By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

CameroonBabanki peoples

Chief’s cap

Cotton, wool

H. 19.7 cm (7 3/4")

Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, Eleanor Clay Ford Fund for African Art, F78.44

Covering a ruler’s head with richly handcrafted caps and veils is common throughout Africa. Elaborate headgear draws attention to a ruler while simultaneously and paradoxically concealing him or her. Headpieces also bestow transformative power; energy generated by the ruler’s ancestors is channeled and contained in the cap. The richly textured and colorful headwear of the Cameroon Grasslands denotes high social rank. Some include appliqué and embroidery inspired by the tailoring of Hausa people, an Islamic trading group. Other caps are adorned with beads, shells, and feathers. The elongated buls on this cap indicate that it had belonged to an eminent official—a king, chief, or queen mother (Geary 1983: 103). Together with other objects in the royal treasury—beaded calabashes, thrones, tobacco pipes, drinking horns, flywhisks, ivory trumpets, and jewelry—caps formed a visual and metaphorical extension of the ruler.  

Enthronment of Jinabo II, the late King of Kom, Northwest Province of Cameroon. Photo by Hans-Joachim Koloss.