Murle head ornament

Murle head ornament
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] Upper Nile Sobat River
Cultural Group:
Murle [Djibba]
Date Made:
?Before 1878
Human Hair , Animal Hide Skin , Plant Fibre? , Sinew ? , String
Perforated , Plaited , Stitched , Felted
L = 630, W = 142, th = 10 mm; plaited bands W = 6 mm; knob L = 16.5, diam = 16 mm [RTS 14/12/2004].
207.2 g
Other Owners:
Part of John George Wood's collection of ethnographic objects made over several years in order to illustrate his book, The Natural History of Man (1868, see pp v-vi). This object was listed in the Delivery Catalogue as having been transferred from South K
Field Collector:
Possibly John Petherick (see Notes) [RTS 17/11/2004].
PRM Source:
Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection
Donated 1884
Collected Date:
Before 1868
Head ornament made from the hair of a dead enemy. This consists of 17 plaited hide bands, each composed of a pair of hide strips perforated along their lengths, and interwoven with one another to create single band with a herringbone patterned surface. The upper end of each of these bands would have been woven in with the back hair of the victor. After a length of around 90 mm each band, hanging down as parallel rows, was sewn with twisted string onto a felt backing made from human hair. This appears greasy, and could be either sinew, or oiled plant fibre. This creates a long rectangular strip that would hang down the back of the owner; the hide bands are gathered together at their base, giving the strip a curved lower end. A short strip of hide has been stretched across this end and stitched in place; a plaited length of hide extends from the centre of its base, around which another strip of hide has been wound with its narrow edges facing outwards, to make a decorative knob in the form of an inverted cone. The object is nearly complete, but there are signs of damage; the plaited hide length at its base has broken in places, and it is not clear if the hide bands decorating the outer face are all complete at their lower ends, as some stop short of the object's end. There are a few holes in the felt backing, which could be the result of earlier display methods, and there are a series of broken stitches that run horizontally across the upper ends of the plaited hide bands. Two adjacent bands at one side are still partially fastened to one another with these stitches; the others have all been broken. Either there was originally more backing felt, which has been lost - a possibility as these broken stitches are similar in appearance to those used further down the object where the felt is in place - or this may have been part of the way in which the ornament was attached to the owner's head, and that the stitches were broken on removal. The hide bands are yellowish brown (Pantone 7508C) to brown in colour (Pantone black 4C), while the backing felt is dark brown (Pantone black 4C). A small suspension loop attached to the base of the object appears to be a latter addition, added for display purposes; as a result, the ornament is currently being displayed upside down. It has a total length of 630 mm and 142 width of mm, and is 10 mm thick. Each plaited band is 6 mm wide; the base knob has a diameter of 16 mm and is 16.5 mm long. The ornament has a total weight of 207.2 grams.

This object came into Pitt Rivers’ collection from that of J.G. Wood; presumably he already owned this by 1868, when it was illustrated in his book, The Natural History of Man. The original source of the object is not stated, although one might suspect that it was Petherick, who encountered the Djibba during the 1850's when he was operating as a trader in ivory; Wood is known to have bought other objects from him after his return to England in 1859, most probably at his 1862 auction. It was probably displayed at Bethnal Green and/ or South Kensington Museums between 1878 - 1884, before becoming part of the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1884.

This particular ornament was not illustrated by Petherick in his unpublished sketchbook Wellcome Library MS 5789), nor elsewhere; 3 similar items appear in his 1862 auction catalogues, but are said to be decorated with cowrie shells (see the
Catalogue of the very interesting collection of arms and implements of war, husbandry, and the chase, and articles of costume and domestic use, procured during several expeditions up the White Nile, Bahr-il-Gazal, and among the various tribes of the country, to the cannibal Neam Nam territory on the Equator, by John Petherick, Esq., H.M. Consul, Khartoum, Soudan, lots 81, 82 and 98).

Petherick locates the Djibba, or Jibba, somewhere along the Sobat River or the tributaries running into it from the east, which suggests a location in either the administrative districts of either Upper Nile or Jonglei, or across the border into modern Ethiopia (J. Petherick, 1861, Egypt, the Sudan and Central Africa, Map; note that the geographical coordinates given for this group in his 1860 article seems to be inaccurate). Ajibba is the Anuak name for this group, who are more usually known as the Murle (B.A. Lewis 1972, The Murle , 2).

Petherick described a similar, but more elaborate version of this hair ornament: '[the Djibba] ... ornament themselves with ... the scalps of their enemies, worked up and ornamented with cowrie shells attached to their own hair, form a tail, which for length and breadth surpasses any thing of the sort worn by the most aristocratic or fashionable member of the celestial empire' (J. Petherick, 1860, "On the Arms of the Arab and Negro Tribes of Central Africa, Bordering on the White Nile", Journal of the Royal United Service Institution IV no. 13, p. 173, fig 5), and 'The warriors have a singular practise of decorating themselves with the hair of their fallen enemies, which, interwoven in their own hair at the back of the head, forms a long tail, reaching nearly to the ground. It is about 4 inches in width and is ornamented with cowry-shells; the end is decorated with ostrich feathers, a covering for the head is similarly formed and, attached to the crown, covers both ears' (J. Petherick, 1861, Egypt, the Soudan and Central Africa , p. 360).

Wood also discusses this type of ornament: 'When a Djibba warrior kills a foe in battle, he cuts off his head, and takes it home with him; he then cuts a number of leathern thongs, removes all the hair from the head of the enemy, and hands them both to a friend, who undertakes the office of decorating the victor with the proofs of valour. First the thongs are plaited into sixteen or seventeen bands ... One end of the bands is then woven firmly into the back of the head, and is so managed, that as the hair grows it renders the fastening more and more secure. The hair of the dead man is then matted together into a sort of felt, about a quarter of an inch in thickness, and sewn firmly to the under side of the leathern bands. This process being accomplished, the Djibba warrior stalks proudly forth, feeling himself every inch a man, and enjoying the envy and admiration of those who have not as yet been fortunate enough to attain such an honourable trophy. Whenever he kills another enemy, he adds to the length, but not to the width, of this singular ornament; and as he despoils the slain man of all his ornaments, he is able to buy cowries with which to enhance the beauty of his scalp-locks, fastening them in rows along the leathern bands. A warrior of eminence will sometimes have this trophy of inordinate length.' (J.G. Wood, 1868,
The Natural History of Man, p. 521) [RTS 14/12/2004].

This object is currently on display in the Court, case 131A.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book V entry [p. 55] HEAD-HUNTING & TROPHIES [insert] 1884.115 4 [end insert] 3642 - Fine plaited leather thongs & matted (felted) hair of slain enemy, woven into the victor's back hair. JIBBEH, WHITE NILE, C.A[FRICA]. J.G. Wood (31).
Collectors Miscellaneous XI Accession Book entry [p. 273] - 1884.115.4, 31 - Scalplocks, Jibbeh, Sobat R. (White Nile) N[atural].H[istory]. Man 519 (PR 3642).
Black book entry [p. 55a] - Ag 7456(D). DJIBBA scalp lock head ornament, W. Africa. 3642. [insert] 1884.115.4 [end insert].
Delivery Catalogue I entry - Whips etc Scalp locks of a Djebba Warrior 3642 Screen 204.
'Green book' entry - [p. 47] - South Kensington Receipts, 19 January 1878. The collection of anthropological objects as per list (pages 1-10) attached. On loan. [p. 48] List of Anthropological objects received from Maj. Genl A. Lane Fox. 16th & 17th January 1878 [p. 52] Objects chiefly from Mr J.G. Wood's collection [p. 53] [insert] 53.2023 [end insert]. 31. 1 scalp lock head ornament. [insert] 1884.115.4 [end insert].
Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 7/4/2004].
Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Leather thongs & hair of slain enemy which are woven into the back hair of the victor. JIBBEH, UPPER WHITE NILE. J.G. Wood coll. (31) (Nat. Hist. Man p. 519, 521). P.R. coll (3642) [rectangular metal-edged tag, tied to object; RTS 13/1/2004].

Display History:
Displayed in the Bethnal Green and South Kensington Museums (V&A) [AP]. Former display label - Leather thongs and hair of a slain enemy, which are woven into the back hair of the victor. JIBBEH, upper White Nile. J.G. Wood coll., P.R. Coll. (364a) [typed, stored in RDF; RTS 13/1/2004].

Publication History:
J.G. Wood, 1868, The Natural History of Man, p. 521, with an illustration of this example on p. 519. [AP]

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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