Student Interpretation → Kristin Tibbits

  • Kuba Belt
  • Kuba Belt
  • Kuba Belt
  • Kuba Hat
  • Kuba Hat

Kuba Personal Adornment

These textiles are similar in materials and are symbols of status among the Kuba peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. These objects are worn in ceremonial and funerary contexts by title-holding individuals. The belts are adorned with geometrically patterned rows of colored glass beads and cowries on woven raffia. Belts like these are worn by the deceased during funerary ceremonies across the waist to emphasize the layers of cloth underneath, representing the wealth and position of the owner. The hats are also decorated with glass beads and cowry shells. The man's hat would be worn by high-ranking men at initiation ceremonies and funerals. This decorated hat is more elaborate than the laket worn daily by Kuba men and the surface is entirely covered with shells and beads, indicating the wealth of the owner. The mpaan, or woman's hat is also worn by women in funerary contexts. It symbolizes a woman's social status and achievements and is buried with her after her death. Historically, cowry shells and beads are imported goods and their use in decorating these objects denotes power and wealth of the wearer as well as the continuity of Kuba traditions.

Hat (Mpaan)

Hat (Mpaan)

Kuba People
Democratic Republic of Congo
Hat (mpaan)
20th Century
Fabric, glass beads, cowrie shells
Gift of Rod McGalliard
2003.40.9

Flat topped hats, mpaan, are worn for ceremonies that display family wealth and unity, as well as funerals for high-ranking individuals and other important community events. Only women in the king’s entourage may be authorized to wear the mpaan. The mpaan serves as a base for the more elaborately beaded conical hat, the kupash. The black and white triangular beaded pattern on the sides is called lakwoon, meaning “crochet.” The cowry shell accentuated by rings of glass beads in the center of the cap echoes the large white conus shell adornment on royal headdresses.

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