Calabashes are important objects, being used as vessels such as dishes or jars, in the daily life of Africa. On their exteriors people decorate with the interesting ornaments.
On this paper I would try to analyze the ornaments of calabashes, which I collected in some parts of West Africa, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, from 1967 to 1968. After analyzing them, I classify them into three styles according to three tribes, Dogon, Fulbe, Hausa.
The style of the Dogon, who engage in agriculture and live in the south of central Mali, expresses both geometrism and naturalism. The style of the Fulbe, who ergage in agriculture and cattle-breeding and live in the northern part of Nigeria, expresses the same both forms as the Dogon. And the style of the Hausa, who engage in agriculure outside town and live along the Niger river from Niger to Nigeria, expresses only geometrism.
It is an outstanding point that these three styles do not have the naturalism representing the plants. Why cannot we find any plant patterns in these African ornaments? This is very interesting from the viewpoint of history of art and ethnology.
Generally in the history of art, two sorts of styles are classified according to the intention of decoration. One of the two has no meaning as pure decoration, the other has some symbolic meaning or sign in the tribal society. For example, the geometric ornaments of the Hausa belong to the former. Some ornaments of the Dogon like the patterns of dancers and his long masks represent some religious meanings of the Dogon myth. Also in case of the Fulbe, some kinds of animal figures such as birds, snakes, chameleons, etc., have some meanings in their folk tales.
In conclusion, we can say that the style of ornament in West Africa has some correlation with the style of tribal culture.