Among the Yoruba, elaborate crowns articulated the position of the leader – as the head of the human world. This towering, tiered, conical crown 'house of the head' serves as a shrine to the 'ori-inu' (inner head). Embellished with cowrie shells, this crown would have been a distinguishing article of identity elaborating the title and office of a Yoruba chief.
The wealth and prestige of the wearer is communicated by the use of cowries, an ancient form of traditional currency across the African continent, as an over-all embroidery of the headpiece. The depiction of a red bird with long, downward-curving tasselled tail plumage sits at the summit of the crown. Also appearing as a motif on Yoruba beaded crowns, the symbol of the bird is emblematic of the relationship between leadership and divination, in the same way as a bird mediates between heaven and earth.
In the words of historian Robert Farris Thompson, Yoruba crowns ‘incarnate the intuition of royal ancestral force, the revelation of great moral insight in the person of the king, and the glitter of aesthetic experience’. The physical human head is emphasized in Yoruba art and thought, as the locus of divine power and the site of a person’s life-source, personality and destiny.
B. Lawal (1985) ‘Ori: The Signficance of the Head in Yoruba Sculpture’, Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 41, No. 1, p. 91
M. Okediji (1997) ‘Art of the Yoruba’, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 23, No.2, pp. . 167, 169, 170
R. Farris Thompson (1970) ‘The Sign of the Divine King: An Essay on Yoruba Bead-Embroidered Crowns with Veil and Bird Decorations’, African Arts, Vol.3, No. 3, p. 8, 16, 17, 75
Ex Private Collection, Italy
Estimated Period: First Half of 20th Century