Egyptian Terracotta “Hyksos” Concubine Figure, Second Intermediate Period, 15th-17th Dynasty, 1650-1550 BC
The nude figure, standing with her incised hands resting on her thighs, modeled with long tapering legs, wearing an applied triple strand collar framing her small breasts, the broad face modeled with incised linear eyes and a short ridged nose, with pierced disc earrings, her coiffure pierced with three holes, 17cm
Pair of gold earrings c. 330-300 BCE from Eastern Greece. The earrings consist of a disc, below which hangs an upside-down pyramid, on which is depicted a small crouching figure. Hanging beside the crouching figure are two two nude figures. Below these are two winged Nike figures. From the collection of the British Museum
Zulu ear-discs c1950, Iziko South African Museum, Cape Town.
The customary Zulu ritual of ear piercing of pre-pubescent children was referred to as the ’qhumbuza’ ceremony. Once the ears were pierced, the child was expected to accept responsibility for its behaviour. The wound in the ear lobe was plugged by a piece of reed or corncob, initially to stop the bleeding and to then ensure that the hole did not close.
Evidence from early illustrations shows the common wearing of reed, wood or ivory plugs and studs. These ear studs (isiviliba), were made of ivory, horn of wood and were approximately 20mm wide, often with conical fronts and plugs at the rear to secure the stud.
During the early 20th century, larger and more colourful ear discs became popular. These more elaborate ear discs are considered to have both tribal identity and personal adornment functions, but tend to be used only during ceremonial or ritual functions. The use of large round earplugs acquired an important clan and regional significance during the mid 20th century, especially amongst rural women who were encouraged to subscribe to traditional ways.
The materials used to decorate these newer and larger wood discs changed from paint and studs to small geometric or triangular pieces of plastic, glued or nailed into intricate mosaic patterns. These colourful ear discs (amashaza) were considered generic to the Zulu, rather than specific to a tribe or clan, as they were increasingly made by urban craftsmen who decorated them with the newly available plastic and vinyl materials.
Decorative patterns on these discs mimicked everyday symbols such as road signs, letters of the alphabet and even the logos of some well-known household products such as the Sunbeam floor polish ‘sun’ motif. During the last three decades, urban craftsmen were still making and selling these new ear discs, many being decorated with modern materials such as broad bands of Perspex and shiny furniture studs.