The difficulty of African art provenance
Provenance, from the French provenir, “to come from”, refers to the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object. The term was originally mostly used in relation to works of art. A real problem arises in African (Sub-Saharan) art. Its origins are almost always obscure unless one knows the person who made a tribal acquisition and even then, the artwork may have been with the tribe for years or generations. Tribes do not often keep records of the creator of a work, the owner(s) or the year that the work was created.
Traditional African artists are/were often devoid of commercial interest
Many traditional artwork pieces are often made without commercial intent. The artist is not seeking recognition or accreditation which is why most artworks are not signed, or dated. Traditional art pieces are often not created for public display purposes. Sometimes several artists may have been involved in creating one piece. Some tribes may also be nomadic and can move from one country to another making it difficult to locate or pin down. Also, countries as we know them today with their present borders were not around a few hundred years back. At best, scientific dating methods can help give an approximate year and certain stylistic features can help trace a region or country.