Surviving Works: context in Verre arts

Appendix 4: Leo Frobenius's untranslated Verre ethnological notes and part inventory

Tim Chappel, Richard Fardon and Klaus Piepel

Special Issue

Vestiges: Traces of Record Vol 7 (1) (2021)

ISSN: 2058-1963

Preface and Acknowledgements ( HTML | PDF )


Chapter 1 The Verre ( HTML | PDF )

Chapter 2 Documenting the early colonial assemblage - 1900s to 1910s ( HTML | PDF )

Chapter 3 Documenting the early post-colonial assemblage - 1960s to 1970s ( HTML | PDF )

Interleaf 'Brass Work of Adamawa': a display cabinet in the Jos Museum - 1967 ( HTML | PDF )


Chapter 4 Brass skeuomorphs: thinking about originals and copies ( HTML | PDF )

Chapter 5 Towards a catalogue raisonnée

5.1 Percussion ( HTML | PDF )

5.2 Personal Ornaments ( HTML | PDF )

5.3 Initiation helmets and crooks ( HTML | PDF )

5.4 Hoes and daggers ( HTML | PDF )

5.5 Prestige skeuomorphs ( HTML | PDF )

5.6 Anthropomorphic figures ( HTML | PDF )

Chapter 6 Conclusion: late works - Verre brasscasting in context ( HTML | PDF )


Appendix 1 The Verre collection in the Jos and Lagos Museums in Nigeria ( HTML | PDF )

Appendix 2 Chappel's Verre vendors ( HTML | PDF )

Appendix 3 A glossary of Verre terms for objects, their uses and descriptions ( HTML | PDF )

Appendix 4 Leo Frobenius's unpublished Verre ethnological notes and part inventory ( HTML | PDF )

Bibliography ( HTML | PDF )

This work is copyright to the authors released under a Creative Commons attribution license.

APPENDIX 4 Leo Frobenius's untranslated Verre ethnological notes and part inventory

Appparently it was Frobenius's practice for extracts from the field journals kept by members of his expeditions to be collected by ethnic group and typed up in preparation for compositio of his published accounts. The technique, once the reader is aware of it, is apparent in the episodic character of the final versions themselves. The typed-up notes on the Verre following the Frobenius expedition are slight, reflecting the lack of success in securing informants remarked in the main text. There was to be no chapter on the Verre.

This translation of the document held in the Frobenius Institute Frankfurt, catalogued as LF 660, retains original spellings (hence Verre is transcribed as Werre). A number of presentational changes have been made: African language terms have been italicized, which is not the case of the original; punctuation and format have been adapted from the original which is a listing; matter in square brackets has been added while that in rounded brackets is original (including the question marks, which are likely to remark on the illegibility of the handwritten notes being copied).

* * *

LF 660 - Leo Frobenius, Aethiopien Kameruns. Vereinzelnte Notizen über verschiedene Stämme [Ethiopians of Kamerun: summary notes on various tribes]

5. Werre [Verre]

The Werre [Verre] call themselves Django; they call the Komai [Koma] Koba, the Batta Batta, the Dakka [Chamba Daka] and Tschambe [Chamba Leko] Sambenjare or Tsambenjare, the Namdji [Dowayo] Djerrepa, the Baschami [Bachama] Djerre-ma, the Fulbe Sambe or Tschambe (!), the Kanuri Kolljenn (which is also the name that the Fulbe use of the Kanuri).

* * *

The king [König in the German original] is gban (the emblem of his rank is a tunic made from goat skin). The high priest is risu. The diviner is ganna: he tells a person's fortune using seven stones: these are arranged in two lines, four behind and three in the front; then he picks them all up and casts them; next he contemplates their position, takes each one and looks at it; then he formulates an answer to the question posed to him. They call this way of fortune telling pinni.

The smith is called tiba. Above his fire there hangs the head of a bird. After the harvest every farmer gives him a bundle of sorghum as a gift.

The circumciser is called naba. He performs his office every seventh year. His circumcision knife is called ae. For the occasion, he is dressed in leather. The appearance of the lads is very peculiar with the iron neck holder [i.e. crook hooked around the back of their necks]. (See the sketch book.)

If no rain comes, the ganna [diviner] goes to a mountain together with the old and young men carrying beer, each of them is equipped with a tobacco pipe and tobacco They all smoke vigorously and blow their smoke to the east. The ganna sprinkles beer in the same direction and also drinks some of it.

The dead are buried in a seated position covered in cow hides, their legs stretched out in front of them, body upright, the head leant back so that the face looks upward, and the hands 'on the trouser seams'.

The Werre are strongly split into dialects, and their customs have been shattered by the Fulbe.

Verre [smiths]

The smiths - tiba - form their own caste and marry only between themselves. They smelt their iron ore themselves which they find washed up in the river sands and they provide no insight into this activity to third parties. It was possible to learn, that the ore - motu - was smelt in pits - like the Nupe - and that the air was blown through a twin bellows without valves - janu - teba - (?) - which was made from fired clay or wood. The furnace is luru tiba: the smithy roru is round with secco (matting) walls. The fire, ra, is fed by charcoal, tora, and constantly pumped by the same bellows as used for the iron smelting. The following tools are used: a stone anvil - pindu - (no iron anvil); an iron hammer [Schlegel original German] - nititikpu; tongs - tikpu; chisel - gotiba el; file - bui - (?)

The products made are:

farm hoes - jischu - with a socketed blade

wood axe [Holzaxt] - riratu - with a socketed blade

wood hoe [Holzhacker - distinguishing an adze?] - sanuko - with socketed blade

sickle - ganza - with a socketed blade

hairpins - kuntscha

bow puller - nitak

razor blade - pont jo

tweezers - gat ju - for pulling thorns

knife - e - with cross section

sword - koba - with iron guard and iron pommel

arm rings - wundu - used by men and women

ankle rings for dancing - kerre - for men

flint iron - ratona

Verre pottery

The potter - womawi - does not have to be the wife of a smith. The clay - landa - is mixed with goat droppings; the woman sitting on a small stool uses a pot sherd as potter's wheel to form the vessel , smoothing the inside with a stone and the outside with a sorghum stork, and patterns it with a blade of grass. After drying for a half a day the pot is coated inside and out with a red clay wash and smoothed again with a stone. After three days drying the pots are fired for an hour in piles of 20-30 interspersed with wood and straw. The sprinkling with Parkia water is unusual.

1) cooking pot - bikok [silhouette sketch of rounded pot with wide flared neck]

2) cooking pot for beer - bala i [ditto, of pot with straight sides and wide mouth]

3) water pot - ji (plural jinu) [ditto, flagon shaped pot]

4) beer pot - ji woa (like 3)

5) food bowl - tengu [ditto, of open bowl]

6) filterpot for water - kuru - [ditto, of wide pot with slightly flared mouth] filled with ash with a hole in the bottom [arrow points to bottom of outline]

Verre weaving

The construction of the Werre loom - nitu palatschinu - resembles that of the Komai [Koma].

weaver - jere pilatschinu [variant spelling is original]

shuttle with spool - datingbela

comb - ? - heddle - ? -

bobbin - nikaschilu

thread - jilu bulu

Only white cloth is made - jalu - bumu. Dying with indigo is not practised.

LF 840 Frobenius Institute Frankfurt: Verre handlist

Below is a transcription of the surviving handlist of Verre items packed for shipment. As our main text explains, we know this is not an exhaustive listing because there are surviving brasswares, decorated gourds and weapons that do not appear, and there are indications of other objects that were collected but have not been traced which we note at the end. The original transcription features three superscripts: a dash, a small u-shape or cup, and an acute accent. The acute accent can be combined with the dash and cup. The dash may have signified a long vowel; the cup a short vowel; and the accent what was heard as a stress or high syllable. We have not attempted to reproduce them. As well as an English translation, the note in square brackets cites the relevant sketch of the object in the Frobenius Archive where one can be identified. On occasions the Verre term is more legible on the illustration. Many items were collected in multiples reflecting the sponsorship of, or potential market to, several museums.


4757-59 ji schu Farmhacken [ 3 farm hoes; KBA 06403]

4760-62 dja Biersieb [3 beer sieves; KBA 05050]

4763-66 ja Lederner Essenssack [4 leather food sacks]

4765-70 kerre Fußtanzschelle der Werremänner [6 Verre men's ankle rattles;

KBA 14967]

4771-73 w/m/rundu Handring [3 hand rings]

4774-75 fere ssu untu Frauenfussring [2 women's ankle rings]

4776-77 njengschu Tabaktasche - Männerarbeit [2 men's tobacco-bags]

4778-87 jinu Biertöpfe [10 beer pots; KBA 03450, 04003 66cm,

04004 84cm]

4788-89 jinugo Leopardenbiertopf [2 leopard beer pots; KBA 04000 highly

decorated 125cm, KBA 04002 decorated 88cm]

4790 jibaschu Biertopf [beer pot; KBA 04001 decorated with small

side spout]

4791-92 goba Biertopf b. Tanz [2 beer pots for dancing]

4793 kuru Biertopf b. Tode alter Frauen [KBA 03999 beer pot for the

death of old women; with handle and two spouts]

4794-99 bitaba Tabakpfeifen [6 tobacco pipes; KBA 05856 (2) clay and brass,

05857 (1) clay, 05858 (2) clay]

4800-01 tingam bana Trommel [2 drums; KBA 09921]

4802 balawi Trommel [drum; KBA 09923]

4803-05 kussu Tanzkappe f. junge Leute [3 dance caps for young people; KBA


4806 forra Horn z. Blasen b. Tanz [horn blown at the dance]

4807-08 burku Tanzschelle [2 dance rattles; KBA 09732, double clapperless


4809-11 penja Kornkorb Männerarbeit [3 men's corn baskets]

4812 jalagon die Lendenschurz f. Männer b. Tanz vorne zu schliessen [man's

loincloth for dancing; to be closed in front]

4813-33 ratu Holzfiguren [21 wooden figures; KBA 10453 (2), 10454 (2),

10455 (2), 10456 (2), 1057 (2)]

4834-39 gulu Flöte [6 flutes; KBA 09176 40cm]

4840-42 nossu Gebr. Lehmkugel z. Glätten d. Wänden [3 fired clay balls for

smoothing of walls]

4843 rya Harfe [harp; 'nja' KBA 09534 5-stringed harp]

4844-45 girrata Blasinstrument [2 wind instruments; KBA 09177, 68cm,


4846-48 bigetoko Trommeln (Sanduhrsarg) [3 (hourglass coffin) drums

4849 ratt gr. Trommel [tall drum; KBA 09943]

4850-52 patu Tanzschelle [3 dance rattles; KBA 09480]

4853-55 kaireme Tanzsschelle f. Fuss [3 ankle rattles for dancing]

4856-58 buno/baran (?) Lederschild [3 leather shields; KBA 06903]

4859-61 Schädel der Werre [3 Verre skulls]

4862-64 Ceremonienstöcke aus Eisen [3 ceremonial iron staffs;

KBA 09384 (2)]

LF 840 (later listing)

5207 ragatu Frauenstuhl d. Werre [Verre woman's stool]

5212a-d Knabenspielzeug der Werre, Djukun, Yoruba, Benin, Fante (Goldküste) [boys' toys of the Verre ...]

5229 nossu Kugel z. Glätten der Wände Werre [ball for smoothing walls,

Verre; see also 4840-2 above]

Although we have as yet found no inventory, the expedition's collection in brass must have been listed separately from other objects, a conclusion we were able to draw on the basis of surviving illustrations and museum accession records in the main text. To guesstimate the entirety of the Verre collection made by the expedition, we would additionally need to add the decorated gourds attributed to Verre, as well as a collection of bows and arrows (see KBA 07732 Verre bows and arrows for an illustration), both also discussed in our main text, and other weapons including swords donated to Munich. A number of illustrations in the Frobenius Archive suggest a yet more extensive inventory.

KBA 02322 Koma weaver at loom (noted as similar to Verre and Chamba)

KBA 08316 loom weight

KBA 02368 jalagondie Stoff mit Musterbesatz ['cloth with decoration applied'; probably agama lizards]

KBA 05271 Lampe aus Didango- Were gebiet. Werrearbeit? 14cm [(goblet-shaped) lamp from Didango, Verre area. Verre made? (material not specified, pottery?); previously in Munich]

KBA 08314 18cm metal bracelet

KBA 08314 Chamba shield, similar to Verre [note duplicated reference number]

KBA 08315 small iron ring, coiled + cast brass? finger ring

KBA 08900 'Eis. Spannung Werre', niditak

KBA 08905 2 bow pullers

KBA 09371 karenschi - Tanzschelle Komai. Werrearbeit, 14cm [Koma double clapperless bell for dancing, made by Verre, 14cm]

KBA 10626 tamba - iron circumcision crook 30cm (illustrated as used by a youth)

KBA 10937 jischu - double iron hoe for dance

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Go to Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Interleaf | Chapter 4 | Ch5.1 Percussion | Ch5.2 Personal Ornaments | Ch5.3 Initiation helmets and crooks | Ch5.4 Hoes and daggers | Ch5.5 Prestige skeuomorphs | Ch5.6 Anthropomorphic figures | Chapter 6 Conclusion | Appendix 1 | Appendix 2 | Appendix 3 | Appendix 4 | Bibliography