White beaded cap
Glass beads, burlap, cloth, thread
H: 18 cm, W: 19 cm, D: 23 cm (H: 7.0 in, W: 7.4 in, D: 9.0 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. Museum purhcase with Manus Fund. X91.80
This headgear is in the form of a barrister’s wig that would have been seen in the British courts established in Nigeria during the colonial era. Its presence in the beaded regalia of a Yoruba oba alerts us to the struggles for prestige, power, and authority waged during the colonial period. The royal owner of this orikogbofo wore it to assert his authority to judge civil and criminal matters and to decide punishments, powers assumed to a large extent by the British except for certain local matters that the oba was permitted to decide. At the same time, some oba attempted to alter the pre-colonial separation of powers between the royal court and the Osugbo/Ogboni Society, traditionally the ruler-makers(and – breakers) and the judiciary that balanced and limited the authority of the oba. During the colonial era, both obas and Osugbo councils were subordinated to the rule of the British colonial administration and at the same time re-positioned themselves, claiming and assuming new rights and authority in the fluid colonial situation. Thus, the oba might wear this beaded barrister’s wig when judging cases at court or appearing in a colonial court. Though white was the color of British judicial wigs, for Yoruba ewu (white hair) is the supreme mark of age and especially ogbon (wisdom) and the qualities of composure and reflection to which all oba should aspire. While the overall form of this courtly wig with its tightly-wound curls is inspired by British prototypes, two important features reveal its Yoruba source: the conical projection at the top, and the three frontal disks. The projection, like those in all Yoruba crowns, is the site of the enabling substances that protect and enhance the oba. The frontal disks recalls the crests on the ancient crowns of Ile-Ife, the disks on the bronzes at Tada and Jebba, and the frontal faces on more recent crowns. Thus, what appears to be an imported colonial form is in fact one that juxtaposes indigenous, pre-colonial icons with British colonial ones.
Source: Drewal, H., Mason, J. (1998). “Beads, Body, and Soul – Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe”, Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 209