By Victoria Rovine
University of Florida (formerly University of Iowa)

Tanzania; Swahili peoples



D. 19 cm (7 1/2 in)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, Anonymous gift in honor of Betty Stanley, 1986.117

This intricately embroidered kofia ya kiua (Swahili cap) would have been worn by a man to signal his adherence to Islam, an important religion along Africa’s eastern coast (Arnoldi and Kreamer 1995: 96). The style of the hat, reminiscent of Indian and Middle Eastern textile ornamentation, indicates the long history of contact, primarily through trade, between the Swahili and cultures along the rim of the Pacific and Indian oceans. Embroidered in silk with particularly intricate patterns, this cap would have been worn by a man of means. Each of the many holes that decorate the cap have been individually stitched, a time-consuming process for the woman who embroidered it.