Furniture

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

Zimbabwe; Shona peoples

Headrest

Wood

H. 12.7 cm (5")

Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, Eleanor and Edsel Ford Exhibition and Acquisition Fund, 1983.12

This object represents a type of furniture once used in most parts of Africa: the headrest. Designed to fit beneath the head and neck of a sleeping person, headrests have been used in Africa for thousands of years. From Egypt to South Africa they are made in an immense variety of styles, each associated with a particular region. Headrests are often closely associated with their owners, who sleep with them every night and carry them at all times. The care with which a headrest is carved and decorated reflects the status of its owner, so that finely carved headrests like this Shona example were used by important people.