Hairdos and Head Ornaments from Angola

Inbal Livne, Head of Collections at Quex Park, Rachel Heminway-Hurst, Project Manager, and I have now looked at a broad selection of objects in the Powell Cotton collection from south-west Angola. These include domestic objects, tools and weapons, baskets, small figures, smoking pipes, and quite a number of personal ornaments.

Most of the pieces are made of organic materials, and show the  ingenuity of their makers (mostly women?), such as the necklace of minutely worked sections of scented root fibres (see A36/676). Some of the head ornaments and figures showing forms of hairdressing  (eg A36/2521,  a small female figure with an elaborate hairstyle, from Dombondola) serve to illustrate the relevance of a comment in the catalogue for the collections of the Lisbon Overseas Museum of Ethnology, made to highlight some head ornaments:

“Hairdos and head adornments have a special importance for the people of Southwest Angola because they are a sign distinguishing the various groups, while at the same time they point the position of an individual within her own group. So, in order to become a hairdresser it is not only necessary to go through an apprenticeship but it is also essential that the spirit of an ancestor and a former professional manifest itself. Often, hairdo is the only way to find out to which group an individual belongs. Conditions like widowhood, pre and post puberty rites, proximity of marriage, mourning, etc are transmitted by many of the peoples of the southwest through their hairdo. These hairdos are so aesthetically rich that one gains the impression that the whole potentiality of beauty was channeled towards them.” 

The maize cob core collected in 1936 from the Luvando people of Kanguli village, the fringe which has been used as a practice piece for dressing the hair (see A37/333), is a rare piece of evidence of how much care goes into this activity.”

Project Consultant Len Pole

A36676 necklace

Root fibre necklace, Angola A36/676.

Small female figure with elaborate hairstyle, Dombondola, Angola A36/2521.

Small female figure with elaborate hairstyle, Dombondola, Angola A36/2521.

Maize cob with plaited 'fringe' A37/333.

Maize cob with plaited ‘fringe’ A37/333.


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