House of the Head

House of the HeadBGwebThis Yoruba object from Nigeria is known as a house of the head, or ile ori.  The Yoruba believe that the head is the seat of a life force that determines a person’s essential nature and destiny.  The house of the head shrine is designed to contain a person’s inner spiritual essence.  It is the focus of rituals and offerings to ensure good fortune and an ideal fate.  The Museum’s house of the head is made of cloth embellished with colored glass beads.

The shrine is the featured object for this year’s Save Our Hide conservation fundraising drive.  Click here for more information on the Conservation Fund and how you can help!

Day of the Dead Sculptures


Papier-mâché sculpture is a popular Mexican folk art.  Skeleton figures like these are especially sought out for the Day of the Dead, and these pieces are currently on exhibit in Life After Death: The Day of the Dead in Mexico.  These figures represent Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.  The design is based on one of Kahlo’s paintings, shown at the bottom right of this photo.  The bases of the individual figures fit together to form a heart.  The sculptures were made by Felipe Linares Mendoza.  The Linares family is famous for their papier-mâché sculptures, and pieces of theirs are featured in museums around the world.

Kuba Mask

Mbwoom webxThis Kuba mask, known as Mbwoom, is predominately made of carved wood with cowrie shell and bead embellishments. The Kuba people live in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Masks of this type are from the Kuba royal court, and are worn in dances during important festivities.  The mask serves to send appeals to the ancestors.  There are three main mythical characters represented in Kuba royal masks: Woot, the original Kuba king, Woot’s sister/wife, and a pygmy commoner who tried to lure the king’s wife away, symbolized by the Mbwoom mask.

Top and Rope

Malaysia Top webThis hand carved wooden top, known as a gasing, is from Sarawak, Malaysia.  It is used in a traditional game of competition, whereby the top is spun on the ground, using the special rope, and the winner of the competition is the person whose gasing spins the longest.  The specially woven rope, used with the gasing, has a unique tapered diameter, thicker at the end that is held in the hand and tapering down to the end that is wrapped around the gasing.  The gasing is thrown, by hand, and the rope is jerked back creating a spin of the top. Another competition using the gasing, is where one competitor tries to knock the other competitors’ gasing out of a ring that is drawn on the ground.  This gasing is made of a very dense, local hardwood.

Palm Spathe

PalmSpathe web

The spathe is the woody part of a palm tree that surrounds the flower.  Cultures in tropical areas use this part of the tree for a variety of purposes.
This palm spathe is from Saragum Village in the East Sepik River Province of Papua New Guinea.  It features an image of a sitting male figure.  Painted palm spathes of this type are used to decorate the front of a men’s house, also known as Haus Tambaran, a building where the men of the village negotiate with the spirit world to assure the villagers’ security and good fortune.

Dogon Ladder

Dogon LadderThe Dogon people of Mali create ladders by carving wedges into tree trunks that fork at the top.  The notches serve as footholds, while the fork at the top stabilizes the ladder.  The Dogon use ladders to climb to their traditional cliff dwellings and to raised granaries.