ID, Kenya, racism, collections, colonialism, moesgaard Museum, anthropology, ethnography

A Brass Box, or How I Lost Faith in Humanity

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Let’s play a guessing game. What purpose do you think this artefact has? Is it an antique business card holder for the stylish gentleman (or -woman) of business? Is it a snuff container that fits perfectly into a jacket pocket? Has is, perhaps, contained bobby pins or toothpicks? Alas, no…

I can tell you that when I read what this artefact was used for, I lost a little faith in humanity. It was collected in Kenya during colonial rule, and let me just quote the description in our database:

An African had to always wear such a brass box in a string around their neck. In the box was a paper with information about the carrier. Here you could read whether he had a paid job, and whom is employer was. He was not allowed to leave his job until his employer permitted it, and had noted the date of dismissal on the paper and perhaps written a few sentences about the African. A negative note could, for example, be ‘lazy’, ‘disobedient’, or ‘insolent’. This system was put in place by the British in 1919 and created a deal of agitation among the African population”.

Well, isn’t that just fantastic.

I think I will dive back into the database and see if I can find something to restore my faith in humanity before next Monday. It shouldn’t be so hard, right?

//Sophie Seebach

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putting thought to things

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