Prestige hat (kalyeem)

Kuba peoples
early 20th century
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General Description

The Kuba kingdom, founded in the early 17th century in the central part of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, is made up of several different ethnicities that pay tribute to a king (nyim). The first nyim was the legendary Shyaam-a-Mbul Ngwoong who introduced the administrative and political structures that continue today. Hats and headdresses were and are the most visible expression of one’s standing within the intricate Kuba system of leadership and titleholding.

The most senior male title holders wear the kalyeem, a cone-shaped hat elaborately decorated with beads and cowry shells. Senior female title holders wear the mpaan, which combines the conical shape of the kalyeem with a rigid semicircular half-crown shape. Used as part of one's funeral display, these symbols of status were not inherited by family members but usually buried, along with other emblems, with the deceased.

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), 76.