The title of this post probably should have been the name of this blog. So one might assume, given my recent posts dedicated to the unusual, the archival, and the scannable items of historic interest that I have accrued in my first four decades. I confess that coming from a family of hoarders, with an eye toward the historic record as well as an inability to declutter, I have more family relics to begin with than is, perhaps, the norm. Yet a curator must also accumulate as well as conserve, and my great grandchildren may find items in their inheritance for which I am the source and which may provoke as much curiosity from them as 130-year-old tortillas and Union army uniform button earrings have for me.
Here, for example, is one of several unusual teeth they might discover among my effects. It is a wicked looking, scimitar shaped canine tooth from the upper left side of the jaw, about 18 mm long. It has small serrations on the cutting edge. It comes from one of the most omnivorous of African creatures, the Chacma baboon, and is from the skull of a partially grown individual that perished at the bottom of an empty water tank in northwest Namibia.
This same tank caught another curious baboon when we were living there, a 3 month old female that was part of our family for several weeks and turned our lives, and hearts, topsy turvy. We called her "bubblegum", a play on the Afrikaans word for baboon: bobbejaan . In some ways, she was our first child. There is a story here and one of these days I'll tell you about it.
Another item from this period in our lives is this remarkable necklace of sinew, plastic beads, and skinned bird feet. It was made by Ju/'hoan bushmen of the western Kalahari from the feet of one of several species of francolin, a bird traditionally held to have magical properties in their culture. Viv lived and taught in Bushmanland from 1990-1992 when first we met, and I can vividly remember driving with her out into the bush to visit some of the scattered Ju/'hoan settlements and trade clothes and food for bead work and bows with poison-tipped arrows. It was another world, out there in the thornveld with flamingos in the salt pans and baobabs stretching their tangled, ancient limbs above the savannah. There were no tourists then - Namibia was barely independent - and we were as much a novelty to the Ju/'hoansi as they and their land were to us.
Our house is festooned with relics from our Africa years. There are masks and spears and drums and items of adornment. There are carved drinking cups and a great, bell shaped horn fashioned from clay and beeswax and fiery red seeds and oryx horn, played by ovaHimba herd boys when watching after cattle. There are woven baskets and containers of all sizes and descriptions, piles of gemstones from the dry riverbeds on western Namibia, and beaded pouches of antelope skin. Most especially there and memories and friendships, far more precious to us than the items that represent those times. That is the lesson of curiosities: those mementos that call to mind relationships and experiences are of greater value than the merely odd and foreign. The stories that go with the objects make them true touchstones, windows to other times and places.