African “Curiosities” Manufactured In Birmingham

Posted: February 1, 2010 in Baphomet
It is said that the value of the idols manufactured and exported by England for the Indian and African trade exceeds that of the Bibles, tracts, and hymn-books exported by her to those countries. She sends idols to Africa and India, cotton prints with idolatrous pictures on them to China, and opium to the same country. England is a very religious country, too; but if the devil ever ran short of brimstone, she would supply him with all he could handle, for cash down. – Buffalo Catholic Union.
Source: New Zealand Tablet, Volume XI, Issue 29, 16 November 1883, Page 5
Birmingham has many manufactures, great, useful, and curious, and among the most curious are the wares turned out for sale to the natives of Africa. These include not only arms, but idols, amulets, and even coffins. An interesting description of the industry is given in the Birmingham Daily Post.
Perhaps the oddest of the city manufactures is that of coffins for the palm-oil potentates and native chiefs in Western and South-Western Africa. They are made of solid brass, and in the majority of cases are ordered by the chiefs themselves, and used in their houses, until required for their primary purpose, much after the style that we use a costly cabinet containing treasures. Many chieftains regard the coffin with as much reverence as the Chinese. The coffins are of huge dimensions, being from seven to eight feet long, three feet in depth, and are in the widest part nearly four feet across. The lid moves on a hinge, and is always provided with at least two padlocks and keys. Sometimes the locks are fitted on the inside, which suggests that a chief may sometimes use the coffin as a bed, and lock himself in. The brass is highly burnished, and in the bright sunlight gives off a dazzling glitter, which appeals strongly to the native taste. The coffins are richly ornamented with raised ornaments, and attractively-designed rods run round the sides. The shield-plate bears emblazonings, and sometimes figures symbolical of mythology and of strange religious beliefs. The general effectiveness is enhanced by a number of swan or ostrich plumes, usually in crimson or gold, arrayed in sockets at intervals. A coffin will weigh anything up to 700lb, and, as indicated, has sufficient space for several bodies. It may be the desire of the chief that his favorite wives shall be buried with him. There is no recognised medium of currency with many of the native tribes, and trade is generally conducted by barter. The exchange usually takes the form of gold dust, elephants’ tusks, palm oil and nuts, and vegetable gum. Not long ago a Birmingham manufacturer received in payment for one of these remarkable coffins many thousands of monkey skins. They had to be realised in the London auction market.
For many generations idols for heathen worship have been manufactured in Birmingham. That they are still made is equally true, but the output is very small. So far as Birmingham and the Midlands are concerned, it is a decaying industry, and today order are seldom received for gods; or, rather, this "quaint merchandise," as makers prefer to speak of it. Twenty years ago there was a steady demand for idols of Birmingham manufacture. There are, of course, very remarkable metal figures, some of distinctly Egyptian pattern, others peculiarly grotesque, produced in Birmingham to foreign orders. But with these orders no indication is given that they are to be disposed of as objects of worship, although that may be the use to which they are ultimately applied. Egyptian gods and curios produced solely for purposes of sale to people touring in the Nile and Pyramids are made in Birmingham. In their way they are remarkable productions, because they appear to bear many evidences of wear and of antiquity. Yet they are perfectly modern. By a chemical process in casting, a "two days’ old antiquity" may be given a permanent verdigris appearance. One writer even goes so far as to assert that more "curiosities" are manufactured in the city than are ever found in their native resting place. But while vastly less business is done in Birmingham there is no gainsaying that Continental rivals are today doing a larger business in this direction than ever before. It is also an outlet for the energy of enterprising American, and quite recently a large contract was given to Philadelphia and New York houses for the manufacture of Chinese and Korean idols.
Source: Wanganui Herald, Volume XXXVII, Issue 10973, 12 June 1903, Page 6

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