Shona Wooden Headrest

Shona Wooden Headrest

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Shona Wooden Headrest - History

By Misaki Imagawa

You know the feeling you&rsquove been up since the crack of dawn, worked a full day and then indulged in one, two, or simply too many drinks with your friends. You stumble back home with nothing but blissful sleep on your mind. Your sweet bed beckons you with promises of rest and comfort. You fall into its welcoming embrace and. crack! Your head smacks down painfully on a stone pillow. Did I forget to mention that you&rsquove been transported to another place and time and let&rsquos just say a WHOLE different set of ideas when it came to pillows?

This Ethiopian Barshin, or headrest has not changed much since ancient times and is remarkably similar in style to their north eastern neighbors in ancient Eqypt

Back before modern stuffed pillows emerged, when the concept of headrests first began in ancient civilizations, wooden or stone pillows were quite common all across the world. It should be noted, the main function of these pillows was not for comfort as we know it today, but instead, as a means to raise the head so insects could not crawl into your mouth, nose, ear, or hair. It seems humans didn&rsquot really fancy creepy-crawlies even 9000 years ago, when the earliest known headrest was made.

Some of the oldest and most famous headrests were found in ancient Egyptian tombs. Pharaoh Tutankhamen was laid to rest with eight of them, made of extensively decorated wood, ivory, and alabaster. It was believed that the head was the essence of life, and therefore holding it up, even in death, was crucial. When not supporting the head of corpses, headrests were thought to increase vigor and keep demons away. For this reason, many headrests were decorated with images of Bes or Taweret, two protective gods with the power to banish evil from the dark night. Headrests were also considered significant because of a symbolic connection with the sun. When the sun set, the head was laid to rest on the pillow and when the sun rose, so did the head. Having a hard pillow must have certainly discouraged current day sleeping habits of burrowing deeper into the fluffy comfort as the sun shines brighter.

This 19th C. Chinese pillow is composed of lacquered leather PRIMITIVE ID# A0404-439

Pillows were also used in Asia. Just like Egypt, these too were made of hard, stiff materials. In Japan, headrests were made of wood or woven in bamboo or rattan their main function was mostly to protect hairstyles. From a Samurai&rsquos hair knot to the elegant coiffures of noblewomen and geishas, headrests kept both men and women from having to reset their hair every day. These &lsquopillows&rsquo however were little more than neck supporters and it took some time to master the art of sleeping without messing up your hair. Geisha-in-training, called maiko girls, learned this the hard way wet, sticky rice was spread all around their pillows so that if they failed to keep their hair off the floor, they would wake up with rice glued to them &ndash definitely not something you&rsquod want to deal with first thing in the morning!

A Chinese lacquerware pillow with decorative floral motifs on each end PRIMITIVE ID# A0404-415

In China, they had a very different reason for sleeping on hard pillows. They believed that soft substances stole energy and vitality from the body and were bad for blood circulation not to mention being ineffective at driving away demons. The Chinese used a variety of materials to make their headrests: bamboo, jade, porcelain, ceramic, wood, and bronze. Ultimately, porcelain became the most popular and widely used material. These were all so highly decorated that some people mistake them for family heirlooms. Depictions and engravings of animals, plants, humans, mountains, water and even geometric shapes adorned the pillows.

Wood and leather bound headrests were often given a masterfully lacquered finish. The extensive attention to detail and decoration suggests that the headrests held more than a visual or physical significance. In fact, the ancient Chinese believed pillows had the power to influence and guide dreams, which were viewed as omens. Headrests mediated the space between the consciousness and unconsciousness, reality and illusion. In fact, they were considered so important that many headrests accompanied their owners into death.

In sub-Saharan Africa, pillows share many similar functions as elsewhere in the world. Much like in Japan, African headrests protected elaborate hairstyles and headdresses worn by tribal members. Often piled up into crown or turban shapes, some hairstyles held ornaments made of iron, clay, and copper, and were then embellished with cowry shells, beads and cones. Great care and effort went into setting up such hairstyles because they were symbols of prestige and status. Headrests allowed one to maintain the style for weeks or even months on end. The Eastern concept of the pillow holding spiritual importance was also shared by many African tribes. Among the Chokwe people of Central Africa, headrests are called &lsquopillows of dreams&rsquo and are used during divination processes. The Shona people of Zimbabwe believe that a person walks and communes with their ancestors in a dreamscape. Therefore, the headrest was considered of great importance for forming a connection between the living and spiritual world. In many tribes, the headrest is an object of great practical, spiritual and prestigious value. Just like in ancient China, headrests would join their owners into the grave, especially in the case of tribal leaders.

Above: A carved wood and metal headrest depicting a quadruped by the Dinka people of Sudan, East Africa PRIMITIVE ID# A1400-406

It occurs to me now &ndash pillow fights might have been quite a deadly game in ancient times! However, just because many headrests throughout history were made of hard materials, it does not necessarily mean softer pillows did not exist. In many cultures thin mats filled with straw were placed over hard headrests to create softer elevated platforms. The Ancient Greeks and Romans said, &lsquoto hell with hairstyles, energy and demons,&rsquo as they reclined on pillows filled with feather, reed or straw, but these softer pillows were usually reserved for the higher classes. Commoners who could not afford softer pillows improvised and stuffed rice bags with materials like dried leaves that simply disintegrated over time. Finally, if someone preferred something harder, they might even go out and select rocks from the riverbank. Who knows, maybe they knew something about hard pillows that we don&rsquot understand today. One thing is certain, most people wouldn't care to return to the hard pillows of old.

Select carved wood headrests from the Gurage people of Ethiopia, East Africa PRIMITIVE ID numbers A1200-262, 263 and 265

Oh, My Aching Head! - History of Headrests (297 KB)

Pillows weren't always soft and fluffy throughout history but they have always been considered an object of importance. From keeping one's head safe from bugs to maintaining elaborate hairstyles to heightening body energy and vitality, different cultures had different functions for headrests. But what they all had in common was creating an art out of these utilitarian objects.

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How to value an African headrest

When a Shona headrest sold at a Suffolk auctioneers for £23,000 this summer it confirmed the strength of the tribal art sector. Antique Collecting asked New York expert Dori Rootenberg whether the market had come to a head

Q. What are the origins of Shona headrests, what geographical area are we referring to?

A. The Shona people are generally found in modern day Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia. Most southern African tribes used headrests, including the Zulu, Tsonga-Shangaan people etc. Due to wars, there was much migration. Also, many of the people were pastoralists or raised cattle and moved regularly. Thus, it is not easy to always have a clear distinction between the different ethnic groups.

We do not know the exact origins of the headrests, however, it is assumed that sub-Saharan headrests followed the Egyptian tradition. Egyptian examples survived because they were made stone, unlike African headrests which were almost always made of wood. They were susceptible to the wetter sub-Saharan climate and the prevalence of termites.

Q. How can you age a headrest?

A. Most of the authentic headrests being sold at auction date from the late 19th century to first quarter of the 20th century. They are aged as follows:

Carefully noting the style and the patina. Comparing to similar examples in books and museums that have documented collection dates. Occasionally, a headrest may actually have a collection date or we know who collected the headrest and when he/she was in southern Africa. A fine example of this is our headrest from the Rev. AA Jaques, a Swiss missionary who was in southern Africa in the 19th century.

Q. What is the collector looking for in acquiring a headrest? What makes one worth, say, £2,000 while another will go for £23,000?

A. The most important factors are:

Patina – collectors like evidence of use

Good provenance (although this is rare to have)

Rarity (some types are more common than others)

Figurative element – if the headrest incorporates an animal or human element, it can add value compared to a purely non-figurative example.

This is an excerpt from a full article taken from the September issue of Antique Collecting. To read the full article take a look at our subscription options in both print and digital.

The Shona people are divided into tribes in eastern and northern Zimbabwe. Their estimated population is 16.6 million: [8]

    or Southern Shona (about 8.5 million people) or Central Shona (5.2 million people)
  • Korekore or Northern Shona (1.7 million people)

Other members or close relatives:

    or Eastern Shona (1.2 million) [9] in Zimbabwe (861,000) and Mozambique (173,000). Desmond Dale's basic Shona dictionary includes the Manyika dialect. [10][11] in Mozambique (1,580,000) and Zimbabwe (800,000). Their dialect, partially mutually intelligible with the main Shona dialects, has click sounds which do not occur in standard Shona. Ndau has a wealth of Nguni words as a result of the Gaza Nguni occupation of their ancestral land in the 19th century.

When the term "Shona" was created during the early-19th-century Mfecane (possibly by the Ndebele king Mzilikazi), it was used as a pejorative for non-Nguni people there was no awareness of a common identity by the tribes and peoples which make up the present-day Shona. The Shona people of the Zimbabwe highlands, however, retained a vivid memory of the ancient kingdom often identified with the Kingdom of Mutapa. The terms "Karanga", "Kalanga" and "Kalaka", now the names of discrete groups, seem to have been used for all Shona before the Mfecane. [12] Ethnologue notes that the language of the Bakalanga is mutually intelligible with the main dialects of Karanga and other Bantu languages in central and eastern Africa, but counts them separately. The Kalanga and Karanga are believed to be one clan who built the Mapungubwe, Great Zimbabwe and Khami, and were assimilated by the Zezuru. Although many Karanga and Kalanga words are interchangeable, Kalanga is different from Zezuru.

Dialect groups have many similarities. Although "standard" Shona is spoken throughout Zimbabwe, the dialects help identify a speaker's town (or village) and ethnic group. Each Shona dialect is specific to a certain ethnic group.

In 1931, during his attempt to reconcile the dialects into a single standard Shona language, Clement Doke [13] identified five groups and subdivisions:

  1. The Korekore (or Northern Shona), including Taυara, Shangwe, Korekore, Goυa, Budya, the Korekore of Urungwe, the Korekore of Sipolilo, Tande, Nyongwe of "Darwin", and Pfungwe of Mrewa
  2. The Zezuru group, including Shawasha, Haraυa, another Goυa, Nohwe, Hera, Njanja, Mbire, Nobvu, Vakwachikwakwa, Vakwazvimba, Tsunga
  3. The Karanga group, including Duma, Jena, Mari, Goυera, Nogoυa, and Nyubi
  4. The Manyika group, including Hungwe, Manyika themselves, Teυe, Unyama, Karombe, Nyamuka, Bunji, Domba, Nyatwe, Guta, Bvumba, Here, Jindwi, and Boca
  5. The Ndau group (mostly in Mozambique), including Ndau, Garwe, Danda, and Shanga

Dialects developed during the dispersion of tribes across Zimbabwe over a long period, and the influx of immigrants into the country from bordering countries has contributed to the variety.

During the 11th century, the Kalanga people formed kingdoms on the Zimbabwe plateau. Construction began on Great Zimbabwe, capital of the kingdom of Zimbabwe. The Torwa dynasty ruled the kingdom of Butua, and the kingdom of Mutapa preceded the Rozvi Empire (which lasted into the 19th century).

Brother succeeded brother in the dynasties, leading to civil wars which were exploited by the Portuguese during the 16th century. The kings ruled a number of chiefs, sub-chiefs and headmen. [14]

The kingdoms were replaced by new groups who moved onto the plateau. The Ndebele destroyed the Rozvi Empire during the 1830s the Portuguese slowly eroded the kingdom of Mutapa, which extended to the Mozambique coast after it provided valued exports (particularly gold) for Swahili, Arab and East Asian traders. The British destroyed traditional power in 1890 and colonized the plateau of Rhodesia in 1890, and the Portuguese colonial government in Mozambique fought the remnants of the kingdom of Mutapa until 1902. The Shona people were also a part of the Bantu migration where they are one of the largest Bantu ethnic groups in sub Saharan Africa [14]

Subsistence agriculture and mining Edit

The Shona have traditionally practiced subsistence agriculture. They grew sorghum (largely replaced by maize), beans (since the middle of the first millennium AD), African groundnuts, and (beginning in the 16th century) pumpkins. Sorghum and maize are used to prepare the main dish, a thickened porridge called sadza, and the traditional beer known as hwahwa. [15] The Shona also keep cattle and goats, since livestock are an important food reserve during droughts. [14] Precolonial Shona states derived substantial revenue from the export of mining products, particularly gold and copper. [14]

Housing Edit

Traditional Shona housing, known as musha, are round huts arranged around a cleared yard (ruvanze). Each hut has a specific function, such as a kitchen or a lounging space. [16]

Arts Edit

Sculpture Edit

The Shona are known for their stone sculptures, which were discovered during the 1940s. Shona sculpture developed during the eleventh century and peaked in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries before beginning a slow decline until their mid-20th-century rediscovery. Although most of the sculptures are sedimentary-stone (such as soapstone) birds or humans, some are made with harder stone such as serpentinite and the rarer verdict. During the 1950s, Zimbabwean artists began carving stone sculptures for sale to European art lovers. The sculptures quickly became popular and were bought and exhibited by art museums worldwide. Many of the sculptures depict the transformation of spirits into animals (or vice versa), and some are abstract. Many Zimbabwean artists carve wood and stone for sale to tourists, and traditional pottery also exists.

Clothing Edit

Traditional clothing were usually animal skins that covered the front and the back named mhapa and shashiko. These later evolved when traders introduced cloth.

Music Edit

Shona traditional music, like other African traditional music, has constant melodies and variable rhythms. Its most important instruments are ngoma drums and the mbira. The drums vary in size and shape, depending on the type of music they are accompanying. How they are played depends on the size of a drum and the type of music. Although large drums are typically played with sticks and smaller drums with an open palm, the small drum used for the amabhiza dance is played with a hand and a stick the stick rubs, or scratches, the drum to produce a screeching sound.

The mbira has become a national instrument of sorts in Zimbabwe. [17] It has a number of variants, including the nhare, mbira dzavadzimu, the Mbira Nyunga Nyunga, njari mbira and matepe. The mbira is played at religious and secular gatherings, and the different mbiras have different purposes. The 22–24-key mbira dzavadzimu is used to summon spirits, and the 15-key Mbira Nyunga Nyunga is taught from primary school to university. Shona music also uses percussion instruments such as the marimba (similar to a xylophone), hosho (shakers), leg rattles, wooden clappers (makwa), and the chikorodzi, a notched stick played with another stick.

The religion of Shona people is centred on Mwari (God), also known as Musikavanhu (Creator of man/people) or Nyadenga (one who lives high up). God communicates with his people on earth directly or through chosen holy people. At times God uses natural phenomena and the environment to communicate with his people. Some of the chosen people have powers to prophecy, heal and bless. People can also communicate with God directly through prayer. When someone dies, according to Shona religion, they join the spiritual world. In the spiritual world, they can enjoy their afterlife or become bad spirits. No one wants to be a bad spirit, so during life, people are guided by a culture of unhu so that when they die, they enjoy their afterlife.Deaths are not losses but a promotion to the stage where they can represent the living through the clan spirits.Colonial white missionaries as well as anthropologists like Gelfand and political colonialists did not interpret this religion in good light because they wanted to undermine it in favour of Christianity. Initially, they said the Shona did not have a God, but this was a lie. They denigrated the way the Shona had communicated with their God, the Shona way of worship and chosen people among the Shona. They could not distinguish the living and the dead. The chosen people were regarded as unholy and Shona prayer was regarded as pagan. Of course, the agenda was to colonise. When compared with Christianity, the Shona religion perspective of afterlife, holiness, worship and rules of life (unhu) have similar goals, they are only separated by cultures (African versus European) and values (unhu versus western). Although sixty to eighty percent of the Shona people converted to Christians as a result of colonial missionaries, and at times by force, Shona religious beliefs are still very strong. Most of the Christian churches and beliefs have been blended with Shona religion. This was done to guard against European and western cultures that dominate Christianity. A small number of the population practice the Muslim faith, often brought about by immigrants from predominantly Malawi who practice Islam. There is also a small population of Jews. An example of a colonially constructed meaning of the Shona religion is found in the works of Gelfand, an anthropologist. Gelfand said the afterlife in Shona religion is not another world (like the Christian heaven and hell) but another form of existence in this world. This is not true. When people die, they join another world, and that world is not on earth, although like in Christianity, some of those people can interact with living beings in different ways. He further wrongly concluded that the Shona attitude towards dead ancestors is very similar to their attitude towards living parents and grandparents. [18] The Bira ceremony, which often lasts all night, summons spirits for guidance and help in the same manner daily, weekly or all night Christian ceremonies summon spirits for guidance and help. In this analysis, Gelfand and Hannan, both whites, and part of the colonial establishment, forgot that the Christian doctrine treats dead prophets, biblical figures and living 'holy people' in much the same way. In fact in the Christian community, some of the prophets, figures and 'holy people' are revered more than biological parents. In fact, in colonial Zimbabwe, converts were taught to disrespect their families and tribes, because of a promise of a new family and tribe in Christianity. This is ironic.

In Zimbabwe, (mutupo) (plural mitupo) wrongly called totems by colonial missionaries and athropologists have been used by the Shona people since their culture developed. Mitupo are an elaborate was of identifying clans and sub-clans. They help to avoid incest, and they also build solidarity and identity. There are more than 25 mitupo in Zimbabwe. In marriage, mitupo help create a strong identity for children but it serves another function of ensuring that people marry someone they know. In shona this is explained by the proverb rooranai vematongo which means marry or have a relationship with someone that you know. However, as a result of colonisation, urban areas and migration resulted in people mixing and others having relationships of convenience with people they do not know. This results in unwanted pregnancies and also unwanted babies some of whom are dumped or abandoned. This may end up with children without mutupo. This phenomena has resulted in numerous challenges for communities but also for the children who lacks part of their identity. Though it is possible for a child to be adopted and receive "mutupo". [19] [20]

Headrests in Glencairn's Egyptian Collection: Practicality and Protection

Limestone figure of a sleeping woman using a headrest in the collection of Glencairn Museum (E1219).

Glencairn Museum’s Egyptian collection features several objects related to the weres, or headrest, an ancient Egyptian pillow made of wood. Visitors to Glencairn’s Egyptian Gallery often wonder what it would be like to sleep on a wooden pillow, so we decided to indulge in a bit of “experimental archaeology.” We actually gave it a try—and we have the pictures to prove it!

Headrests were believed to magically protect the sleeper at night, and also eternally after death. In this essay for Glencairn Museum News, Dr. Jennifer Houser Wegner, Associate Curator in the Egyptian Section of the Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania), explains both the practical and magical functions of the ancient Egyptian headrest.

Much of what we know about ancient Egyptian household furnishings comes to us from grave goods buried with the deceased for use in the afterlife. While certain tomb goods were made specifically for the burial, many other objects placed in tombs were used by the deceased during their lifetimes. This material includes articles like jewelry and weaponry, stone and ceramic vessels, clothing, and household furnishings like beds, chairs and chests.

Figure 1: Glencairn’s collection includes a simply carved wooden headrest from ancient Egypt (E1149) with traces of painted decoration.

Figure 2: Several 20th-century African headrests in the collection of Glencairn Museum.

Figure 3: An example of a stoneware Chinese headrest in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Gift of Nasli M. Heeramaneck (M.73.48.83). Image courtesy of

One category of household furnishings—the headrest—looks remarkable to the modern American eye (Figure 1). However, headrests may not seem unusual to modern peoples in other parts of the world who make use of objects like these on a daily basis. For example, headrests are still used today by some African groups (Figure 2). The ancient Egyptian equivalent of a pillow, the headrest was used to support the head while sleeping. Broadly speaking, cultures—both ancient and modern—who use headrests share some characteristics that might make the use of this type of head support more practical. We see the use of headrests in climates that are hot. By lifting the head and neck above the sleeping surface, air currents can flow under the head and cool the sleeper. Groups whose cultural expressions involve the wearing of elaborate hairstyles also make use of headrests to protect their coiffures from being disturbed during sleep. For example, we find the use of ceramic “pillows” (Figure 3) during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE) in China when elaborate female hairstyles were in vogue. Another practical consideration may have to do with pest control. Cloth pillows or bolsters padded with organic materials may inadvertently encourage insect infestations in certain environments. It can be assumed that all three of these factors would have been of concern to people living along the banks of the Nile thousands of years ago.

Figure 4: Headrests were made of a variety of materials, including wood, ceramic, and stone. Here from the collection at the British Museum (EA30413) is an elegant example of an Old Kingdom (ca. 2300 BCE) headrest fashioned from calcite (also known as Egyptian Alabaster). Image courtesy of The British Museum.

Headrests have been found in Egyptian tomb assemblages from the Early Dynastic Period (3000-2625 BCE) through the Ptolemaic Period (ca. 305-30 BCE), attesting to their long use in ancient Egypt. Examples found in museum collections around the world are made from a variety of materials such as wood, ceramic, ivory, and stone (Figure 4). While there is variation in form, there are some design elements that are standard. The headrest has a flat base that is typically wider than the upper portion, and the headrest features a concave section on its upper side used to cradle the head of its user.

Figure 5: Hatnefer’s Chair, Rogers Fund, 1936, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 36.3.152. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

For the ancient Egyptians, however, the headrest was imbued with more than just a pragmatic application. Religious and magical beliefs permeated all aspects of Egyptian life, and objects created for use in day-to-day life (as well as objects created specifically for burial) often had a religious or magical purpose as well as a utilitarian function. Often this magical protection came from the form of, or decoration on, the object. Household furnishings such as beds, chests and chairs were decorated with hieroglyphic motifs that afforded wishes for protection. For instance, there is a chair in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that belonged to a woman named Hatnefer (Figure 5) who lived during the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt’s New Kingdom (ca. 1492–1473 BCE). This wooden chair with a woven cord seat is decorated along the back with a series of protective images. In the center is the god Bes. Unusual in appearance, he was a dwarflike god with somewhat gruesome leonine features. Despite his outwardly threatening-looking visage—he also usually brandishes knives and sticks out his tongue—he was a protector of the home. Alternating djed pillars and tyet amulets flank the image of the deity. The djed pillar represented stability and had associations with the god Osiris. The tyet amulet, another protective image, was closely connected with the goddess Isis. These images would have acted magically to safeguard the person sitting on the chair.

Figure 6: Mirror with a Hathor head handle, Fletcher Fund, 1919, 1920, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 26.8.97. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

Another example of a common type of household object that often displays a religious or magical motif is the mirror. The goddess Hathor was a protector of women and a goddess of fertility, sexuality, and love. Mirror handles frequently took the form of a Hathor head (Figure 6). One can imagine a woman using this mirror and hoping to see an image that reflected the beauty of this goddess while offering the user her divine protection.

Figure 7: Jewelry Chest of Sithathoryunet, Purchase, Rogers Fund and Henry Walters Gift, 1916, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 16.1.1. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. This wooden jewelry chest combines Hathoric imagery on its lid and elongated djed pillars along the sides. These decorations, while aesthetically pleasing, also had deeper religious meaning.

Figure 8: The Egyptian word for “headrest” in hieroglyphs.

Figure 9: The Egyptian word for “awaken” in hieroglyphs.

Figure 10: The Egyptian hieroglyph for "horizon."

The decoration of these objects has a practical function, combined with a magical or religious component designed to protect the user by associating them with the deity or concept referenced in the decoration (or shape) of the object (Figure 7). We can see this intention clearly with the form and design of the ancient Egyptian headrest. The ancient Egyptian word for “headrest” was wrs (Figure 8). This word may be related to rs, the word for “to awaken” (Figure 9). It has been observed that the shape of most Egyptian headrests echoes the form of the hieroglyph for “horizon,” the akhet, where the sun is reborn each day (Figure 10). When one considers this hieroglyph, one can see the similarity of this shape to that of a person’s head resting atop a headrest. Just as the horizon is the location of the birth of the sun (and therefore, the sun god) anew each morning, the headrest could magically be thought of as the location of its user’s (continual) rebirth— after sleeping while alive, and eternally after death. Perhaps, too, there could be an assimilation with the sun (the circle in the akhet horizon hieroglyph, representing Re, the sun god) with the head of the sleeper, and consequently the individual is connected in a special way with the sun god.

Figure 11: One of eight headrests found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, this elaborately carved ivory headrest depicts the god Shu supporting the carved element where the king’s head would have rested. This headrest is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (JE620-20). Photo courtesy of Jon Bodsworth.

Figure 12: Magical amulets in the form of headrests were popular during Egypt’s Late Period (662-332 BCE). Glencairn has an example of one of these amulets (E519) in its collection made of hematite, a dark stone.

A particularly evocative version of this concept can be seen on a headrest from the tomb of Tutankhamun. The boy king was buried with eight headrests, including one designed with its support pillar in the shape of a male figure lifting up the curved part of the headrest (Figure 11). This figure may represent Shu, the god of air. A set of lions, perhaps depicting Ruty, the guardians of the horizon, adorn the base. Tutankhamun’s other headrests include examples made of wood, and also a blue glass exemplar adorned with gilding. In addition to the full-scale headrests, amongst the many protective amulets adorning the king’s mummy was a small iron amulet in the form of a headrest, placed beneath his head. This type of amulet became common in non-royal burials in the Late Period (664-332 BCE) before that, however, it seems the headrest amulet was reserved only for royal burials. Glencairn has an example of one of these later non-royal headrest amulets (Figure 12), which are often crafted of a dark stone.

Figure 13: Headrests were often decorated with images of protective deities like Bes and Taweret. This limestone headrest from the British Museum (EA63783) bears images of the god Bes. The hieroglyphic inscription running down the center identifies the owner of the headrest, a man named Qeniherkhepeshef who lived in the village of Deir el Medina during Egypt’s Nineteenth Dynasty (ca. 1200 BCE). Image courtesy of The British Museum.

Figure 14: Ivory headrest with support carved in the shape of the tyet, or Isis knot, from the British Museum (EA30727). Image courtesy of The British Museum.

Even headrests that are not as explicit in their decoration as Tutankhamun’s example were often decorated with protective imagery. A common engraved or incised motif on headrests is an image of the god Bes (as is noted on the chair of Hatnefer referenced above). Bes was a protective deity whose role involved the protection of the home, mothers and children, and sleeping people. He was an apotropaic force whose fearsome looks drove away evil. A sleeping person is a particularly vulnerable individual, and the Egyptians hoped that images of Bes would offer defense against nighttime evils (Figure 13). Other popular protective imagery found on headrests includes images of the equally fearsome looking goddess Taweret, and the Isis knot, also known as the tyet (Figure 14). Protection of the head and a connection with the headrest is also seen in various funerary spells. Funerary texts known as the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead are comprised of hundreds of magical spells designed to help the deceased make a successful passage into the afterlife. A handful of these spells make explicit reference to the headrest and compare it with the sun’s rising in the horizon. Coffin Text 232 reads: “A spell for the head-rest. May your head be raised, may your brow be made to live, may you speak for your own body, may you be a god, may you always be a god” (Translation from R. O. Faulkner). Book of the Dead spell 166 states that it is a “Spell for a headrest (to be put under the head of Osiris N.). Doves awake thee from sleep they alert thee to the horizon. Raise thyself, (for) thou dost triumph over what was done against thee. Ptah has over-thrown thy enemies. It has been commanded to act against him who acted against thee. Thou art Horus the son of Hathor, the (fiery) Cobra (of) the (fiery) Cobra group, to whom a head was given after it was cut off. Thy head cannot be taken from thee hereafter thy head can never be taken from (thee).” (Translation from T. G. Allen).

Figure 15: Limestone figure of a woman sleeping on her left side, her head supported by a headrest. In the collection of Glencairn Museum (E1219).


Shona Sculpture from Zimbabwe is one of the main focuses of Hemingway Gallery, which was the first gallery to import the monumental stone sculpture to the United States. Brian Gaisford grew up with the Shona artists in Zimbabwe before 1975. Zimbabwe is the only African country with large amounts of carvable stone. The stone was so important to the people of Zimbabwe that the word 'Shona' is derived from a word from their native language that means 'house of stone.' There is no technical artistic training in Shona sculpture. Sculpting skills are passed down through families and the large and hard stones are carved with only hammer and chisel and no modern power tools are used. Themes articulated in stone stem from several beliefs and cultures in the everyday Shona society. These include mythology, rituals, and spiritual ideology. In the words of Bernard Matemera, one of the founders of this movement: "The spirits are everywhere in the air, in the rocks. A rock is like a fruit - like an orange or a banana. You don't eat them without peeling them first. It needs to be opened to be eaten. I open the rocks. The fruit is inside."

Works from first generation Shona sculptors such as Henry Munyaradzi, Sylvestor Mubayi, Josiah Manzi, Bernard Takawira, Nicholas Mukomberanwa, and Bernard Matemera, are much sought after by art collectors worldwide. Hemingway Gallery has had a close relationship with these artists and continues the relationship with the last surviving first generation sculptures (Josiah Manzi and Sylvester Mubayi) and the subsequent generations of artists. Hemingway African Gallery was the first gallery to import Shona sculpture into the United States. It continues as the largest wholesale importer of Zimbabwean art including monumental sculptures that other importers shy away from.

Kuba Headrest

LCK 0615-8 Antique Kuba Headrest, Congo H: 16,5 cm (6,5″) Headrests (or neckrests) are used by many nomadic people in Africa while resting or sleeping. It is popularly believed that the headrest serves a protective function by elevating the head off the ground (and sleeping mat) during sleep, thereby preventing any possible attack by &hellip Continue reading Kuba Headrest &rarr

Imposing sculpture by famous ‘first generation’ Shona sculptor John Takawira – Dona – main image ‘Sister-in-Law’ by famous first generation sculptor Bernard Takawira from Zimbabwe – front

Shona People Traditions & Culture


The Shona tribe is Zimbabwe's largest indigenous group, their tribal language is also called Shona (Bantu) and their population is around 9 million. They are found in Zimbabwe, Botswana and southern Mozambique in Southern Africa and bordering South Africa. Representing over 80% of the population, the Shona tribe is culturally the most dominate tribe in Zimbabwe. There are five main Shona language groups: Korekore, Zeseru, Manyika, Ndau, and Karanga. The Ndebele largely absorbed the last of these groups when they moved into western Zimbabwe in the 1830s.

Traditionally, Shona people live in isolated settlements, usually consisting of one or more elder men and their extended families. Most decisions are made within the family, although organized political states were recognized as a source of centralized power. A principal chief who inherited his position and power in the same divine manner as a king headed them. He usually lived in a centralized location and was complemented by his court that advised him about most important decisions. The head chief often received substantial payment in the form of tributes from his constituency.

The Shona believe in two types of spirits. Shave spirits are most often considered to be outside or wandering spirits and vadzimu are ancestor spirits. Shave spirits are connected to populations living outside of Shona territory and may be connected to neighboring people. These spirits may be either malevolent or benevolent. Bad spirits are associated with witchcraft, while good spirits may inspire individual talents associated with healing, music, or artistic ability. Vadzimu represent all that is ideal and moral about a Shona way of life. They are usually associated with recent ancestors or with more remote culture heroes whose exact genealogy has been forgotten. They serve to protect society, but may withdraw this protection if the Shona moral ideals are not respected

It was in the late 19th century that the peoples of this area speaking several mutually intelligible languages were united under the Shona name. Although known for their stone sculpture, the Shona Tribe of Zimbabwe has a rich artistic heritage, which includes decorative fabric painting using sadza too. Sadza (pronounced sudza) is Maize, a primary basis of their diet. Maize (corn) is ground into a fine meal, which is then cooked with water until it is the consistency of mashed potato. Although eaten plain, sadza is often served with a vegetable or meat sauce to give it flavor. This painting technique uses the sadza instead of wax as a masking between the different paint colors. After painting, the canvas is left to dry in the sun. Finally, the fabric is washed to remove the sadza leaving it with a unique finished appearance. Designs often use traditional geometric patterns mixed with stylized objects from everyday Shona life

Shona artist are well known for their stone sculptures and are typically called "Shona" sculptures because it is the name of the tribe in Zimbabwe that has traditionally created these works of art. The stone carving has been part of the Zimbabwean culture since 1200 AD when Great Zimbabwe, an archaeological masterpiece of their early ancestors, was built.
The re-emergence of this stone carving tradition in the 1950s, the solid forms and beautiful surfaces of Shona sculpture express an extraordinary emotional power". Today the art form commands worldwide recognition with the world's most talented carvers being recognized in Zimbabwe
The Shona sculptures are produced from a variety of stones. Serpentine stone, with its considerable range of colors and hardness, is the material most commonly used by the sculptors. Most serpentine stone used was formed over 2.6 billion years ago. Serpentine stone exists in a diversity of colors including black (the hardest and least common), browns, mauves, greens, and yellows. Sometimes sculptures are also made semi-precious stones like "Leopard Rock" and Verdite.

Drawing on ancient sculpting traditions they have produced a modern art movement of dignified, exquisite works. Reminiscent of Picasso and Henry Moore, these extraordinary, intense works speak to all humanity.

Watch the video: Car Seat Headrest - Twin Fantasy Full Album (November 2022).

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