Headrest with antelope
Unknown artist, Possibly; Shona; Zimbabwe
Portuguese, previous attribution
West African, previous attribution
Headrest with antelope, ca. 1885-1895
16.2 x 7 cm (6 3/8 x 2 3/4 inches)
Gift of Dr. Marion Shepard 44.026
Wooden headrests with figural, animal, or geometric supports were among men’s personal goods in central and eastern Africa. They enabled males to recline for sleep without disturbing their elaborate coiffures. The carving may have served a solely ornamental purpose; however, certain symbolic associations suggest layers of meaning. The raised ridge separating the lobes of the base may refer to female genitalia. A woman often gave a headrest to her husband as a marriage gift, and a man signaled an impending visit to his wife’s chamber by placing a headrest outside her door. Comparison to other headrests with animal figures suggest a Shona/Tsonga origin. A support so similar in style as to suggest the same hand or workshop is found at the Musee du quai Branly, Paris.