The Cleveland Museum of Art

Collection Online as of February 22, 2018

Serpent Headdress, late 1800s-early 1900s

wood and pigment, Overall: h. 148 cm (58 1/4 in.). The Norweb Collection 1960.37

Traditionally, Baga society was ruled by village councils of elders who derived their power from their direct contact with spirit entities through lifelong initiation rituals and the accumulation of secret knowledge. Two different religious orders controlled initiations, providing the context for much Baga art. One was identified as female, the other as male, though only men belonged to both groups. Initiations in each order followed three stages, culminating in the revelation of the highest spirit being. This type of Baga headdress embodied the serpent spirit Ninkinanka, honored for giving rain, bestowing riches, and bringing forth children. The serpent figure would be placed on top of a conical framework of palm branches carried on a male dancer’s head. It appeared at the end of the first level of the initiation for boys and girls or just before the circumcision at the beginning of the boys’ initiation.

CMA 1960: "Year in Review," Bulletin XLVII (December 1960), p. 250, no. 13, repr. p. 234.
Kansas City, MO: The Imagination of Primitive Man, January 3-March 14, 1962, no. 18.
CMA 1975: Traditions and Revisions, no. 117.
CMA 1987: Images of the Mind, July 7-August 23, 1987, repr. p. 22,

To request more information about this object, study images, or bibliography, contact the Ingalls Library Reference Desk.

Detail Views