Headrest in form of storage box with carved heads

Zande peoples
late 19th or early 20th century
more object details

General Description

African "pillows" are traditionally made of wood, ivory, or fired clay. The basic form of two platforms separated by a vertical post is consistent throughout Africa, from Egypt to South Africa, and throughout time, from antiquity to the present. Still used, this "pillow" is called a headrest because of the way it is used. While reclining on one's back or side, an individual places the upper platform at the back of the head. Alternatively, the platform can be placed under one ear and along the chin to support the head. In addition to protecting elaborate hairstyles, headrests provide a good night's sleep because the pressure of the headrest slightly numbs the nerves in the head resulting in a tranquilizing effect.

This rare Zande figurative headrest—one of only four extant examples—is decorated with two human head finials carved on the upper lid. It served a dual purpose as a pillow for sleeping or resting and as a storage container for small valuables belonging to a member of the Zande aristocracy. An ordinary Zande headrest would be an unadorned lidded box or a small log.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 228-231.