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Tobacco Mortar

African Art

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Tobacco Mortar

Artwork Details


Chokwe Artist, Angola


Nineteenth century


Wood, leather, and brass tacks

Accession #



6 inches


On View - Stent Family Wing, Skyway, Gallery 401


Bright, shiny brass tacks augment the glowing patina of this exceptionally elaborate mortar, whose support is in the form of a trader riding on an ox. During the nineteenth century, brass tacks such as these, obtained through trade with Europeans, were rare and quite costly in Chokwe communities and were associated with high social rank. Tobacco had a similar association and was reserved for elders and for men and women of privileged status. Tobacco had both social and ritual importance among the Chokwe and the neighboring peoples of central, eastern, and southern Africa. In Chokwe communities, tobacco was smoked and inhaled as snuff in ceremonial contexts to honor the memory of lineage ancestors. The Chokwe consider the act of smoking helpful in establishing communication between celebrated ancestors, guardian spirits, and living generations.


Fred and Rita Richman Collection