'Sebilo': 19th century hairdos and ancient specularite mining in Southern Africa

'Sebilo': 19th century hairdos and ancient specularite mining in Southern Africa

Author: 
Robbins, Lawrence H.
Publisher: 
African Studies Centre, Boston University
Date published: 
2016
Record type: 
Journal Title: 
The International Journal of African Historical Studies
Source: 
The International Journal of African Historical Studies , Vol. 49, No. 1, 2016, pp. 103-131
Abstract: 

The first part of this paper is concerned with the specularite mines at the Tsodilo Hills World Heritage site in the Kalahari desert, ca. 40 km west of the Okavango River in northwest Botswana. Tsodilo contains numerous rock paintings, Stone Age rock shelters, two Early Bronze Abe villages and at least twenty-one prehistoric specularite mines. Specularite, or 'sebilo' in Setswana, is a bluish/grey form of hematite that produces sparkling micaceous powder or "glitter" when it is pulverized or ground. The second part of the article considers specularite mining during the nineteenth century in South Africa where travelers and missionaries provide specific comments and descriptions about the nature of mining. One source describes an open access situation at the Blinkklipkop mine in 1812, with individuals from different ethnic/linguistic groups doing their personal mining and hauling away what they can; another source describes the specularite mining at Blinkklipkop in 1813 as strictly under Tswana control. This part also goes into how specularite was used and by whom. Mixed with grease, members of the Tswana, San and Khoi groups applied it to their hair, shaping their hair into thin threads. The 'sebilo' provided a metallic sparkle. The final part of the paper compares aspects of the prehistoric Tsodilo mines to information drawn from the nineteenth-century historical sources. The combined archaeological evidence suggests that there was no open access to Tsodilo, but that mining was controlled, primarily from the village of Nqoma.

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CITATION: Robbins, Lawrence H.. 'Sebilo': 19th century hairdos and ancient specularite mining in Southern Africa . : African Studies Centre, Boston University , 2016. The International Journal of African Historical Studies , Vol. 49, No. 1, 2016, pp. 103-131 - Available at: http://library.au.int/sebilo-19th-century-hairdos-and-ancient-specularite-mining-southern-africa