mid- to late 1800s
Wood, glass beads, and natural fibers
Overall: 13.3 x 8 x 1.4 cm (5 1/4 x 3 1/8 x 9/16 in.)
The Harold T. Clark Educational Extension Fund 1915.453
The double birds on this comb are the ngungu, a kind of hornbill linked to hunting and the related power of leaders. They were considered a good omen, and served as mediators between the earthly world and the spiritual one.
Chokwe women and men inserted finely decorated combs and pins in their hair to signal rank and wealth. Here, as among neighboring peoples, hairstyles reflected changing trends across place and over time. This comb's wooden material and sculptural top made it of a higher value than simple examples made from metal or cane. Its wide teeth were practical, securing elements of a hairstyle in place. The long-beaked ngungu birds with beaded necklaces were a well-known symbol of chiefly power. In addition to being a sign of beauty and good health, a well-styled hairdo also suggests that the wearer relies on the help of others in its creation. Combs were often gifted to women by admirers or husbands to mark important life events. This comb entered the Cleveland Museum of Art's collection in 1915, one year before the museum opened its doors.
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