Leather - Late nineteenth to early twentieth century
This is a double length of twisted hippopotamus hide, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The range of hippopotami used to spread across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa and the length of the Nile, but is currently limited to small patches of Africa. The most dramatic case of hippopotamus depopulation was in the Democratic Republic of Congo, due to the Second Congo War in the mid-1970s.
This piece of hide was collected and brought to Reading by John and William Forfeitt. They both travelled to what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo for the Baptist Missionary Society, the former as Secretary and the latter as a Missionary. It is likely objects such as this were collected as curios, given up by locals who had been converted to Christianity, or brought back to Britain for use in missionary exhibitions and fundraising talks. The Forfeitts had links to significant Reading families and businesses - both worked for Suttons Seeds before their mission with the BMS, and William Forfeitt married a daughter of the Collier family.
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