A toy truck from Zambia


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Victoria Chitungu Phiris from the Women’s History Museum in Zambia visited the handling collection at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg in mid-November. Together with the Africa curators Thea Skaanes and Michael Barrett, as well as our visiting researcher Carolina Valente Cardoso, we shared stories and insights.

Before approaching the collection, I told Victoria that in our records of the handling collection there is only one single object labelled to be from Zambia. It took her no less than 10 seconds to identify the blue toy truck.

Victoria toy truck.jpg Thea, Michael and Victoria.jpg  

In our records the toy truck was made by a 12-year-old boy. Victoria immediately referred to a workshop she held, a long time ago, in which children were making toys. She explained how it is a common practice to make toys for yourself or your siblings in Zambia. She told us about one boy who made a helicopter. Many years later, by chance, she met the same boy who was by then an adult and had become an aviation engineer. She emphasised the creativity of toy making and how it sparks imagination, but also negotiation skills among children when they go back and forth discussing or arguing how to make the toys.

During our workshop, she additionally added valuable information to our handling collection. For instance, this small basket was in our records simply from “Africa”, but Victoria told us it is most definitely from western Zambia. It is a typical example of a Makenge basket, made by the Mbunda people. Victoria explained how this kind of basket is typically used as an engagement gift to hold jewellery. The pattern is made from natural dye, by soaking the makenge roots into mud.  

Written by Helen Arfvidsson,
Curator of contemporary global issues
November, 2022