This vibrant trio of beaded hats are from the Lega People of the Congolese Rainforest. These hats serve as “honors” or “diplomas” awarded to the highest achievers within Bwami – a society of elders that governs the life ways of the Lega. Bwami membership reflects strong personal character, high achievement and wisdom. Wearing this hat identifies the wearer as a member and honored elder. The Lega hat also signifies a symbolic bond with one’s ancestors. Each hat is closely linked to a specific proverb, through which principles of Bwami life ways are taught to younger Lega. Treasured for their symbolic power, these hats are kept as family heirlooms for generations. Hand-woven from raffia fibers, they are densely adorned with beads, buttons, oyster shells, cowrie shells, elephant tail hair and Hornbill beaks, to name a few. With their rounded cone shape, brilliant colors and exuberant top, the hats have a playful, joyful quality. Each hat is a unique personality.
REFERENCES: Biebuyck, Daniel P. 1982. “Lega Dress as Cultural Artifact.” Journal of African Arts. Vol. 15, No. 3.