Hats were constructed from a wide variety of natural and man-made materials, often signaling individual wealth and achievement or identifying a political, leadership, or religious position. In particular, beaded hats often constituted a major aspect of royal regalia. A bead artist overlaid traditional Yoruba iconography onto a profile based on a British coronation crown, likely one made for Queen Victoria. The royal birds perched on its surface honor the "mothers," whose supernatural powers protected the king wearing it. This combination of British form and Yoruba symbolism affirmed the king’s political alliance with the British colonial power that ruled Nigeria from 1893 to 1960. Pende and Yaka chiefs wore beaded bicorn hats with vividly colored geometric designs. Originally found among the Lunda chiefdom, and adopted by the Pende peoples, this distinctive headgear is now a symbol of prestige and power for Yaka chiefs.
The blackened leather and decorative program of the extraordinary Akan hat indicate that it was worn by a person of high military rank. Like the hardened leather amulets covering Akan war shirts, the thick leather of this helmet serves as armor. Attached to its surface are miniature representations of functional and ceremonial weapons. The rifles along the perimeter are based on the double- barreled flintlock rifles used by the British army in Ghana and symbolize military power. Powder kegs surmounting the hat suggest the wearer’s readiness to enter battle. State ceremonial swords with their characteristic curved blades, openwork design, and barbell-shaped handles are centrally placed, emblematic of bravery and valor; military officers took oaths of allegiance on such swords.
This gold beaded Yoruba coronet, used by a Yoruba king or chief for daily wear or minor occasions, combines Yoruba iconography with an imported British form. Decorated with birds that honor the power of women, the crown's style is based on a British coronation crown, affirming an oba's political alliance with the British colonial power that ruled Nigeria until 1960.
Princeton University Art Museum: Handbook of the collections, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Art Museum, 2013).
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton University Art Museum: handbook of the collections, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007).