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Zulu Ear Plugs with Bakelite

Zulu People, South Africa
circa 1940

diameter of each: approx. 5.5cm, thickness: 0.8cm



UK art market

This fine pair of round ear plugs is from the Zulu people of South Africa. Each is made from a cross section of a small log or branch of wood (the concentric growth rings are apparent on the reverse).

The fronts are overlaid with thin mosaic tiles of bakelite tiles in a matched geometric design. The colours are cream, black, blue, red and green. The tiles are held in place with tiny steel pins.

Bakelite (also spelt baekelite) was the first plastic made from synthetic components in a process developed by Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland in 1907.

The preparedness of the Zulus to use this new material in their traditional forms of adornment illustrates their relative preparedness to adapt and innovate in their quest for beauty and decoration.

The examples here are in fine condition. They have obvious age but are intact and without losses or repairs.

See Borel (1994, p. 101) for a similar pair.


Borel, F., The Splendour of Ethnic Jewelry: From the Colette and Jean-Pierre Ghysels Collection, Thames & Hudson, 1994.

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