Tribal Collectibles As Home Decor – There are few better ways of learning about the customs and beliefs of some of the lesser known peoples of the world than by building a collection of tribal art. The field encompasses every continent but most collectors specialize in artefacts from a particular region or tribe.
The great museum collections of tribal art were gathered, for the most part, during the 19th century when anthropologists made the first contacts with many of the tribes. The criterion then was simply to collect as many curiosities as possible. It was not until artists such as Picasso began to take an interest in African masks and to draw inspiration from them, that the emphasis began to shift towards seeing tribal pieces as art in its most uncorrupted form.
Collectors now tend to fall into two categories; art collectors and those who appreciate the wide range of more utilitarian items.
Africa provides the largest variety of objects, from the Bedouins of the north, the massive Yoruba tribe of Nigeria or the Akan tribes of the Gold Coast, to the Zulu tribe in the south. In North America, the range is equally diverse, and pueblo Indian art and other native American artefacts attract many collectors. Australasia and Polynesia are also popular, with collectors happy to buy an early boomerang, Maori canoe paddle, or maybe a simple, elegant, polished Cook Islands wooden stool.
Artefacts range from simple, domestic utensils carved from animal bone, horn or wood which can still be bought for around 50 pounds, to Benin bronze mask heads from West Africa which have fetched many thousands at auction. It can be very difficult to date these items, and in most cases, quality is the more significant factor.
Yoruba beaded art, Nigeria
Be wary of wooden tribal collectibles whose patina appears to be even all over although the piece would have been handled in only a small area. The patina may have been faked to suggest greater age.
Old is not necessarily valuable if the piece has a dull appearance. Objects which have a good patina and a vibrancy, even if made this century, may be more desirable.
The most desirable objects are those which relate to the time known as Pre-Contact; that is, before the West made the great journeys of discovery and took over many civilizations.
Because of the prevalence of fakes, collectors are wary of West African artefacts, but some new markets worth examining are Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda and New Guinea.