Baobab Rattle

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Mary Jo Arnoldi, Ph.D.

Chair Anthropology Department, Curator of African Ethnology

Photo by Jim DiLoreto, Smithsonian Institution

Dr. Mary Jo Arnoldi is an anthropologist who has lived and worked in Senegal and in Mali for over 40 years. Her interest in the region and its people began when she lived in Senegal for two years while she was in the Peace Corps. She often returns to West Africa to research this region's extraordinary art traditions. Her research combines her interest of art history and anthropology, and focuses on the role that art plays in the shaping of culture. She is currently the chair of the Anthropology department and Curator of African Ethnology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. She played an important part in the creation of the museum's permanent exhibit "African Voices."

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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About Music

Across cultures people use music as a form of cultural expression and personal individualism. Music can take a variety of forms including singing and the use of instruments made from materials available to the musicians or specialized instrument makers. While musical sound can be an expression of the individuality of a musician, it can also be a defining characteristic of a cultural group. Instrumental combinations and musical genres may be associated with cultural groups or geographical areas from which they derive and are often passed down through generations. Some music is associated with religion or rituals and is performed primarily in ceremonial contexts, while other music is enjoyed as entertainment. Music is often associated with bodily movement or dance, which may also be part of ritual or entertainment. Comparing music and dance across cultures, researchers have traced interactions between cultural groups, subcultures, or genres (such as symphony orchestras or hip-hop) and have gained an understanding of how such groups have interacted over time. Are there any types of music that define your family or your social or cultural background?

Baule woodcarvers at work, Yagolikro village, Ivory Coast
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1972. Image no. EEPA EECL 6900. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

About Humans and the Environment

Humans have always manipulated their environment, whether by acquiring food, making and using tools, or other aspects of daily life. They are constantly interacting with their environment on a daily basis. By using the available materials, humans have created shelter, made tools, created containers and vessels, and produced items of personal and cultural significance. Many of these resources are naturally occurring, such as stones, minerals, animal bones, or organic fibers from plants, while others are made from combining materials. The process of acquiring these materials and the manufacturing process can be traditional practices that are passed down from one generation to another. Because materials are unique to the location of different communities and cultures, by studying the types of materials, as well as animal remains found and the processes used to manipulate them, anthropologists and researchers can learn about the daily activities and lifestyles of the cultures they are studying. In what ways do you interact with your environment on a daily basis?

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