Zande hat

Zande hat
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] ?Northern Bahr el Ghazal ?Western Bahr el Ghazal ?Warab ?El Buheyrat ?Western Equatoria
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1917
Palm Fibre Plant , Cane Plant
Basketry , Twill Woven , Stitched , Decorated , Dyed , Carved Plaited
Ht = 103, crown L = 113, W = 111, diagonal length = 155; internal diam base = 160; W cane strip = 9, W palm fibre strips = 2 mm [RTS 4/2/2005].
18.3 g
Other Owners:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson, probably collected in the period immediately before World War I (1909-1914) [RTS 1/6/2004].
Field Collector:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson
PRM Source:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson
Donated 1917
Collected Date:
By 1917
Basketry hat consisting of a flat, square crown woven from strips of narrow yellow coloured palm fibre in a twill pattern of over 2, under 2. This has been stiffened with a narrow cane strip that extends diagonally across the top, its sharpened ends being pushed through the hat surface at each corner to hold it in place; this has a very slightly convex upper surface and is a yellowish brown colour (Pantone 7508C). Holes in the remaining two corners show that a second stiffener was originally present, at right angles to the first. The body of the hat becomes increasingly circular below the crown, where the twill weave continues for most of the surface, but varying to a looser weave at the centre of each side. The strips are arranged to form a geometric design in which the natural yellow of the fibre (Pantone 7508C) is contrasted with strips that have been dyed a darker brown (Pantone Black 7C). The latter provides the background colour, over which a series of vertical zigzags, lozenges and triangles are picked out in yellow. The design consists of a vertical column at the centre of each side, composed of 2 lozenges over a double triangle with their points facing upwards. Each lozenge has a yellow dot at its centre. These columns are flanked by closely spaced parallel zigzags, which meet at each corner to frame groups of additional lozenges, this time with the triangular motif at the top of the column, points facing down. There is a yellow cross at the centre of each of the upper lozenges, and a dot at the centre of the lower ones. Just above the base the weaving pattern changes yet again to form a neat circular band around the lower edge of the hat. This is made up of vertical elements on the inside face in yellow, and 6 rows of orangey brown fibre strips running horizontally around the outside face (Pantone 730C). These two layers have been sewn together using a very fine, orangey fibre thread. The bottom row has been finished with short strips of yellow palm fibre, plaited obliquely around the edge with the loose ends of each strip turning upwards at an angle on the inside face. The hat is nearly complete; one cross bar is missing from the crown, and there are a few places where the brown fibre strips have broken around the body. It has a weight of 18.3 grams and is 103 mm high. The crown measures 113 by 111 mm along the sides, and 155 mm diagonally across the top (following the line of the cane stiffening strip). The base has an internal diameter of 160 mm. The cane cross piece is 9 mm wide, while the palm fibre strips are around 2 mm wide.

This object was collected by Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson, probably in the period immediately before World War I, in the Bahr el Ghazal - probably a reference here to the province of that name, rather than the river. At the time this object was collected, the Bahr el Ghazal province was much larger than it is today, extending from roughly the Bahr el Arab all the way to the border with the Belgian Congo; this area is now divided into the districts of Western Bahr el Ghazal, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and parts of Warab, El Buheyrat and Western Equatoria.

Evans-Pritchard discusses hats in his book on the Zande; his comments refer to the situation back in 1926-1930, when he conducted his fieldwork amongst this group: “In sketches by early travellers Azande men are shown wearing straw hats. Schweinfurth describes them as using ‘a cylindrical hat without any brim, square at the top and always ornamented with a waving plume of feathers; the hat is fastened on by large hair-pins, made either of iron, copper, or ivory, and tipped with crescents, tridents, knobs and various other devices [
In the Heart of Africa II, p. 8; This type of hat is depicted being worn at the top of the head, see vol. I p. 439]. The same kind of cylindrical, brimless straw hat was still worn in 1906 when Gezer visited the Azande of Tembura’s kingdom and of the old kingdom of Ezo. This is the old Mbomu hat, called kutuku , and some of the older men still keep to a version of it. The hat which is today fashionable, and has been for some years, is of much the same shape but with two new features: black lateral patterns, often wavy lines, and a broad brim, the first being copied from the Mangbetu and the second from the earliest Europeans” (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1971, The Azande, pp 70-71). Brock stated that Zande hats were worn from greenish white split grass, being round at the base and square at the top, with patterns around the top in blackened grass. He suggests that the presence or absence of brims was according to fashion, which also determined how the hat's feathers were arranged (R.G.C. Brock, 1918, "Some Notes of the Zande Tribe as Found in the Meridi District", Sudan Notes and Records 1, p. 254).

Note that this hat does not show signs of having had any feathers attached, but does have the Mangbetu-inspired colouring without the then fashionable brim. The style of the body and manufacturing technique seems to be shared by contemporary Mangbetu hats, which were made only by men (E. Schildkrout & C.A. Keim, 1990,
African Reflections, p. 127 and fig. 7.8). These also used cane to stiffen the crown, a technique they applied to basket bases as well; the baskets they made were often identical to the hat bodies - see Schildkrout & Keim fig. 6.11, which is very close in materials and design to the Pitt Rivers Museum example being discussed. Brimless hats of this type were being worn by Mangbetu men and occasionally women in the early part of the 20th century (e.g.: African Reflections, figure 5.7).

It would appear that this simple brimless hat was being worn by Zande men, as suggested by a wooden figure wearing such a hat, now in the American Museum of Natural History (
African Reflections , fig. 7.22), and also by boys during the ceremonies associated with the period after their circumcision (Brock 1918, op.cit., pp 251-2). Almost identical hats to this one were collected by Evans-Pritchard in late 1920's to 1930 period, which were apparently used in this way (see 1930.86.32-33 and probably also 1948.2.162-4). These have a straw fringe around the lower edge, but are otherwise almost identical in design.

Rachael Sparks 19/08/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [VI, p. 54] - 1917 [pencil insert] 25 [end insert] MAJOR R.G. GAYER-ANDERSON , R.A.M.C. The Lodge, Old Marston, Oxon [pencil insert, p. 55] 46-51 [end insert] - [1 of] 6 caps of ornamental straw basketry, Niam Niam, Bahr-el-Gazal.
Additional Accession Book Entry
[page opposite 54] - A gift to the Pitt Rivers Museum in memory of Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson, Pasha, his twin brother Colonel J.G. Gayer-Anderson, C.M.G., D.S.O. [page opposite 55] - 1917.25.46-47 number given.

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the tribes catalogue card [RTS 2/2/2004].

Related Documents File - Two letters dated 30/03/1917 and 13/04/1917 from the donor to Henry Balfour regarding the donation of the collection to the museum [EB 12/11/2001]. These indicate that the material was collected by Robert Gayer-Anderson himself, chiefly from the areas of Nuba, Kordofan and Bahr el Ghazal during 5 years he spent in the Sudan, and that they were given to the museum as an unconditional gift [RTS 5/12/2003]. The note in the accession book calling this gift 'in memory of' R.G. Gayer-Anderson is therefore somewhat enigmatic, as both Robert and his twin brother (Thomas G., not J.G.) were alive at the time of the transfer [RTS 5/12/2003].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Straw cap. NIAM NIAM. CENT. AFRICA. Pres. by Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson, 1917 [rectangular metal-edged tag, tied to object; RTS 4/2/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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