HatArtist(s)Object Creation Date1925-1975Medium & Supportelt, embroidery thread, woodDimensions
26 3/8 in x 10 1/4 in (67 cm x 26 cm);26 3/8 in x 10 1/4 in (67 cm x 26 cm)Credit LineGift of Dr. Douglas C. KelleyLabel copy
In west Africa, long distance trade and the historic expansion of empires have helped to spread artistic ideas and designs across the region, so that a single object—such as a hat—may well bear influences from several different cultures. Peaked (or miter-style) hats are found in many parts of west Africa. This hat’s color and embroidery suggest it may have been inspired by a type known in the Mande language as bambada, or crocodile’s mouth, named for the lateral tapers that resemble the open jaws of a crocodile. Its red color symbolizes blood and power, though the meaning of the delicately embroidered figures—one humanlike, possibly in costume, the other a long-tailed creature—remains unknown. The character and fine stitch work of these figures resemble that of Manding embroiderers, who were often commissioned to decorate the gowns and tunics of peoples throughout the region. Alternatively, this hat also resembles a style worn by men in western Cameroon, which was strongly influenced by Hausa fashions brought by traders from northern Nigeria in the late nineteenth century. Such movement and mixing of aesthetic ideas over time and space leave us speculating as to the absolute origins and meaning of this intriguing hat.
The elliptical whorls of appliqué found on the second hat place it in western Cameroon, where fashion dictates that no man of status and propriety moves in public without covering his head. This type of hat was reserved for chiefs and elders to denote their authority. Its style of appliqué is influenced by Hausa aesthetic ideas.Subject matter
Peaked or “miter-style” hats are found in many parts of west Africa. This hat is of undetermined origin and might best be viewed as a visual document of aesthetic mixing between several different cultural groups. Its color and shape suggest it may haven been inspired by a type known in the Mande language as bambada, or crocodile’s mouth, named for the lateral tapers that resemble the open jaws of a crocodile, which was worn by warriors of the Mande-speaking groups from the western Sahel. The fine stitch work and design resembles that of Manding embroiderers, whose designs can be found on garments throughout the region. The hat also resembles a style worn by men in western Cameroon, which was strongly influenced by Hausa fashions brought by traders from northern Nigeria in the late 19th century.Physical Description
This red, felt, miter-shaped hat with lateral flaps terminates in gold-colored tassels. An internal wood frame sewn in to the central spine of the hat keeps its peaked shape. Two figures are delicately embroidered with yellow thread, one on each side of the hat. The figure on its left resembles a lizard with a small round head and long tail. The figure on the right is human and appears to be wearing a costume. A narrow strip of green fabric covers the external, central spine or seam of the hat. The hat's interior is green.Primary Object Classification Costume and Costume Accessories Primary Object TypehatCollection AreaAfricanRights
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symbols of office or status