Free man's cap (mpu)

MAKER:
Artist

Unknown

CULTURE:
Kongo peoples
DATE:
20th–mid 20th century
more object details

General Description

Hundreds of years ago, knotted raffia skull caps with raised designs like this one were worn by free men in the Kongo kingdom. Kings wore a larger, more elaborate version, while slaves were denied the right to cover their heads. In addition to indicating social status, caps were believed to protect the wearer from harmful spirits.

European accounts of the Kongo kingdom indicate that cap makers were not only men but noblemen, for whom cap making was a fine art. By the 17th century, cap making had become a recognized craft and selling caps was a specialized trade. The large needles used to make the caps were fashioned from the ribs of imported umbrellas.

Excerpt from

Roslyn A. Walker, African Headwear: Beyond Fashion, Label text, 2011.