African Collection
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Black wooden Bundu (Mende) mask from Sierra Leone, Guinea Coast, Africa Height 15.5 inches (39 cm) YPM catalog no. ANT.235214
Beaded jewelry from the Morden Collection

The Yale Peabody Museum’s African ethnographic collection in the Division of Anthropology is an assemblage of more than 3,000 artifacts that includes items such as baskets, masks, agricultural tools, weapons, jewelry, figurines, furniture and clothing. Many were collected in Kenya in the 1960s and 1970s. Among the most interesting are the materials collected over 20 years by William and Irene Morden.


The Morden Collection:
The Legacy of 20th Century African Adventurers


Colonel William J. Morden, a 1908 graduate of Yale and a veteran of the First World War, had been an explorer, collector and hunter since the early 1920s. Irene Morden went on her first safari in 1954, an experience described in their book Our African Adventure.


Irene accompanied her husband on several more trips to Africa and elsewhere in the world. After his death, she led an expedition to Africa in 1965 under the auspices of the Yale Peabody Museum. The first of 4 campsites on this trip was in the Sokoke Forest of Kenya, which became the headquarters for a kind of salvage operation. The forest was being destroyed by a relocation project that would turn a flourishing forest into a desert-like agricultural settlement. Irene and her team were able to gather not only ethnographic artifacts—from the local Giriama people, who had a hunting and gathering way of life—but also rare mammals, birds and reptiles that would soon be without their habitat.

The Yale Peabody Museum’s collections are available to legitimate researchers for scholarly use. Loans are issued to responsible individuals at established institutions. Loans and access to the collection can be arranged through the Collections Manager.

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Study of the collections is restricted to students and scholars working on formal research projects who have obtained authorization from a divisional curator. This is necessitated by the limited available study space and the requirement that staff supervise visitors at all times. Scholars are strongly encouraged to view the collections at the Museum. Ongoing inventory of objects may restrict access to some collections.