Man's Bwami Prestige Cap (sawamazembe)

Man's Bwami Prestige Cap (sawamazembe)

early to mid-1900s

Plant fiber, seashells, seeds, pods, buttons, and probably cotton

Overall: 39.7 x 23 x 22.5 cm (15 5/8 x 9 1/16 x 8 7/8 in.)

John L. Severance Fund 1995.211

Location

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This prestige cap combines local organic materials and imported machine-made materials like buttons.

Description

Among the Lega people of the eastern Democratric Republic of Congo, headgear was an important indicator of social position. Certain caps, headbands, and headdresses were the exclusive prerogative of the Bwami men's association. This headdress, called sawamazembe, was worn only by high-ranking members of this group. The hat's wig-like form represents a woman's coiffure, illustrating the blurring of gender distinctions among high-ranking Bwami members. The shell ornaments on the front suggest the moon, while buttons and a seed pod provide additional embellishment.

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