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hides

hides. The difficult study of the ‘hide’ is essential for understanding the history of the English state and, by connection and analogy, that of much of western Europe. In Domesday Book (1086), every village and estate in southern and western England is assessed in terms of hides. (In large areas of the north and east the corresponding unit was the ‘carucate’.) The system of assessment was comprehensive, related to the levy of tax and military and naval service, and elaborately patterned. It was normal, in some shires, for almost every village to be assessed at 5 hides. In others, somewhat larger areas were assessed at, say, 20 hides. The system was remarkable in its completeness and complexity, and was very old. The very earliest land grants, late 7th cent., denote the estates concerned in Latin terms which must be intended to translate the vernacular hid. The etymology of this word indicates a connection with the idea of a household. This is echoed in Bede's description of a land such as that of the southern Mercians as ‘of seven thousand families’. The extensive use of hidation for such wide areas is demonstrated by the ‘Tribal Hidage’, which may be a tribute list of the 7th or the 8th cent. and gives hidages for some entire kingdoms, also for lesser areas. The Burghal Hidage (c.900), shows how hidage assessments were used to allocate responsibility for fortress maintenance. Domesday and related evidence indicate that there could be extensive revision of hidages. Hidage assessment determined national taxation for a period after the Conquest. By the 13th cent. its use was residual and local. The hide was essentially a unit of assessment. Its relationship to real area and value varied, though commonly there was one. In much of England the hide was reckoned as of 120 acres, in Wessex generally as of 40 or 48.

James Campbell

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Animal Skins

Animal Skins

Animal hides have been a traditional clothing material used by many cultures in Africa, likely since the dawn of human history. Animal hide clothing was made most often from the skins of domesticated animals. Both farming and nomadic societies prized livestock, and they cared for their animals carefully. Their cattle, goats, sheep, and camels were sources of food and clothing, as well as great symbols of wealth. Other groups hunted wild animals for their meat and hides.

To prepare an animal skin, Africans would scrape off all the fur or hair, beat the cleaned skin to soften it, and tan it, a process that softened the hide and turned it into leather. Finally, they would coat it with red ocher, a type of iron-rich clay pigment, and oil. Leather clothing could be as simple as a small apron or as elaborate as a large cloak made of several hides sewn together. Some garments were left unadorned, while others were decorated with shells, beads, or metal ornaments. Leather was also used to make useful items such as shields and slings to carry babies.

As more and more Africans abandon their traditional lifestyles, animal skin clothing is worn less and less frequently. In many places Africans have adopted store-bought clothing made in Western styles. However, animal skins continue to be worn by the oldest members of some rural tribes in Kenya. Likewise, the peoples living in the remotest regions of the continent, such as the San, or Bushmen, of South Africa, who are the oldest surviving culture on the continent, continue to wear animal skins.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Blauer, Ettagale. African Elegance. New York: Rizzoli, 1999.

Kennett, Frances, and Caroline MacDonald-Haig. Ethnic Dress. New York: Facts on File, 1994.

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