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
Basketry , Twill Woven , Stitched , Decorated , Dyed
Ht = 99, crown L = 115, W = 110, max body W = 159, internal diam base = 155, W fibre strips = 2 mm [RTS 4/2/2005].
16.4 g
Other Owners:
Collected by Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson, probably in the period immediately before World War I (1909-1914); entered in PRM records as a donation of Henry Balfour for convenience.
Field Collector:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson
PRM Source:
Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson [Henry Balfour]
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 was originally stiffened across the top with 2 cane strips that would have crossed over each other at the centre and have their sharpened ends pushed through the hat surface at each corner to hold them in place. A hole is still present in these corners, but the pieces of cane are missing. The surface bears no markings to show where they were originally positioned, which suggests that the hat did not receive enough exposure to light while the bars were in place to cause the basketry around them to fade. 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 triangle with its point facing upwards. Each lozenge has a yellow border with brown interior; several also have a yellow dot at the 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, point facing down. Each lozenge has smaller lozenges stacked inside, rather than being filled with solid blocks of colour. 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, but missing its cane pieces from the crown and with some minor surface damage in the form of broken fibre strips around the body and at one corner; although generally well finished, in a few places the ends of some fibre strips have been left loose on the interior walls. The hat has a weight of 16.4 grams and is 99 mm high. The crown measures 110 by 115 mm along the sides, and it has a maximum body width of 159 mm, while the lower edge has an internal diameter of 155 mm. The narrow fibre strips that make up the body are 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. It was presented to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1917, but not accessioned until much later.

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).

Almost identical hats were collected by Evans-Pritchard in the late 1920's to 1930 period, and described as being used by boys in circumcision rites (see the entries for 1930.86.32-33 and also 1948.2.162-4), the only difference in style being in the presence of a straw fringe around the lower edge. Descriptions of the circumcision process made by Brock suggest that special grass hats were worn as part of the associated dances, in a period that is probably contemporary with when this particular example was collected, so it may well belong to this class (R.G.C. Brock 1918, "Some Notes of the Zande Tribe as Found in the Meridi District",
Sudan Notes and Records 1, 251-2). However we don't know if this same period corresponded to a time when brimless hats were once again in fashion for Zande men as well.

Rachael Sparks 19/08/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry - [p. 125, August 1942] The late Henry Balfour, F.R.S. , Miscellaneous specimens found unlabelled, entered for convenience as donations of the late Curator. [p. 141] 1942.8.86/87 - [1 of] Two caps of ornamental straw basketry, circular cylindrical but with square tops, of identical pattern. AZANDE (NIAM-NIAM), BAHR-EL-GHAZAL PROV., A[NGLO].-E[GYPTIAN]. SUDAN. Coll. and pres. by Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson, 1917.
Additional Accession Book Entry [p. 140] - Note on 1942.8.86-89. Set aside and not labelled as duplicates in 1917. Six straw caps were entered at that time, these four seem to be additional.

Card Catalogue Entry - ANGLO-EGYPTIAN SUDAN, BAHR-EL-GHAZAL PROVINCE, AZANDE (NIAM-NIAM). 1942.8.86-89. Four caps of ornamental straw basketry, cylindrical but with square tops, identical pattern, but 88-89 have top strengthened with two strips of bamboo laid crosswise. Coll. and pres. by Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson in 1917 [insert] 6 straw caps were entered at that time, these 4 seem to be additional [end insert], set aside as duplicates and not labelled. Found unentered and ascribed to H. Balfour.

Related Documents File
- This holds a list detailing: "Donors, or probable donors, of material entered under Mr Balfour’s name, 1942.8.86/89, Azande straw caps, R. G. Gayer-Anderson 1917” [MR 11/5/2000].

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - Cap of ornamental straw basketry. AZANDE (NIAM-NIAM) BAHR-EL-GHAZAL, A.-E. SUDAN. 1942.8.86 [front] Coll. and pres. by Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson, 1917 [back; rectangular metal-edged tag, tied to object; RTS 3/2/2005].

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