One of the deepest absurdities in culture is the acknowledgement of sexual symbolism – not only in everyday life, but also in art history. Here are some prominent examples of objects at Manchester Museum that do this:
In Ancient Egypt as far as fertility goes, men were not usually thought of as the problem if a woman could not get pregnant; however, if a man who was married to multiple women did not get any of his wives pregnant, they would say he is “not a man”. The wish to have children was essential. These figurines emphasise the hair, hips, breast and genital area. They signified fertility and rebirth in the afterlife and were put into the tombs.
The penis sheath was an essential element to a man’s costume in Ancient Egypt. They would wear clothes that emphasized the front of a man’s body. A traditional male garment was a simple kilt made of leather, hide or linen that was wrapped around the hips. The emphasis put on the genital area was due to it being regarded as sacred because of it’s role in procreation. These sheaths were made of ivory which also protected them in battle and against insect bites, rather than as a contraceptive.
The God Min
Min was the Ancient Egyptian god of reproduction. He was associated with the desert and the usual depiction of Min showed him as a human with an erect phallus. He was also associated with the Egyptian long leaf lettuce, which was considered to be an aphrodisiac as it secreted a milky substance which was like semen. The Egyptian paintings and relief’s on tomb walls and temples didn’t show Min’s other arm, but the statues of the god show him with his hand encircling the base of his penis. During the New Kingdom period he was sometimes shown as a white bull, an animal sacred to the fertility god.
The God Bes
Bes was an Egyptian dwarf god. Although he protected women and children, he was the god of war, humour, music, dancing and is associated with sexual pleasure. He is depicted with a leonine face with his tongue sticking out and is usually stood bow legged with penis prominent and a lions tail. Because Bes drove away ill humour and evil he became a sign of joy and good humour to the every daily life of the people.
Nkisi Mangaaka is a power figure from the Kongo people of Angola. The figure like this example from our Living Cultures gallery protects people against witchcraft, disease, lawbreakers and helped to keep peace. Nkisi Mangaaka is neither Male nor female, which makes the figure androgynous. The figure has been carved to look powerful, strong and has a threatening shape with thick arms and legs. By nailing in a piece of metal, people involved in a problem or dispute showed their promise to abide by the decision. Breaking that oath might have dangerous consequences. Packed into the open belly were healing herbs and it also carried oaths made by individuals before the community.
These dolls were used by Asante (Ashanti) tribe from Ghana. The objects were carried by women or girls to ensure that they would bear healthy babies. Their shape, colour and details may vary according to the particular group of Akan from which they come. Families that lost a number of children would cut markings in the cheeks so that the spirits that loved children would be misled and not return to them in the spirit world. Women also used to dress them in cloth, jewellery and carve hairstyles along the edges. Sometimes fathers buy or make these dolls for their daughters to play with, believing that this will influence them to be child-bearing in adult life.
Diverse cultures are found all around the world, with many different traditions and beliefs, many of which you probably weren’t aware of! Why don’t you come and visit Manchester Museum and find out more about the intriguing and interesting objects of different cultures.
Post by Shaun Bennett