Link to online exhibition Chronicles of Riches

Africa

Due to the hot climate, most Africans in the past did not wear shoes. When foot coverings are donned, open sandals are preferred, which allow the circulation of air, as in the bowl-shaped oval sandals from Uganda or the flat, wide sandals worn by the Hausa in Western Africa.

Leather and rawhide are the most common materials used in making footwear, although shoes of other materials are occasionally employed for reasons of status or ceremony, including wooden toe-knob sandals from Zaire, and cast metal shoes from Cameroon.

Ashanti ceremonies abound with references to the shoe. As the king's feet are never to touch the ground, his footwear is a symbol of his special status. Boots worn by the Yoruban elite provide a wide canvas for dazzling beadwork, which can cover the entire surface of the boot. Thigh-length boots embellished with finely-woven leather strips are worn by the Hausa, and provide protection while riding camels.

For conservation reasons, and in order to show more variety over time, only a selection of footwear from the permanent collection is displayed in our exhibitions at any one time. This means there's always something new to see.

image of African footwear