Large dark blue robe with coloured embroidery

Place details: AFRICA. Sierra Leone? / Liberia? / Guinea? / / Unknown. Cultural Group: Mandinka: Local Name: kusaibi ? Materials: Cotton Textile Plant / Cotton Yarn Plant / Wool Textile Animal / Pigment / ?. Processes: Embroidered / Woven / Stitched / Dyed / ?. Colour: Dark indigo blue and polychrome Dimensions: L = 1050 mm W = 1480 mm Maker: Unknown Field Collector: Henry Mangles Denham (HMS Avon) When Collected: 1845 / 1846 Other Owners: Henry Mangles Denham (HMS Avon); 6 March 1874, bought at sale at Stevens by Augustus Henry Lane Fox (later Pitt-Rivers) PRM Source: Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection Acquired: Donated 1884

KEYWORD: Robe / Shirt / CLASS: Clothing / ?.

Object description: This object is made from strips of indigo-dyed cloth and is wider than it is long. It is possible that the garment has been rehemmed. There is what appears to be red trade cloth, similar to that traded in North America and made from soldiers uniforms, around the neck. The robe is beautifully embroidered.

Publications history, trails & websites: Illustrated (detail only) in black and white as figure 160 on page 138 of Sierra Leone Weaving, by Venice Lamb and Alastair Lamb (Hertingfordbury, Hertfordshire: Roxford Books, 1984). Caption reads: 'Example of a plain woven dark blue kusaibi, sewn and embroidered by Mandingo craftsmen in characteristic style associated with eastern Sierra Leone and northern Liberia. The ideograph-like designs in the embroidery are common to this whole genre of gowns. This example dates to c. 1900.' See also the authors' discussion of this type of gown on pages 137-8, as well as illustrations of comparable examples in other collections. (Photocopy of relevant pages in RDF.) [JC 17 2 1998, 20 7 2018]

Listed in 'Die 23 bekannten Mandingo-Gewänder (chronologisch geordnet, Stand Oktober 1999)' on pages 204-5 of Boubou - c'est chic: Gewänder aus Mali und anderen Ländern Westafrikas, by Bernhard Gardi (Basel: Christoph Merian Verlag, 2000): 'Oxford Pitt Rivers Museum | 149 x 108 | vor 1884 | Colection Pitt Rivers | 1884.90.2'. [JC 15 8 2010]

For a brief, illustrated account of the small collection from HMS Avon apparently acquired by General Pitt-Rivers from Henry Mangles Denham, see 'A "Costume of a King" from West Africa, by Jeremy Coote, in The Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford Newsletter, no. 71 (June 2011), pp. 1 and 3. This item is illustrated in colour on page 1. (Copy in RDF: Biographies, H. M. Denham (HMS Avon).) [JC 1 6 2011]

Illustrated in colour and its history discussed in 'Recollecting General Pitt-Rivers's Collections of Collections', by Jeremy Coote, in Edgar Wind Journal, Vol. 5 (Trinity Term 2012, 'Collecting'), unpaginated (loose leaf). Caption: 'Embroidered cotton gown, kusaibi. Made in Liberia or a neighbouring area of Sierra Leone or Guinea before 1846. Collected by Captain Denham of HMS Avon in 1946. Acquired from Denham by Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers by March 1874. Donated by General Pitt-Rivers to the University of Oxford in 1884 (1884.90.2).' (Copy in RDF: Biographies, H. M. Denham.) [JC 18 10 2012]

Illustrated in colour on page 25 of 'Visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, 30 July 2014', by Fiona Sutcliffe, in Asian Textiles: Magazine of the Oxford Asian Textile Group, no. 59 (October 2014), pp. 25-6. Caption (same page): 'Embroidered robe from Sierra Leone. 1884.90.21 [sic]. Copyright of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford'. On page 25, Sutcliffe writes: 'Of special interest was a large dark blue robe with coloured embroidery, from Africa rather than Asia, but with a particularly interesting history. It was part of the founding collection donated by Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, but its date and origin were uncertain. In 2009 the museum received a photocopy of an article from the Illustrated London News of 1846, with a very accurate sketch of the robe and the information that it was a king's costume from Sierra Leone and was part of the collection being unloaded from Commander Deacon's [sic] ship just returned from surveying the west coast of Africa'. (Photocopy in RDF.)[JC 7 3 2019]

For the history of the collection of which this is probably part, see '"African Curiosities" from the Voyage of HMS Avon, 1845–1846: Historiographical Notes on a Forgotten Collection', by Jeremy Coote, in Journal of the History of Collections, Vol. 31, no. 2 (2019), pp. 221–237 [published online on 14 June 2018 at https://doi.org/10.1093/jhc/fhy010 ]. The history of this object is discussed in detail on pages 222–226. Illustrated in colour as Figure 5 on page 225. Caption (same page) reads: ‘Embroidered gown, kusaibi; cotton, wool; 1,050 mm long, 1,480 mm wide; made by 1845–6. Acquired in West Africa during the voyage of HMS Avon in 1845–6; part of the collection of Henry Mangles Denham; acquired by Augustus Henry Lane Fox (later Pitt-Rivers) at the sale of Denham’s collections held at Stevens, London, on 6 March 1874, and donated by Pitt-Rivers to the University of Oxford in 1884; part of the “founding collection” of the Pitt Rivers Museum (1884.90.2). It has been arranged on a mannequin in approximate imitation of how it appears in the sketch published in the Illustrated London News in 1846. From a photograph taken for the Museum by Malcolm Osman in 2010. Courtesy and copyright, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.’ This object is also listed as number 1 on page 233 in the Appendix: ‘Gown. Described in the article in the ILN and depicted in the engraving entitled “Costume of a King”. Listed in the “Green Book” (see note 20) as item 28 “Western African Priests Robe”. PRM Inv. no: 1884.90.2.’ Printout of whole article in RDF: Biographies: Denham (Avon). [JC 15 6 2018, 6 9 2019]

Research notes: According to Bernard Gardi of the Museum der Kulturen, Basel, who visited the Museum in March 1998, the suggested provenance of Sierra Leone is likely to be correct because of the square pocket and the fact that the lengths of material are all sewn vertically, both aspects being typical of Sierra Leone manufacture. [AP Leverhulme project on founding collection 1995-1998; JC 9 10 2009]

This appears to be the robe represented as being worn in the figure 'Costume of a King' on page 341 of The Illustrated London News, Vol. 9 (no. 239, for the week ending Saturday 28 November 1846), where it illustrates the article 'African Curiosities' about the material brought back from Africa by Captain Denham after his surveying voyage to the coast of West Africa on the Avon in 1845/1846. [JC 22 10 2009]

An announcement in the 'Sales by Auction' section of The Times (no. 27,942, Thursday 5 May 1874, p. 16, col. a) of the sale of Admiral Denham's 'ethnographic' collection reads: 'The Collection of Natural History Specimens and Native Weapons, &c., of Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Denham, formed during the voyage of H.M.S. Herald. Mr J. C. STEVENS will SELL by AUCTION, at his great Rooms, 33, King-street, Covent-garden, W.C., on Friday, March 6th at half-past 12 precisely, the MUSEUM of NATURAL HISTORY SPECIMENS and NATIVE WEAPONS and ORNAMENTS, collected by Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Denham in the South Sea Islands, consisting of rare birds, shells, minerals, insects, &c., carved wood spears, clubs, bowls, ivory ornaments, musical instruments, native dresses, &c. Also some stuffed birds in cases, heads and horns, minerals and fossils, &c. On view the morning of sale, and catalogues had.' [JC 21 10 2014]