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Hunter's Bird Decoy Headdress

Accession Number

Hunter's Bird Decoy Headdress


Object Creation Date
circa 1950

Medium & Support
wood, abrus seeds, leather and string

14 in x 2 3/8 in x 12 5/8 in (35.5 cm x 6 cm x 32 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Dale E. Rice

Subject matter
Hausa hunters from Northern Nigeria and Niger have often used bird decoys, called burtu in the Hausa language, to disguise themselves in hunting birds and other animals. The decoy can be made from carved wood or the skull of a Ground Hornbill bird, which is often hunted using the decoy. The head of the bird is attached to a long, curved neck covered in leather and sometimes decorated with red abrus seeds. Along with the decoy, which is worn on the forehead, hunters also wear dark colored clothes to blend in with the surrounding evnironment and better resemble the Ground Hornbill's dark plumage. Herbal medicines placed in the head of the decoy are thought to weaken the prey, which the hunter can approach by mimicking the movements of real birds. The performance associated with these decoys in both hunting and public festivals demonstrate the Hausa concept of iyawa, or a person's potential for mastering artistic and spiritual skills. In moving realistically in a bird-like fashion, the hunters in a sense become the birds they hunt and demonstrate their mastery of an important skill. 

References Cited: 
Burmeister, Alice R. 2004. "The Bird is a Faraway Meat: a Hausa Hunter's Headdress" in See the Music, Hear the Dance: Rethinking African Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Frederick Lamp. Munich: Prestel. 

Physical Description
Carved wood headdress in the form of a bird's head and neck. The beak is open and the head is covered with leather, some of which is red. There is also string wrapped around the head of the bird. The crest above the beak is covered with red seeds, possibly abrus seeds. The long, curved neck is attached to a flat disc, through which leather straps have been inserted. The strap at the bottom of the neck is also attached to the back of the bird's head as well. 

Primary Object Classification
Costume and Costume Accessories

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
ceremonial objects
decoys (objects)
hunters (people)

& Author Notes

Web Use Permitted