Africa Direct
Africa Direct

Lega Basket Hat with Buttons Congo

AvailabilityIn stock
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Brand Unbranded
Type of Object Hat
Country of Origin Democratic Republic of Congo
People Lega, Bwami Society
Materials Vegetal fibers, buttons
Approximate Age 20th century
Height (in) 5
Width (in) 7
Overall Condition Fair to Good. Most of our pieces have spent decades on at least two continents, and have been treasured by several owners.   Small splits, scrapes and cracks are a normal part of their patina attesting to their age and extensive use.  We examine each piece carefully when we receive it and report any damage we find in our listings.  Please look carefully at the pictures which may also reveal condition and damage.
Damage/Repair Some frayed fibers, missing beads/buttons, peak is bent, strap is broken and mostly missing.; see pictures for details.

Lega Bwami is a cultural association found in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which includes the Kivu and Maniema provinces. It is known for its intricate system of initiation rites and ceremonies, which involve the use of various symbolic objects and artifacts, including the famous Lega Bwami Hat.

The Lega Bwami Hat is a symbol of authority and status within the association. It is typically made from woven palm fibers and decorated with various materials, such as shells, beads, and feathers. The hat is worn by members of the Bwami association during ceremonies and other important events.

One of the most distinctive features of the Lega Bwami Hat is the use of small, intricately carved buttons or disks, which are often sewn onto the hat in decorative patterns. These buttons are known as "bwami" or "bami" and are considered to be potent symbols of Bwami authority and knowledge. The buttons are typically made from plastic or wood and are decorated with symbolic designs that represent various aspects of Lega culture and mythology. Some made of plastic, most likely from missionary’s clothing!

In Lega society, the possession of bwami buttons is a sign of social status and achievement, as they are earned through a series of initiation rites and other accomplishments within the Bwami association. The buttons are also used as teaching aids during Bwami ceremonies, with each button representing a specific lesson or piece of knowledge.

Overall, the Lega Bwami Hat and its associated buttons are important cultural artifacts that provide insight into the rich symbolism and complex social structures of Lega society in the Congo.

For a fascinating article with numerous examples, see Elizabeth Cameron's article on Lega Hats in Arnoldi and Kreamer's CROWNING ACHIEVEMENTS-AFRICAN ARTS OF DRESSING THE HEAD. See also an example from the Collection of Marc and Denyse Ginzberg, Sotheby's, Paris, 10 september 2007, fig. 61 A