Appreciation for special, esoteric knowledge has existed in every community, leading to the ubiquitous presence of a caste that supposedly has the ability to serve as the mediator between the divine and the ordinary. As a result, the functions of diviners, priests, and elders in society have been mostly homogenous and involved the performance of rituals. However, the representation of the specified type of the population had a unique touch in every culture, depending on the characteristics of the community, its values, philosophies, and spiritual beliefs. The described differences have also percolated into art, creating an entire genre that, despite incorporating the characteristics of multiple cultures, still has homogenous qualities, pointing to the similar role of diviners, priests, and elders in art as that of spiritual guides and the owners of the sacred knowledge.
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Most of the art pieces expose the status of the depicted people straightforwardly by showing them in their garments linked to rituals and traditions of the culture in question. In fact, in a range of artworks, the status of diviners, priests, and elders within the community is conveyed solely through the portrayal of clothes and the related items. In fact, the clothes and items under analysis did not necessarily have to belong to diviners and priests; instead, they pointed to the functions that they played within their communities. For example, the Maasai beaded jewelry, which was created primarily by and for women, reflected the change in their status within their communities, particularly, their marriage or coming of age (“The Story of Maasai Beaded Jewelry” para. 2). Thus, the importance of priests, and diviners as the people that guided women through the specified ceremony was imbued in the beaded jewelry created by the Maasai.
Similarly, the tendency to point to the high status of the character in an artwork by incorporating the items that they typically use in their rituals and traditional activities is present in a range of art pieces. For instance, in Narsa O’Bwana’s “Mwana Darini’s Siwa,” the elder is represented as an aging man wearing the traditional clothes and, most importantly, holding the siwa mentioned in the title, namely, a prolonged horn with a mouthpiece located on its side (“Mwana Darini’s Siwa”). Being one of the most recognizable elements of African musical instruments, the siwa immediately set the tone for the picture, establishing that the man in the picture has a crucial role of a person dispensing wisdom within the community and is regarded as the elderly.
Finally, the status of the diviners, priests, and elders could also be seen in the portrayal of the items that people of the culture in question cherished and to which they related. For instance, the famous “Shona sculpture,” which represented a rough portrayal of a human face, reflected the significance of stone as the main item in creating structures in Shona tribes (“Art of Zimbabwe: Shona Sculpture” para. 1). Consequently, the role of diviners, priests, and elders as the mediators between the cultural and traditional meaning of stone carving and the rest of the tribe becomes apparent after examining elements of the Shona sculpture.
Although there are significant differences in the depictions of diviners, priests, and elders in art, each of the pieces above shows that there was a common threat in the portrayals of these characters, particularly, that one of guides. Representing them as people performing sacred rituals by including the relevant items associated with certain traditions into the image, the authors of the artworks demonstrated the unique role of the specified demographic using solely artistic methods of expression. While some of the pieces show the status of diviners, priests, and elders openly by detailing their garments linked to relevant rituals, and others being subtler, with only a few hints such as unique jewelry pieces and tattoos, the general idea of portraying the characters from the social perspective along with the artistic one is present in all of the three artworks.
“Art of Zimbabwe: Shona Sculpture.” The Sculpture Park, n.d. Web.
“Mwana Darini’s Siwa.” Historiya.com, n.d. Web.
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“The Story of Maasai Beaded Jewelry.” Cultural Elements, n.d. Web.