Man’s bwami hat
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Plant fiber, shells, hornbill skull, tusks, cowrie shells
H: 55.0 cm, W: 15.0 cm, D: 22.0 cm (H: 21.6 in, W: 19.7 in, D: 8.6 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Jay T. Last. X99.15.8
This hat served as symbol of rand in the Bwami initiation society of the Lega peoples in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is built on coiled basketry structures that also serve as an engaging background for a wide variety of attachments. Women’s hats may be embellished with cowrie shells, beads, and/or buttons. Men’s hats are larger and more sculptural and are adorned with a greater array of materials. The most presigious of these were reserved for the highest-ranking Bwami members who also serve as the political leaders of Lega society. This example includes the skull of a hornbill bird and the tusks of a warthog. These and other materials typically convey potent messages in the form of proverbial wisdom and behavioral norms. It is said, for example, that the hornbill symbolizes the man who has ambitions but is unaware of the cost of attaining them.
Source: Gallery wall text. Fowler in Focus: African Basketry Arts, Thinking outside the Basket. 2009