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Ethiopia, Africa




Metal alloy


2 9/1611/163/16 in. (6.5 ✕ 1.7 ✕ 0.5 cm)

0.39 oz. (11.0 g)

Credit Line

Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020

Accession Number



Purchased by David P. Harris from the African Gallery in San Francisco on November 26, 1977.


There is some patina and aging of the metal, and several sections of the rope-like filigree decoration are missing or damaged on both sides.


Brad Hostetler, and Lynn Jones, eds., Ethiopian Objects in the Blick-Harris Study Collection: Art, Context, and the Persistence of Form, Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 8, no. 1 (Spring 2022): pp. 5–25, 112–27, 135–36, cat. 16.


Known in Amarəñña as kuk mawč̣a, this distinctive type of object was used for the extraction of earwax and can be identified by the tiny spoon at the end of the arm that extends out from the body of the object. Though utilitarian in nature, the ear spoon can also double as an object of personal adornment, and is today commonly worn suspended from the neck or, sometimes, the waist. The tradition of using ear spoons is corroborated by textual and archeological evidence stretching back centuries, though these same historical sources do not always indicate how they were worn.

Ethiopian ear spoons are produced in several different forms and exhibit a variety of decorative motifs. Some are cylindrical in shape, others square; many, such as this one, have a triangular body onto which decoration can be added, such as rope-like filigree spirals. On side 1 of this ear spoon, two connected spiral bundles fill the wider upper end, while only one is needed to fill the space toward the pointed end. Four spirals fill the triangular space on side 1, while only three are found on side 2. A fourth may have once decorated the point of the triangle on side 2, but, if so, is no longer extant. Subtle additional differences distinguish one side from the other. Two layers of the rope-like filigree surround the triangular body on side 1, while side 2 has three layers. On side 1, two sets of double-spiral wire bundles open upward, and on side 2 one double-spiral wire bundle opens downward.

Many Ethiopian ear spoons incorporate crosses into their designs, and can be worn on the same necklace as a cross. The Christian function of the cross can thus combined with the health benefits of the ear spoon into one object, reminding us of the close connection between religion and health. The decoration of the ear spoon in the BHSC is not explicitly religious in nature, making it the one secular object in the catalog.

Sarah Mathiesen, in Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 8, no. 1 (Spring 2022): 136.

2020.34.pdf (546 kB)
Purchase Receipt and Supporting Materials

2020.34-side2.jpg (5032 kB)
Side 2


Kuk Mawč̣a


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