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19th Century Nguni Prepuce Covers

 

umncwado - imincwado - umncedo

 

Penis Cover - Prepuce Cover - Penis Sheath

 

 

 

                         Annals of the SA Museum Vol. 58 Part 3 Pg 263                                     Zulu / Tsonga - Circa 1890

 

Many tribal art and costume collectors have groups of the female cache sex of various cultures in their displays, but few have focused on the male prepuce cover. Academics, collectors, dealers and indeed the modern descendants of the ethnic groups of Southern Africa have cumulatively lost interest in penis covers, and indeed forgotten their earlier social importance.

 

 

 

Abakwetha by Lister Hunter, a trader in Umtata - circa 1950.

 

Before the widespread adoption of Western garments, African men in Southern Africa generally wore a basic loin covering, usually consisting of a kilt type garment made up of strips of animal skin in the front and a flap of animal hide at the back, or a wrap of trade store fabric. While there was no shame in being seen without these garments, a man over the age of puberty would not think of appearing in company without a penis cover that consisted of a gourd or a plaited plant fibre cap worn over the tip of the penis. This was not simply for reasons of modesty or the shielding of a delicate area of the anatomy, but seen also as an essential item of protection against evil magic. Culturally specific uses for covers are known and there is record of very special examples made from elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn.

 

 

 

Abakwetha by Mrs. Fred Clarke 'nee Goss', a trader at Gosshill / Pondoland - circa 1940

 

Barbara Tyrrell, who gained fame as a close observer and visual recorder of the tribal life and costume in Southern Africa, recalls the ubiquitous penis cover and wrote frankly in her book 'Her African Quest', of a childhood memory in Zululand: "The essential item of the male dress was the penis cover, small gourd or plated ‘box’, not necessarily for reasons of modesty but as protection against evil eye, evil influence. There was no same in nudity and a sporran not always a complete cover. We accepted and respected racial differences and I believed, quite simply, that the ‘box’ grew as part of their anatomy, just another evidence of difference."

 

 

 

               Swazi men Washing circa 1920                                                                  Zulu type - circa 1900.

 

For the purpose of disseminating knowledge, we share with you a scarce resource: a very carefully researched and illustrated paper by  Michael W. Conner, PhD., ISA-AM presented in 1990 - which follows. 

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

The 19th Century Nguni Prepuce Cover:

 

A Vanished Aesthetic Locus

 

By Michael W. Conner - 1990

 

 

Presented at he 33rd Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association - Baltimore Maryland - November 1990.

 

 

 

The 19th Century Nguni Prepuce Cover:
A Vanished Aesthetic Locus


by


Michael W. Conner

ILLUSTRATIONS

1 Map of Nguni Movements c.1800. Krige, 1936, p.2

2 Thembu /Fingo boys wearing prepuce covers. Laubscher, 1938,
p.76 Courtesy of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Inc.

3 Zulu man with skins front and back. Angus, 1849

4 Thembu cattle herdsman wearing gourd/fruit penis cap, Baziya, Umtata 1935 (photo W.T.H. Beukes) (TM 35/107), Ann. SAM, 58, pt.3, p.263

5 Mbilini (right) who led the attack on the 80th at the Intombi River, 1879, wearing traditional loin skins and headring. Barthorp, M., 1980, p.109

6 Malawi Ngoni Men in Military Regalia c.1900 Mozambique, 27, 1941, p.100

7 Malawi Ngoni crooked-neck penis caps. British Museum #1922 4•13.70,68,69

8 Male figure with ridged penis cap. Tishman Collection, Sieber, Sculpture of Black Africa, 1968, #166

9 H.E. Bohme. Zulu vessel. Albany AM 184. Ann. SAM, v. 70 "Some Nguni Crafts Part 3 Wood-Carving" (May) 1981, p. 228

10 H.E. Bohme. Zulu vessel. Albany AM 184. Ann. SAM, v. 70 "Some Nguni Crafts Part 3 Wood-Carving" (May) 1981, p. 228

11 Male figure with removable penis cap. British Museum #1919-12-25.1

12 Penis Caps. Zulu, South Africa. L. 3 3/8 in. Miscellaneous materials including horn and wood. The Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts. Collected between 1905 and 1950. Sieber, African Textiles and Decorative Arts, 1973, p.12

13 Aluminum Glans cover. Pitt-Rivers Museum 1921 Photo courtesy of William Dewey, University of Iowa, Iowa City

14 Recently circumcised youth (umkhwetha) wearing penis sheath, Transkei

15 Royal homestead of Dingaan, 1836. Gardiner, p.29

16 Zulu man with headring. Tedder, 1968, p.55

17 Leaves and fruit of the strychnos spinosa, or intongwane tree. Pullinger, J.S. 1982, p.150

18 H.E. Bohme. Zulu penis-sheath, Port Natal, 1859. BM 59-9-8-50. Ann. SAM, v. 70 "Some Nguni Crafts Part 1 Calabashes" (May) 1976, p. 46

19 H.E. Bohme. Zulu penis-sheath, Port Natal, 1859. BM 59-9-8-50. Ann. SAM, v. 70 "Some Nguni Crafts Part 1 Calabashes" (May) 1976, p. 36

20 Photo of fruit snuff boxes, British Museum. Courtesy of Private Collection

21 Wire decorated snuff box. Sieber collection, Micheal Conner / Diane Pelrine, The Geometric Vision, 1983, cover photo.

22 Wire decorated wooden cap. British Museum #BM 1949 AF46-602

23 Wire decorated wooden cap, c. 1923 Field Museum of Natural History (210633). Conner /Pelrine, 1983, p. 24

24 Mada men wearing prepuce clips. IRAI,42, 1912, p .198

25 Thembu /Fingo boys wearing prepuce covers. Laubscher, 1938, p.76. Courtesy of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Inc

26 Swazi man wearing penis cap, Herbst, D. 1985, p.137

27 Young man wearing leather isidla at dance, 1960. Xhosa, Willowvale. incitsho woven of grass, 1948,43 mm, Bhaca

28 Leather penis-sheath, 1894 -no data (Ratzel 1894 281), ingxiba of leather, 1948, 500 mm, Xhosa, Qwaninga, Willow vale, 1948., Ann. SAM, v.58 ptA, p. 527

29 Woman weaving cap Zululand, craft center. Courtesy of Carolee Kennedy

30 Woman weaving cap (detail) Zululand, craft center Courtesy of Carolee Kennedy

31 British Museum. General selection of caps from the collections. Courtesy of Carolee Kennedy

32 Banana leaf stalk caps, c. 1920. Field Museum of Natural History (210631,2 & UCLA (LX77-1244).

33 Photo of Xhosa chain-decorated isidla of calabash, 1935. Diameter 40 mm. Thembu

34 Thembu / Fingo youths wearing jousting gourds. Laubscher, 1938. Courtesy of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Inc

35 ingxiba of calabash with ornamental chains, 1930. Xhosa, Cala (FH A769) Ann. SAM, v.58 pt.4, p.527
 

 

    

 

                            Illustration 1                                                                                   Illustration 2


Illustration 1: Map of Nguni Movements c.1800. Krige, 1936, p.2

Illustration 2: Thembu/Fingo boys wearing prepuce covers. Laubscher, 1938, p.76, courtesy of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Inc.

INTRODUCTION
Early visitors to southern Africa rarely considered the Nguni prepuce cover to be a form of dress. Men wearing only penis covers were simply described as walking about naked. Nevertheless, for the culturally related Nguni speaking peoples of southern Africa, such as the Xhosa, the Zulu, the Swazi, Thonga and their Nguni/Ngoni offshoots in present-day Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi, this form of Nguni 'fig-leaf' once constituted the respectable minimum in traditional attire—worn by men who were not so much ashamed of exposing the penis itself, as compelled by social propriety to conceal its sensitive and vulnerable glans.

In the 18th century the Nguni peoples were generally clustered together along the southeast coast of southern Africa. Neighboring peoples, such as the San and Sotho-Tswana inhabited the more marginal territory further inland, both to the north and southwest of the Nguni homesteads. Until late in the late 18th century, Nguni political units would best be described as semi-distinct cattle ranges managed by family groups who voluntarily placed themselves under the authority of a single clan head. Even the renown Zulu were originally but one such small 'family' unit.

Environmental barriers separated the Sotho, San and the Nguni related peoples of South Africa but were not so formidable as to preclude cultural exchanges. Nguni clans would almost certainly have developed exclusive features in dress. While similar items might be employed by several clans, the materials used and their placement on the body were often clan specific (1).
 

 

 

Illustration 3


Illustration 3: Zulu man with skins front and back Angus, 1849.

Modesty is culturally determined and vulnerable to change. Classic Sutu dress proscribed a breech-cloth style of loin dress which left the buttocks exposed (2) When the Zulu added a buttocks covering to their dress in the mid-19th century, they soon came to refer to their Sutu neighbors as 'people who run about naked'. Like Victorian visitors shocked and bemused by Nguni men wearing only a penis cover, the Nguni were quick to judge others by the standards of dress they had set for themselves. It was exactly this same sense of propriety which had compelled Shaka Zulu in the early 1820's to demand that his european guests, Henry Ogle and Henry Francis Fynn senior, put on prepuce covers while living within his dominions. (3)

As early as the 1770's the wearing of the simple prepuce cover was recognized by Karl Thunberg as constituting a distinctive Nguni culture trait.
"The Hottentots universally wore a bag just before the parts of shame, which was made of the gray part of the back of the Cape fox, and was fastened round the body with a thong. The Caffres (Nguni) wore a bag similar indeed to this, but made of another kind of skin,(4) and at the same time so small that it sometimes did not cover more than the foreskin."(5)

The naturalist Ferdinand Krauss, visiting Natal in 1839, noted that the Zulu wore a hollow, three-inch oxhide cone without ornaments to cover the glans of the penis while other Nguni clans made these caps of straw, wood, skin, etc. and decorated them with copper rings and beads. (6) Other items of male dress, while socially prescribed, were optional. Clearly, the penis cover was for the Nguni a respectable form of minimum male attire.
 

 

 

    

 

                             Illustration 4                                                                                    Illustration 5


Illustration 4: Thembu cattle herdsman wearing gourd/fruit penis cap, Baziya, Umtata 1935 (photo W.T.H. Beukes) (TM 35/107), Ann. SAM ,58, pt.3, p.263

Illustration 5: Mbilini (right) who led he attack on the 80th at the Intombi river, 1879, wearing traditional loin skins and headring. Barthorp, M., 1980, p.109
 


The daily attire of any Nguni man of some standing normally consisted of a simple sporran of animal pelts which only partially concealed his penis cover worn jauntily underneath. The Nguni considered it a both shocking and serious breech of social etiquette to expose the glans penis itself to either women or men. In some contexts exposing the glans could be a serious legal offense:

"If a man willfully exposes himself without the penis cover, he may be fined by the Chief. Should a man maliciously, or otherwise, pull off the penis cover of another, a fine of from one to five head of cattle may be inflicted, payable to the complainant (7)"

"Gaika on seeing one of his Heemraad (Imguia) going about without the partial covering for the penis and appearing in that way amongst women ordered him to replace it. He refused in consequence of which he was strangled (8)"

In other situations, nudity was actually proscribed by Nguni society and the voluntary removal of the penis cover facilitated ritual purification, almost as if by removing the cap, the healing ritual could more effectively accomplish a cure:

"On the way back to their camp, allsoever as had killed a foe at once made themselves apparent by doffing their skin-girdles and penis covers and carrying them in their raised right had, along with the assegai, blade upwards, that had done the deed. Arrived in camp, the captains called upon all such forthwith to fortify themselves against all evil consequences by various processes...The warriors were now adjudged sufficiently 'clean' to re-don their girdles and penis-covers, and sufficiently 'safe' to venture into the presence of his Majesty; to whom they now betook themselves." (9)

Although frequently worn beneath animal tails, penis covers were not regarded by the Nguni as 'underwear' until the early part of the 20th century when the European style of wearing trousers and shorts over the cap became ubiquitous.

"Mount Frere Bhaca, especially of the older generation, also wear a penis sheath (incitsho), often under European-type trousers, for without it "it is as if you are naked". It is made variously from soft goatskin, the cocoon of a caterpillar, carved from the hollow fruit of the umthombothi tree or from woven grass." (10)

Nguni prepuce covers, clips or sheaths, were intimate objects usually made and fitted by the owner for his use alone. Interference with a man's penis cover even by his wife was regarded as improper, dangerous, and suspicious behavior:

"When a married couple have quarrelled a woman may not touch her husband's clothing, especially that which contains perspiration (shirt, loin-covering, underwear, penis box)" (11)

"In Nkandla law case 87/31 a man declared that he would have nothing to do with his wife, since she had interfered with his penis box" (12)

Unlike the 'tails' of Mada women of Gita Bissa, Nigeria, or of the Luyia of western Kenya which apparently acquired no personal patina, Nguni penis caps could not be re-sold upon the death of the owner (13), penis coverings throughout southern Africa were regarded as too imbued with bodily substances and personal association to be handed down or otherwise reused, outside of a purely ritual context, after the death of the owner.

On rare occasions, special penis covers might have been set aside as relics or used as ritual objects to communicate with ancestors.

"On this day (umkhosi) an ancient prepuce cover is used. It is one of the sacred articles, and on the first day on which the chief receives treatment it is balanced on the end of a piece of wood.....The wood is of umsimbiti tree, largely used on the coast for making walking sticks; and the prepuce cover is stated to have been taken from a man killed in some tribal war. It is not worn by the chief, but he has another which he wears for this special occasion."(14)

Otherwise, social proscription dictated that the penis cover be destroyed and buried with its owner.

Due to the strong personal and cultural associations the Nguni held towards their penis covers, visitors found it difficult to collect used, decorated examples. The fact that scant collection information has been attached to any of these covers may be less a matter of a collector's negligence, than the frank desire of the Nguni owner to preserve his anonymity. The caps powerful personal and cultural associations had to be obfuscated lest they be used against the owner and his kin. Estelle Hamilton-Welsh, a renown collector of southern African art throughout the first part of this century, wrote that although she often saw groups of Xhosa men wearing beautiful covers on ceremonial occasions, it was over thirty years before she was able to obtain even one of these. She added that even traders could not seem to persuade men to part with their covers (15) .
 

 

 

                                             Illustration 6                                                                                     Illustration 7


Illustration 6: Malawi Ngoni Men in Military Regalia c. 1900 Mozambique 27, 1941, p.100

Illustration 7: Malawi Ngoni crooked-neck penis caps. British Museum #1922 4-13.70, 68, 69. (These crooked necked gourd penis caps were collected from the Nguni related Ngoni of northern Malawi. They were donated to the British Museum in 1922. Their distinctive shape might be indicative of an early Nguni clan variation in penis covering style carried thousands of miles by Ngoni invaders. The peoples incorporated by the Ngoni on their migration northwards did not wear penis covers, and the peoples they resettled among in the mid-19th century came to regard the Ngoni custom of wearing a penis cover as a remarkable and distinguishing culture trait).

Nguni speaking peoples throughout southern Africa and even the various Ngoni off shoots which re-settled in Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi (16) continued to ascribe importance to the wearing of penis coverings. Certain men, especially those who had become renown warriors, might be seen walking about wearing only a penis covering well into the 1940's. Some Xhosa have retained the custom of putting on a penis covering as part of a traditional circumcision ceremony to the present day (17)
 

 

 

                  Illustration 8                                                                   Illustration 9

 

Illustration 8: Male figure with ridged penis cap. #166

Illustration 9: Collection photo of similar ridged penis cap. Linden Museum, Stuttgart, #101973
 

The traditional culture of the Nguni is said not to have included freestanding figurative sculpture, yet several well carved male and female paired figures exist which clearly depict aspects of Nguni dress. The famous Tishman figure sports a fashionable, striated wooden penis cover similar to one collected in the 1920's.
 

 

 

Illustration 10

 

Illustration 10: Grooved decoration on a Zulu vessel,1835. Albany Museum #AM 184


While it is hard to distinguish the shape of a close fitting penis cap from that of the generally rounded shape of the glans penis itself, we can surmise from the importance of the penis cover to the Nguni, that the glans of all of these sculptures may well have once been covered. These figures may have once been fitted with a removable cap which has since become separated from the sculpture itself. A figure in the collections of the British Museum is evidence of this possibility, as it has been carved with a removable cap of polished black heartwood. In type, the miniature cap resembles similar caps collected between 1905 and 1950 in the Peabody museum at Harvard and elsewhere.

It is interesting to note that this corpus of paired figures is believed to have been carved sometime in the late 19th century and that they are all generally ascribed to the Nguni related Thonga. A close, rounded penis cap style was, however, not typical of the Thonga (18) in 1890. The Thonga are renown for wearing a penis sheath, the imbayi which is a covering for the penis about six or seven inches long, made of softened skin, sewn together into a bag. It was held in position by strings tied round the loins. The tip of the imbayi sheath might be raised by this string either to right or left, or could be left to hang straight down (19) . This Thonga style of penis sheath is said to have became extinct before 1897. Presumably, the popular late-19th century Zulu fashion of wearing a penis cap under soft animal pelts or western style pants supplanted it.


 

     

 

                  Illustration 11                                                                               Illustration 12


Illustration 11: Male figure with removable penis cap. British Museum #1919-12-2.1; also Sydow, Africanische Plastic, 1954, p 141
 

Illustration 12: Penis Caps. Zulu, South Africa, L. 3 3/8 in. Miscellaneous materials including horn and wood. The Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts. Collected between 1905 and 1950. Sieber, African Textiles and Decorative Arts. 1973, p.12. (The material, size, and even slight differences in the shape of each of these penis caps can sometimes be attributed to ethnic variation).


Like most African peoples, the Nguni had long practiced circumcision. It has been argued that even partial circumcision will allow for more freedom in sexual intercourse (20), and that by removing the prepuce entirely the probability of contracting certain genital diseases may be reduced. To the Nguni, circumcision was clearly a metaphor for castration—a process of strengthening. Castrated bulls (oxen) were observed to become stronger. It was, for instance, the castrated black bull which was the preferred sacrificial beast and the bovine most closely associated with the perogative of royalty. In circumcision, boys, like these bulls, were 'made strong' by medicines and by removing the foreskin—a symbolic castration (21)


 

 

                                        Illustration 13                                                                               Illustration 14

Illustration 13: Aluminum Glans cover. Pitt-Rivers Museum, 1921 Photo courtesy of William Dewey, University of Iowa, Iowa City (Penis covers were endemic to southern Africa. As late as the 1920's the British were manufacturing an the aluminum glans cover for regional trade.)

Illustration 14: Recently circumcised youth (umkhwetha) wearing penis sheath, Transkei; c 1954, p. 599, Ann. SAM, .58 pt.4

Circumcision constituted a rite of separation. It was a means of bestowing sexual responsibility and privilege on the sexually mature. The Nguni had long used this ritual as a convenient way to delineate an age-set of men available for military service. However, when Shaka Zulu's kingdom came to preeminence, circumcision was prohibited for a large number of Nguni men. Instead of removing the prepuce, young men were merely treated with the medicines, then conscripted en mass into the national army and bivouacked indefinitely around a royal homestead (22).

 

 

Illustration 15


Illustration 15: Royal homestead of Dingaan, 1836. Gardiner, p.29

This profound deviation from ancient custom gave Shaka enormous control over his nation's human resources. Advancement to marriage and full sexual privilege in Zulu society was suddenly and indefinitely postponed. The darkened and polished latex headring became the visual substitute for a circumcised penis. It was a great day for a regiment when Shaka allowed it to finally become amaKehla or 'ring-men'—free to take wives and acquire cattle (23).

Nguni males wore penis covers both before and after circumcision. Bhaca and Swazi youths, for example, were told to put on the penis cover as soon as they had begin to mature, and this was sometimes long before the rites of circumcision would be performed on them (24). With an abrupt halt to the custom of complete prepuce removal, a huge number of mature, young Zulu/Nguni men were now obviously left uncircumcised, while their elders, often senior military men, and their most distinguished and respected leaders, were already circumcised.
 

 

 

Illustration 16


Illustration 16: Zulu man with headring. Tedder, 1968, p. 55

In spite of Shaka's edict, the desire to circumcise could not be entirely suppressed. Bryant reports that Zulu youths surreptitiously performed an informal, partial circumcision on one another to cut the prepuce free and allow the glans to become slightly more visible (25). The general penis shape was thus consciously made more 'rounded' in an effort to mimic the shape of the circumcised penis of the elders. Youths might visually allude to circumcision by wearing a rounded gourd, or fruit shell style of cap over the glans. It is even possible that Shaka mandated that all new recruits put on a certain style of penis covering, perhaps one similar to his own. The literature is unclear as to whether Shaka was himself circumcised. Upon reaching puberty, Shaka had refused his father's offer of a loin dress and was renown for wearing the shell of the itongwane fruit. Apparently, in the late 1700's, the shell of this fruit had been more widely used as a snuff box. Shaka's own preference in minimal Nguni attire seemed peculiar and even remarkable to some, for his Nguni enemies are said to have made scornful reference to his wearing a snuff box for a penis cover—a rash impropriety that they soon came to regret (26).

As early as 1888, Campbell had described a hollowed out young calabash being worn as a Zulu penis-cap (27). While calabashes were commonly used as penis covers and seem to be of generally the same form, a clear distinction would have been drawn by the Nguni between covers made of a gourd (grown on a vine) and those made from ntongwane fruit produced by a species of strychnos tree. Strychnos spinosa and strychnos oncoba each produce a large (appoximately 12 cm.) rounded fruit. The Ngoni of Malawi prefer the smaller fruit of strychnos potatorum (appoximately 5 cm.).
 

 

 

Illustration 17


Illustration 17: Leaves and fruit of the strychnos potatorum, or intongwane tree. Pullinger, J.S. 1982, p.150

 

 

                              Illustration 18                                                                          Illustration 19


Illustration 18: Drawing of a small fruit shell penis cap (Zulu) decorated with a strip pendant housed in the British Museum. Collected in Port Natal, 1859

Illustration 19: Drawing of a wire decorated gourd snuff box, showing technique of inlaid wire ornamentation.

 

                                       Illustration 20                                                                               Illustration 21


Illustration 20: Photo of fruit snuff box. Courtesy of Private Collection

Illustration 21: Wire decorated snuff box. Sieber collection, Conner/Pelrine, The Geometric Vision, 1983, cover photo.

Carolee Kennedy has suggested that this decorative wire work is typical of the Nguni and other peoples living near Delagoa Bay (29). Although penis caps of brass wire decorated intongwane fruit or calabash are as yet unrecorded, wooden penis caps and many snuff containers decorated in this technique survive. We can only speculate that the intongwane fruit penis caps of Shaka's time might once have been wire decorated with similar geometric symbols.
 

 

  

                      Illustration 22                                                                              Illustration 23


Illustration 22: Wire decorated wooden cap. British Museum #BM 1949 AF46-602 (Special caps were reserved for ceremonial occasions and many of these were ornamented for display. An attractively ornamented cap announced a degree of achievement in Nguni society. Certainly, the style, decoration and material of a man's cap was an important ethnic and social marker).

Illustration 23: Wire decorated wooden cap, c. 1923 Field Museum of Natural History (210633). Conner/Pelrine, 1983, p. 24

Penis covers worn by the Nguni in southern Africa were fashioned from a host of materials and they occurred in a wide variety of shapes. However, three basic functional/formal distinctions can be made. Uncircumcised males with long foreskins might simply seal off the tip of the prepuce with a small clip in order to effectively hide the glans penis. No photos or illustrations seem to have been made of Nguni men wearing prepuce clips, and they may well have become extinct very early in the 19th century. In 1824 Andrew Smith described a clip worn by the Mponda Nguni: "One (penis cover is) much larger than the other and includes the glans; the other is about the size of a hazel nut and admits only the extremity of the skin which is kept there by the glans pressing it forcibly against the cover." (30)
 

 

 

Illustration 24


Illustration 24: Mada men wearing prepuce clips. JRAI, 12, 1912, p. 198
 

 

 

Illustration 25

 

Illustration 25: Thembu/Fingo boys wearing prepuce covers. Laubscher, 1938, p. 76. Courtesy of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Inc.

 


 

Illustration 26

 

Illustration 26: Swazi man wearing penis cap, Herbst, D. 1985, p. 137


The glans cap was a type of cover which enclosed the glans and the prepuce but left the penile shaft itself exposed. After circumcision, it would have been impossible for a man to simply pinch or clip the prepuce shut as he may have done in his youth. The penis cover of a circumcised, Le. sexually mature Zulu male before about 1818 must have somehow surrounded the entire glans in order to hold it securely.

 

    

 

              Illustration 27                                                                                Illustration 28

 

Illustration 27: Young man wearing leaner isidla at dance, 1960. Xhosa, Willowvale. Incitscho woven of grass, 1948, 43 mm. Bhaca; Lugangeni Mt. Frere. Ann. SAM v. 58 pt 4, p. 527. (Notice the peculiar weaving technique used on the grass penis cap in this photo. Leather straps, sometimes with the fur left on, were also woven into caps).

Illustration 28: Leather penis-sheath, 1894—no data (Ratzel 1894 2:81). Ingxiba of leather, 1948, 500 mm, Xhosa, Owaninga, Willowvale, 1948 Ann SAM 58 pt 4, p. 527

The penis sheath covers glans, prepuce (if it has not already been removed) and the full length of the penis. The Thonga wore a penis sheath. A pocket-like, hollow 'cone' which covering the penis was observed and described by Krauss when visiting the Zulu in 1839 (31)


 

    

 

              Illustration 29                                                                               Illustration 30


Illustration 29: Woman weaving cap Zululand (craft center). Courtesy of Carolee Kennedy

Illustration 30: Woman weaving cap Zululand, (detail). Courtesy of Carolee Kennedy (In spite of the division of labor implied by these photos of a woman weaving a penis cap, most Nguni men traditionally wove certain household items and would probably have woven their own penis caps to suit) '
 

 

   

 

                   Illustration 31                                                                                       Illustration 32


Illustration 31: British Museum, general selection of caps from storage drawers.Courtesy of Carolee Kennedy

Illustration 32: Banana leaf stalk caps, c. 1920. Field Museum of Natural History (210631), 2 & UCLA (LX77-1244). While the most commonly collected Nguni penis cap is made of banana leaf stalk strips, this cap may actually be 'modern' innovation developed over 100 years ago in response the need tower caps under european style shorts and pants.


 

 

Illustration 33


Illustration 33: Photo of two Thembu chain-decorated isidla of calabash, 1935. Diameter 40mm. Mqanduli, (TM35/340) & (TM35/338) Ann. SAM, v. 58 pt4, p. 527
 


Mature men probably owned more than one penis cap at a time and used different sizes and materials of caps according to socially proscribed norms of dress. An Nguni chief was often required to wear a special cap while participating in rituals:

"On this day (umkhosi) an ancient prepuce cover is used. It is one of the sacred articles, and on the first day on which the chief receives treatment it is balanced on the end of a piece of wood.....The wood is of umsimbiti tree, largely used on the coast for making walking-sticks; and the prepuce cover is stated to have been taken from a man killed in some tribal war. It is not worn by the chief, but he has another which he wears for this special occasion" (32)

The Swazi king wore a distinctive and symbolically evocative ivory penis cap on the most important day of the Ncwala ceremony, when he walked among his people while being highly praised.

"The King walks naked before the women and warriors with only a glowing white penis covering made from the tusk of an elephant." (33)

After having achieved a certain social standing, distinguished Swazi men were awarded special permission to wear a penis-sheath made of prestige materials such as rhino horn (34). Special caps such as these could achieve an almost a jewel-like quality which would have suitably announced the owner's social status to the community. Xhosa boys were also said to have worn different, usually larger and more elaborately decorated penis gourds when participating in vigorous jousting competitions (35).

 

 


Illustration 34


Illustration 34: Thembu/Fingo youths wearing jousting gourds. Lauscher, 1938. Coutesy of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, Inc.

 

 

Illustration 35


Illustration 35: ingxiba of calabash with ornamental chains, 1930. Xhosa, Cala (FH A769) Ann. SAM, v.58 pt. 4, p.527
 


 

SUMMARY


A frank recognition of the artistic and cultural significance of the Nguni prepuce cover is essential to acquiring a comprehensive understanding of the role and formal expression of art and culture throughout the southern African region. Three functional categories of cover have been identified: The prepuce clip; the glans cap; and the penis sheath. Within these categories the Nguni created an astonishing variation of form and decoration. Covers were fashioned from leather, palm leaf, banana-leaf stalk, grass, metal, calabash, various fruit shells, cocoon skins, and both ivory and wood. It now seems unlikely that a single style of penis covering appertained to any single Nguni ethnic group, although some types may indeed have been more characteristic, especially in certain circumstances, such as traditional battle attire. Some caps were reserved by their owners for use only in specific contexts. In the 19th and early 20th century different styles of Nguni penis covers evidently co-existed and were probably adapted to suit changing norms, persisting through the middle of the 20th century. Recent field observation indicates that the putting on of a penis cover continues to play a symbolic role in some contemporary Xhosa circumcision ceremonies, and further research may yet yield even more surprising insights into the aesthetic resilience of this quintessential form of Nguni dress.
 

 

 

ENDNOTES


1 Raum, Otto Friedrich. The Social Functions of Avoidances and Taboos Among the Zulu. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1973, p. 501
2 Bryant, A. T. Olden Times in Zululand and Natal. London, Longmans,1929, p.181
3 Webb and Wright, Stuart Archives. Mmemi ka Nguluzane, 3:262, 1976-82
4 Possibly refers to a penis dip of dried caterpillar cocoon, (umFece).
5 TImnberg, C. P. Travels in Europe, Africa and Asia, Performed between the years 1770-1779. London: Richardson and Egerton, 1793.
6 Krauss, Ferdinand 0839-40). "The Zulu" Translated and edited by O.H. Spohr and A.W. Crowhurst, Africana Notes and News, 18, #5 (March 1969): 201-220.
7 Maclean, J. A Compendium of Kafir Laws and Customs. Mount Coke: Wesleyan Mission Press, 1858, p.l26
8 Smith, Andrew. Kaffir notes 3. (MS. In South African Museum), 1824, p.245
9 Bryant, A. T. The Zulu People: As They Were Before the White Man Came Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and
Shooter, 1949, p.507
10 Hammond-Tooke, W. D. ''The initiation of a Bhaca lsangoma diviner" African Studies 14,1955, p.l7
11 Raum, Otto Friedrich. The Social Functions of Avoidances and Taboos Among the Zulu. Berlin: Walter
de Gruyter, 1973, p. 510.
12 Raum, 1973, p.510
13 Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 42,1912, p.198; and personal communication, Eugene C. Burt, November 1990.
14 Lugg, H.C. "Agricultural Ceremonies in Natal and Zululand". Bantu Studies, 1929: 3: 379
15 Louw, Juliet. Catalogue of the Estelle Hamilton-Welsh Collection. Lovedale, South Africa: Fort Hare University Press, 1964
16 "The inkosi was all this time as if he were mourning and fasting. He was kept naked except for the cover of his foreskin. They fed him with the firstfruits mixed with medicines". Read, Margaret, The Ngoni of Nyasland. London: Oxford University Press, 1956, p. 61; Field Notes, MWC 1985; & 5tannus, S.S. "Notes on Some Tribes of British Central Africa". Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, #40,1910, p . 321"Among Angoni the mwado only used to be worn; this is a small hard-cased fruit which was hollowed out and worn just covering the glans penis".
17 Personal communication, Jim Thayer, University of Oklahoma, November 1990.
18 Ladislav, Holy. The Art of Africa London: Hamlyn, 1967, p.37; also von Sydow, E. Africanische Plastik. New York: G. Wittenborn, 1954, labled Barong-Batonga (Thonga) Museum fur Volkerkunde, Berlin.
19 webb and Wright, Stuart Archives. Ndaba,4:172 1976-86
20 "...the foreskin is often a painful hindrance, becoming strangulated after the entrance of the glans and making the acd difficult, or in the case of the prepuce does not leave the glans free, hastening the ejaculatio seminis. " Bryk, Felix. Voodoo-Eros: ethnological studies in the sex life of the African Aborigines, trans. from German by Mayne R. Sexton, New York: Private printing, 1933, p.114
21 Webb and Wright, Stuart Archives. Mkando ka Dhlova (b.1824), 13.7.1902. 1976-82 v.3, p.151
22 Mkando ka Dhlova (b.1824) 13.7.1902 Webb and Wright, Stuart Archives. 1976-82 v.3, p.151
23 Barnes, J. A. Politics in a Changing Society. pub. for Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, Lusaka, London: Oxford University Press, 1954, p. 5
24 Kohler, M. Marriage Customs in Southern Natal. Ethno!. PubIs. S. Afr. 1933,4: p.lO; Marwick, B.A. The Swazi. London: Frank Cass and Co. Ltd. ,1966 p. 153; Kohler, 1933, p10
25 Bryant, A. T. The Zulu People: As They Were Before the White Man Came. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shooter, 1949, p.653
26 Webb and Wright, Stuart Archives. Jantshi Ka Nkngila, 2:72 &1:182 1976-82.
27 Campbell, -. "Zulu witchdoctors and experiences amongst the Zulus". Glasgow Medical Journal, 30, 1888, p. 301
28 British Museum #(BM 59-9-8-50)
29 In Greub, Suzanne. Expressions of Belief. New York: Rizzoli, 1988, p.lOO
3O Smith, Andrew. Kaffir notes 3. (MS. In South African Museum), 1824, p.109.
31 ".....a hollow cone 3" in length and cylindrical, sewn of oxhide (Probably made from the pericardium of an ox) with which they cover the penis". Krauss, Ferdinand (1839-40). "The Zulu" Translated and edited by O.H. Spohr and A.W. Crowhurst, Africana Notes and News, 18, #5 (March 1969): 201-220.
32 Lugg, H.C. /IAgricultural Ceremonies in Natal and Zululand". Bantu Studies, 1929: 3: 379
33 Kuper, Hilda. "Costume and Cosmology: the Animal Symbolism of the Ncwala". Man, December
1973, v.S, #4 p. 622.
34 Marwick, B.A. The Swazi. London: Frank Cass and Co. Ltd. ,1966 p. 85.
35 Louw, Juliet. Catalogue of the Estelle Hamilton-Welsh Collection. Lovedale: Fort Hare University Press,1964, p.63.
 

 


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Readers are advised to consult the compendium of cross referenced illustrations and quotations relating to penis covers within the Annals of the South African Museum, volume 58 by E. M. Shaw and N.]. Van Warmelo; and in volume 70 by H. E. Bohme, Patricia Davison, and Lindsay Hooper respectively. Additional material for this paper has been drawn from The Archives of the Kinsey Institute for Sex, Gender, and Reproduction and from photographs and field notes collected during dissertation research in Africa and in Europe, 1984-85. I am indebted to Carolee Kennedy for freely opening her own field notes and for offering valuable insights.

Barnes,]. A.
1954 Politics in a Changing Society. Published for Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, Lusaka, London: Oxford University Press

Bryant, A. T.
1929 Olden Times in Zululand and Natal. London: Longmans

Bryant, A. T. 1949 The Zulu People: As They Were Before the White Man Came. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shooter

Bohme, H.E.
1976 "Some Nguni Crafts: Part 1 Calabashes" Annals of the South African Museum, 70, (May)
1984 "Some Nguni Crafts Part 3 Wood-Carving" (May) 1981

Bryk,Felix
1933 Voodoo-Eros: Ethnological Studies in the Sex Life of the African Aborigines. Translated from German by Mayne R. Sexton. New York: Private printing

Campbell, --
1888 "Zulu witchdoctors and experiences amongst the Zulus". Glasgow Medical Journal, 30, p.301

Davison, Patricia
1976 "Some Nguni Crafts: Part 2 The Uses of Hom, Bone and Ivory". Annals of the South African Museum, 70, (May)

Hammond-Tooke, W. D.
1955 ''The initiation of a Bhaca Isangoma diviner" African Studies, 14, p.17

Hooper, Lindsay.
1981 "Some Nguni Crafts: Part 3 Wood-carving". Annals of the South African Museum, 70, (May)

Herbst, D.
1985 Tegniese skeppinge van die Swazi in KaNgwane. Pretoria: Raad vir Geesteswetenskaplike
Navorsing 1912 ''The Mada". Journal of the Royal Anthropologicla Institute 42, p.198

Kohler,M.
1933 ''Marriage Customs in Southern Natal". Ethnological Publications -Republic of South Africa, #4, p.10 Krauss, Ferdinand (1839-40) 1969 ''The Zulu". Translated and edited by O.H. Spohr and A.W. Crowhurst, Africana Notes and News, 18, #5 (March) pp. 201-220

Kuper, Hilda
1973 "Costume and Cosmology: the Animal Symbolism of the Ncwala". Man, v.8, #4 (December) p. 613-630 Ladislav, Holy 1967 The Art of Africa London: Hamlyn Laubscher, Barend Jacob Frederick 1938 Sex Custom and Psychopathology: a Study of South African Pagan Natives. New York: R. M. McBride and Co.

Louw, Juliet
1964 Catalogue of the Estelle Hamilton-Welsh Colledion. Lovedale, South Africa: Fort Hare University Press

Lugg,H.C.
1929 "Agricultural Ceremonies in Natal and Zululand". Bantu Studies, 3, p. 379

Maclean, J. A 1858 Compendium of Kalir Laws and Customs. Mount Coke: Wesleyan Mission Press, 1858

Marwick, B. A.
1966 The Swazi. London: Frank Cass and Co. Ltd.

Pullinger, J. S. and Kitchin, A. M.
1982 Trees of Malawi: with some Shrubs and Climbers. Blantyre, Malawi: Blantyre Print and Publishing

Raum, Otto Friedrich
1973 The Social Functions of Avoidances and Taboos Among the Zulu. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter

Read, Margaret
1956 The Ngoni of Nyasaland. London: Oxford University Press

Shaw, E. M. and Van Warmelo, N. J.
1972-88 ''The Material Culture of the Cape Nguni". Annals of the South African Museum, 58, Part 4 (March 1988)

Smith, Andrew
1824 Kaffir Notes 3. (MS. In South African Museum, 1824) p.109

Shaw, E. M. and Van Warmelo, N. J.
1972-88 ''The Material Culture of the Cape Nguni". Annals of the South African Museum, 58, Part 4 (March 1988)

Stannus, S. S.
1910 "Notes on Some Tribes of British Central Africa". Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, #40, p. 321

von Sydow, E.
1954 Africanische Plastik. New York: G. Wittenborn Thunberg, C. P. 1793 Travels in Europe, Africa and Asia: Performed between the Years 1770-1779. London: Richardson and Egerton

Webb, C. De B. and Wright, J. B.
1976-86 The Stuart Archive of Recorded Oral Evidence Relating to the History of The Zulu land Neighbouring Peoples. 4 Volumes. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

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