Dinka hat

Dinka hat
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1890
Plant Fibre , Cowrie Shell , Shell , Glass , Bead , Textile , Cotton Yarn Plant
Basketry , Coiled , Wound , Covered , Woven , Stitched Strung Beadwork Knotted
Ht = 120, diam apex hole = 18, diam base ext = 230, diam base int. = 225; th walls = 5.7; tassel L = 180; black bead diam = 4, white shells L = 10; cowrie shells L = 14 to 25; spotted beads L = 12, diam = 10.5, red beads L = 6.8, diam = 9 mm [RTS 21/2/20
568.7 g
Other Owners:
Collected by William Ernest Taylor while working for the Church Missionary Society in East Africa, and purchased from his widow Catherine Taylor after his death in October 1927 [RTS 10/2/2005].
Field Collector:
William Ernest Taylor, Church Missionary Society
PRM Source:
Catherine Taylor
Purchased December 1927
Collected Date:
1882 - 1890?
Basketry hat consisting of a framework of coiled plant fibres, wrapped around with flat strips of palm and woven into a conical body, with a hole left at the apex, that could have been originally used to attach a plume, although there is nothing there now. This has been covered both inside and out with a piece of light brown coloured textile (approximately Pantone 7504C) made of a simple checkweave (over 1, under 1), held in place by several long stitches in black cotton thread (Pantone Black 6C). There are traces of a reddish brown material on the inside surfaces, possibly ochre, and the cloth has torn near the interior apex, exposing the basketry beneath. A small suspension loop has been sewn into the inside edge of the brim, from yellow and buff coloured thread. The outer surface of the hat is covered with rows of white cowrie shells, each with their backs removed and set with their bases facing outwards, sewn onto the body with a buff coloured thread. Each cowrie is fastened at either end. The upper rows have been arranged in a spiral pattern; by the fourth row down from the top, each row is a complete circle. The shells are graduated, so that those at the top of the hat are quite small, and they gradually increase in length towards the centre, before becoming smaller again towards the lower edge of the hat. Two thirds the way down the body, there is additional decoration in the form of 6 groups of glass beads, strung in sets of 4 beads each, arranged in a single row around the circumference. These are strung on black thread, and consist of 2 spherical black glass beads with opaque white spots, flanked by 2 short barrel-shaped beads with convex sides in opaque bright red glass (Pantone 1805C). On one of these beads, the white spots have partly fallen off; another bead is of the same design, but has a dark red body rather than a black one (Pantone 4695C). The base of the hat is further embellished with 13 strings of beads that are sewn onto the edge and which hang down as tassels. These consist of groups of 3 small white shells on individual threads; these threads then combine and pass through a group of between 2 and 4 opaque black ring beads, with these groups of white and black beads alternating with one another down the length of the string. At its base, each has a separate tassel attached, with a spherical head and a thick body of loose threads. The object is nearly complete, but some of the strands in the tassels have broken and a few shells seem to be missing. It has a weight of 568.7 grams, and is 120 mm high. The hole at the apex has a diameter of 18 mm, while the external base diameter is 230 mm and the internal diameter is 225 mm. The walls have a thickness of 5.7 mm. A typical tassel is 180 mm long, with the black ring beads having diameters of 4 mm, and the white shells being 10 mm in length. The cowrie shells have variable lengths, ranging from 14 to 25 mm; the black and white spotted beads are 12 mm long and 10.5 mm wide, while the bright red beads have a length of 6.8 mm and diameters of 9 mm.

Collected by William Ernest Taylor while working for the Church Missionary Society in East Africa, and purchased from his widow Catherine Taylor after his death in October 1927. Although museum records state that this object wa collected between 1882 and 1890, it is not clear where this information came from. If it was provided by the widow, it should be noted that this period was before Taylor married Catherine, so the collection dates cannot have come from her direct personal knowledge. In addition, his activities for the Church Missionary Society did not seem to take him to East Equatorial Africa until after this period; he was examining chaplain to the Bishop of that region in 1895, he was working in Cairo from 1896, is recorded as visiting Omdurman in 1900, and was a missionary for the society in Khartoum for a brief period in 1903. It seems more likely that this item was collected during this later part of his career.

There are doubts about whether this hat has been correctly attributed to the Dinka, although the accession record does seem quite specific, in terms of both attribution and use. Cowrie shells are not common objects in Dinka material culture, while this shape of hat and the use of cowries is more usual for groups in the Congo.

Rachael Sparks 30/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [BIV, p. 88] - 1927 [insert] 84 [end insert] MRS W.E. TAYLOR Dec. Specimens collected in EAST AFRICA by the late Rev[erand]. W.E. Taylor between 1882 and 1890, viz: [p. 92, insert] 83 [end insert] - Conical hat, covered with cowrie shells & with shell & bead pendants, worn by a young man, DINKA, UPPER NILE [...] [summary at end of group 1927.84.1-87] P[ai]d by cheque, 30 Dec. 1927 £ 4-10-0 .
Added Accession Book Entry [page opposite 92] - number given.

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 19/2/2004].

?Pre-PRM label - 119 [stuck on interior of hat].

Pitt Rivers Museum label - Young man's hat, decorated with cowries & shell & bead pendants. DINKA, UPPER NILE. Coll. by Rev. W.E. Taylor, C.M.S. Pur. 1927 (Mr Taylor) [rectangular metal-edged tag, tied to object; RTS 9/2/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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