Woman’s Bwami Hat, called Muzombolo (Primary Title)

Unknown, Chinese, ca. 1900-1500 (Artist)

Educational
19th-20th century
Lega
natural, man-made materials
Democratic Republic of Congo
Overall (with stand): 21 × 7 × 6 in. (53.34 × 17.78 × 15.24 cm)
Overall (without stand): 16 × 7 × 6 in. (40.64 × 17.78 × 15.24 cm)
88.119
The eight hats on the middle and upper rows of this display are ceremonial headdresses worn by men and women who have attained the two highest grades of Bwami (see adjacent texts). The hat with feathers (on the top row, left) and the hat with red and white buttons (middle row, right) are worn by women. All the others are worn by men.

The two hats on the upper row represent the highest grade of Bwami. In the hat on the right, the polished mussel shells symbolize leadership, while its braided fibers, imitating a woman’s hairstyle, suggest the male wearer’s quasi-female status, by way of the comprehensive human understanding he has attained. Conversely, the hat with feathers and phallic shape, for the highest female grade of Bwami, denotes the quasi-male status of a woman whose wisdom and knowledge surpass gender.

Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
"Spirit of the Motherland." Roanoke: Museum of Western Virginia. September 1995- January 1996. Newport News: Peninsula Fine Arts Center. January- May 1996.
Woodward, Richard B. African Art: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2000. (p. 40)
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

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