Decorated dog-eared cloth caps (fila abeti aja) were worn as regalia by Yoruba royalty and diviners, and the loss of beads on this hat’s earflaps indicates wear from use. The European glass seed beads covering either side of this hat were available to the Yoruba by the late eighteenth century and quickly became markers of status. The exceptionally tiny and somewhat irregular-size beads, together with the careful craftsmanship and complex iconographic designs, date this hat to the late nineteenth century, since the mass-produced beads available in the twentieth century were often larger and brighter.
The intricate beaded designs on this hat reveal that it was commissioned and worn by a high-ranking diviner, an expert who harnessed natural and spiritual resources on behalf of an individual. The iconography and patterns refer to the variety of gods (orisas) and forces called upon during Ifa divination, the traditional Yoruba religious system. The diamond border refers to the number four, which connotes balance, knowledge, and wisdom through divination. Esu—the trickster god within Ifa divination and the interlocutor between this world and the next—is represented by a three-dimensional face. Above Esu, the fish-legged figure represents Olokun, the god of the sea and the patron of bead artists, whose materials—glass beads—metaphorically come from the sea.