ARNOLDI, Mary Jo and Christine Mullen KREAMER (eds., 1995). Crowning Achievements: African Arts of Dressing the Head, Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. ISBN 978-0930741433, Softcover, 192 pp. fully illustrated with colour and black/white photographs, bibliography. Price: US$ 62 (ex. postage).
This is a fascinating book which looks at the many different types of adorning the head throughout Africa. While there is a chapter on hair styles, and another wonderful photographic gallery of barber signs from 1970-1990, the book concentrates on headwear: hats, caps, wigs, diadems, head wraps, etc. The sheer variety of headwear, from Pokot mud caps (Kenya), to South African shaman wigs, to the turbans and face veils of Tuareg men, is stunning. So too is the variety of materials used: raffia, cotton, felt, gourds, mud, sequins, beads, buttons, wood, teeth, fur, metal—and the list goes on.
Most importantly the contributors explore the significance of head wear. The leopard skin cap of President Mobutu (former Zaire) is a statement of pure power, from the material to the shape itself, based as it is on the caps of French and Belgian police. African headwear can show gender, marital status, age, social rank, affiliation, religion, wealth, profession and more. There are specific chapters on Yoruba headties, Lega hats, Kuba headdresses, and transatlantic influences in headwear.
Recommendation: This book will interest curators and anyone interested in African dress and headwear.