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late 1800s-early 1900s

Raffia palm fiber, leopard claws

Overall: 42 x 19.3 x 19 cm (16 9/16 x 7 5/8 x 7 1/2 in.)

John L. Severance Fund 1997.180


Among the Kongo peoples of west-central Africa, traditional village chiefs and rulers hold authority over political, judicial and economic spheres. They are also ritual leaders, expected to intercede with spirits and ancestors to maintain the well-being of the community. The chief's power is manifested through a variety of powerful implements, including fly whisks, execution swords, and ivory scepters. Among the most important symbols of a chief's authority is the cap. Power is transferred to the new chief along with the cap of his predecessor. In fact, the village leader's title means "Chief of the Cap." Crafted with a complex combination of looping and knotting, this cap formed part of a high-ranking chief's regalia, as indicated by its height and elaborate patterning. The presence of leopard claws on the crown confirms the high status of its owner, for the leopard is considered to be the ruler of the animal realm.

See also
African Art
African Art
Type of artwork: 

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