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Wood and glass beads
Overall: 12 x 4 cm (4 3/4 x 1 9/16 in.)
Educational Purchase Fund 1929.566.2.b
This distinctive footwear traveled from from Southeast Asia and the Middle East to Africa, first to the Swahili Coast and then further inland to parts of Central Africa. The deity Krishna wears similar shoes (paduka) in an eighteenth-century Indian miniature painting (2003.344).
Common in the Indian Ocean region, wooden sandals changed meaning across place and time. This pair’s base elevates the foot as the toes grip an antelope-shaped peg (msuruaki). Crisp geometric sole designs suggest they were rarely worn. East African elites and merchants once had exclusive rights to wooden shoes, wearing elaborate ones only for portraits. Formerly enslaved people living along the coast wore simpler ones from the 1840s onward, adopting elite footwear to assert their liberation. However, slave traders like the Zanzibari “Tippu Tip” (c. 1832–1905) likely brought mitalawanda to Central Africa; stylistic elements of this pair hail from that region.
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