late 1800s-early 1900s
Raffia palm fiber (Raphia ruffia or R. vinifera) and 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
The geometric motifs on this mpu cap—including diamonds and interlaces—are seen on Kongo, Vili, and Yombe works in other materials, including ivory and basketry.
Zimpu (singular: mpu) are intricately knotted caps worn by men in parts of Central Africa. Ringed with leopard claws, this long cap (mpu ngola) once belonged to a high-status man; the fierce feline attachments alluded to his personal qualities, as both were seen as leaders in their domains. Its interlacing motifs appear across artforms made by the Kongo, Vili, and Yombe peoples. When new, caps draped over the head. However, raffia fibers stiffen over time. To support this now-delicate ngola, the CMA’s conservators mounted it upright. Known since at least 1607 in the former Loango Kingdom, as well as the adjacent Kongo Kingdom, such caps were once made by noblemen and worn into at least the 1980s.
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