YORUBA STYLE BEADED CROWNS, NIGERIA
This small but old crown is constructed on stiff basketry (partially damaged) with remnants of leather, cotton and woven raffia.
It exhibits four wonderful large faces and four small ones. Its small size suggests another function rather than a crown: the form is closer to that of a House of the Head shrine object.
The birds on the very top of most of the crowns have an extension of wood or metal that inserts into a hole on the top of the crown. They are removable. Bird tails (including those on the sides) can be bent upwards or downwards if desired and hold those positions.
Traditional significance of Yoruba beaded crowns:
Among the most spectacular beaded objects from Africa are the crowns of Yoruba kings in Nigeria. Yoruba rulers wear crowns on state occasions and during public functions. Most are cone-shaped, with forms or features built up, then embellished over the entire surface with beads of vibrant colors.
Beaded Yoruba crowns and other artifacts do not just signify high social status. Beads are considered sacred to the Yoruba, and only kings and priests powerful enough to span the boundary between the secular and the divine are allowed to wear them. The crown (or ade) is the most important object in royal Yoruba regalia, and the right to wear one is limited to a small number of kings (obas) descended from royal families. The beaded veil that hangs down from the headdress is an important part of the crown. By covering the king's face, the veil downplays the king's identity as an individual and reinforces his role as divine leader. The veil is also said to protect onlookers from the king's powerful gaze.
The faces on the crowns represent and honor ancestors, one of whom might be Oduduwa, the mythic founder and first king of the Yoruba people. As such, the faces serve as reminders of the royal line, royal ancestors and the tradition of the monarchy.
The inclusion of birds on many of the crowns refers to the spirit world and the king's ability to mediate between the realms of human beings and spirits, the secular world and the spiritual one. Birds are also said to represent female power, in its nurturing (motherly) and destructive (witch-like) aspects. It is commonly accepted that the oba (king) cannot rule without the cooperation and support of the women in his village.
Repeated patterns in the design suggest the interconnectedness of all life and the balance needed to sustain it. On a crown, such patterns can furthermore refer to the connection between the current king (oba) to previous kings through the hereditary line.
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