woods had little patina, they began to be lacquered or covered with plastic (mainly bakelite). The use of vinyl (flooring) appeared in the 1950s. In the 60s and 80s, the use of Perspex (Plexiglas) became widespread.
As new materials were introduced, colours and patterns appeared. In a society where colours are charged with meaning, some decorations have a special significance. Beyond their aesthetic character, they can provide information, among other things, on a person’s clan affiliation or status.
Diameter of earplugs : 60mm
Width of earplugs : 17mm
Total height (stand included) : 116mm
Total length : 140mm
Age : 1970-1990