Lau Nuer headdress

Lau Nuer headdress
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan] [Upper Nile Province] Jonglei Pading?
Cultural Group:
Lau Nuer
Date Made:
By 1928
Cat Skin Animal , Ostrich Feather Bird , Animal Hide Skin , Animal Hair , Cowrie Shell , Bast Fibre Bark Plant , Cotton Yarn Plant
Basketry , Coiled , Wicker Woven , Perforated , Stitched , Bound Repaired (local)?
Ht = 155, cap brim = 192 by 198, internal depth crown = 75 mm; L across feathers at top = 390, W = 425 mm; shells L = 18, W = 13 mm; hide strips round brim W = 5 mm; lions mane hide L = 320, W = 190 mm [RTS 28/1/2005].
349 g
Other Owners:
Captured from prophet Car Koryom (a.k.a. Char Koryom or Char Koriom) of the Lau Nuer between 11th and 19th February 1928 by Percy Coriat (possibly at a place called Pading); lent to the PRM by Charles Armine Willis in November 1928 [RTS 20/7/2004].
Field Collector:
Charles Armine Willis
PRM Source:
Charles Armine Willis
Loaned November 1928
Collected Date:
Probably between 11th and 19th February 1928 [RTS 28/10/2004].
Headdress consisting of a shallow basketry cap adorned with feathers and animal hair. The apex of the cap is made from flat bast strips, chequer woven into a flat rectangular piece that is interwoven at its edges with a coil-made body. This consists of a central core of plant fibre, bent into a spiral that begins with a sub-rectangular form but becomes increasingly circular as it moves further away from the centre. Each core has been bound round with flat fibre strips, which link adjacent coils together. The original colour of these appears to be a pale yellowish brown, that has become a darker orangey brown where the surface is exposed (Pantone 4635C). The body of the cap is not very deep, and is finished off around its brim by winding a series of narrow hide strips around the edge; the brim dips to a slight peak at the front.

This basic framework was then embellished with additional, decorative elements. 2 narrow strips of animal hide have been sewn around the basketry body, one just above the brim, and the other slightly above, using a narrow hide thong. The lower of these strips has been further decorated with a row of cowrie shells with their backs removed, sewn in place using a pale cream-coloured cord made from 2 strands twisted together; this may be cotton. The shell beads have been positioned with the underside of each shell facing outwards, and they extend for only two thirds of the circumference, leaving the back section plain. A series of black ostrich feathers have been attached to the upper crown area, so that they splay outwards over the back and sides (Pantone Black 6C). Their quills seem to be embedded in a dark brown mass of unidentified material, that presumably was used to fix them in place. On the underside of the cap, a circular row of hide stitching can also be seen that seems to be related to the position of the feathers. It is possible that they are attached to a circular piece of hide or some other material that was then sewn onto the basketry. This may have been repaired locally; one section has been tied together with twisted cord, and appears to be adrift from the basketry base in places.

The final detail is sewn onto the front of the cap, using twisted brown cord, and draped over the top and through the centre of the feathers. This is made from a section of light yellowish brown animal hide (Pantone 467C), said to be from the mane of a lion. 2 small ears are visible at the front, and the outer surface is covered with long reddish brown hair (Pantone 477C). This area has been repaired, where the hair has become detached from its hide backing; several bald patches suggest that more of this hair has been lost in the past. Finally, the headdress is provided with a chin strap, made from sections of cotton cord and hide strips knotted together, and fastened to the brim on either side. While most of the elements of the headdress seem to be in place, it is not in very good condition; the hair, in particular, is rather fragile and only lightly attached to its backing hide. The headdress has a weight of 349 grams and is 155 mm high, measuring 192 by 198 mm across its brim, and is 75 mm deep on the inside, while it is around 390 mm long and 425 mm wide when measured from the top, across the feathers. The cowrie shells are typically 18 mm long and 13 mm wide, and the hide strips wound around the brim are 5 mm wide, while the 'lion's mane' strip is 320 mm long and 190 mm wide.

Captured from the Lau Nuer prophet Car Koryom sometime between 11th and 19th February 1928 by Percy Coriat, possibly at a place called Pading
located in Jonglei district, just north east of Mogogh . It was subsequently lent to the Pitt Rivers Museum by Charles Armine Willis in November 1928.

Johnson provides further information on the career of Char Koryom and his eventual capture by the British authorities (see D.H. Johnson, 1994, Nuer Prophets, pp 167-169). He was known as the prophet of Deng, a divinity which was not in favour of warfare. After 1917, Car Koryom dealt directly with the administrators of Mongalla province, and according to Johnson, was 'considered harmless' by the government prior to 1928. From that time, he was seen as a supporter of Guek Ngundeng, another Lau prophet who had come into conflict with the government and whom they were trying to suppress. Car Koryom surrendered to mounted troops that had been sent to his camp on 11th February 1928, and he presented himself to Percy Coriat carrying an ostrich plume fly whisk; Johnson illustrates a photograph of Car under arrest, with his fly whisk, in his figure 7. He escaped from custody at a place called Fadding (probably Pading) around midnight on the 19th February, but the fan appears to have been left behind, along with some other objects, including this headdress, and a staff known as a dang (see 1928.67.2-3). Car Koryom remained active until the middle of 1930, when he yielded to family pressure to give himself up to the authorities; he was imprisoned briefly in Malakal, then released, to return to his home where he lived until his death in 1948 (Johnson 1994; P. Coriat, 1993, Governing the Nuer, pp 119-120. See also the papers of Percy Coriot, who was involved in this brief capture, in Rhodes House, Oxford (MSS Afr.s.1684).

Rachael Sparks 26/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [Loans II, p. 279] - 1928 [insert] 67 [end insert] C. ARMINE WILLIS Esq, Governor of the Upper Nile Province, Sudan. Red Lodge, Cold Ash, Newbury, Berks. Nov. [insert] 1 [end insert] - Head-dress of basketry, covered with lion's mane & black ostrich-feathers [...] [after entry 1928.67.3] The above [1928.67.1-3] were the insignia of a wizard of the LAU NUER tribe (called Char Koryom) & were captured from him about February, 1928. UPPER NILE PROVINCE.

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the tribes catalogue card [RTS 23/7/2004].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Head-dress of a wizard-chief, Char Koryom, of the LAU NUER tribe, UPPER NILE PROVINCE, A.-E. SUDAN. Lent by C.A. Willis, 1928.

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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