Height: 16.500 cm
Gift of Dr W.G. Atherstone
Room 24: Living and Dying
Carved wooden headrest
Shona, 19th century
The Shona carvers of Zimbabwe produce
distinctive wooden headrests, which usually comprise geometric -
circular , triangular and rectangular - designs. The concentric
circles, which are common to many headrests, are thought to derive
from various sources, including the base of the white Conus shells
that are worn as signs of status by chiefs and diviners, the
ripples in a pool into which a stone has been thrown, or the
patterns of body
The decorative motifs of the headrests and female scarification carry the same name, nyora, which refers to the ancestors, suggesting a connection between the spirit world of ancestors and women's fertility.
Headrests are used mainly by men, who are said to be visiting their ancestors during sleep. They are thus seen as a source of knowledge and prosperity. Headrests are buried along with the deceased or passed on to his descendants. They are sometimes used by Shona diviners as a spiritual bridge that links them to the world of the ancestors.
T. Phillips (ed.), Africa, the art of a continent (London, Royal Academy, 1995)