early to mid-1900s
Plant fibers, elephant rawhide and hair, cowrie shells, glass beads, and cord
Overall: 52.1 x 21.6 x 39.4 cm (20 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
Norman O. Stone and Ella A. Stone Memorial Fund 2005.56
While identified with Africa, cowrie shells were generally imported from the Indian Ocean region. After being collected near the Maldives islands, these Indo-Pacific shells entered parts of Africa via overseas trade routes.
Hats of different types, sizes, and materials figure prominently in the Lega people’s Bwami association where they indicate status and rank. Cone-shaped hats made of canvas covered with cowrie shells and surmounted by an elephant tail are worn during initiations into kindi, the highest of the five male grades. This prestige cap uses a variety of local and imported materials to show its wearer's importance. The plant fibers that support the hat and the elephant hair were sourced in Central Africa, while the beads and cowrie shells were imported. The beads were made in Europe, while the cowrie shells came from the Indian Ocean region. The might of Bwami members is likened to the elephant’s potentially destructive strength.
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