The Kuba kingdom, founded in the early seventeenth century in the central part of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, is made up of several different ethnicities that pay tribute to a king (nyim). The first nyim was the legendary Shyaam-a-Mbul Ngwoong, from the Bushoong subgroup, who is said to have introduced the administrative and political structures that continue today. Hats and headdresses are the most visible expression of one's standing within the intricate Kuba system of leadership and titleholding.(34)
Male and female titleholders wear prestige hats and headdresses on ceremonial occasions and at funerals.(35) The most senior male titleholders wear the kalyeem (see 1997.88), a cone-shaped hat elaborately decorated with beads and cowrie shells (fig. 26). Two or more beaded panels hang from a small inverted cone on top of the hat. The Dallas kalyeem is distinguished by the addition of conus shells and brass bells. The hat supports innumerable strands of white beads with cowrie pendants, and the chevron-patterned panels, which ascend and flow from the sides of the central form, are edged with cowries.
Senior female titleholders wear the mpaan, which combines the conical shape of the kalyeem with a rigid semicircular half-crown shape. The mpaan is decorated with beads and cowrie shells and may be further embellished with feathers. A beaded stem projects from the crown of the Dallas mpaan, and the lateral forehead band is extended by three-dimensional cowrie and bead-embroidered rectangles.
Used as part of one's funeral display, these symbols of status were not inherited by family members but usually buried, along with other emblems, with the deceased.
The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art, cat. 16, pp. 76-77.
35. Darish, Patricia, and David A. Binkley. “Headdresses and Titleholding Among the Kuba.” In Crowning Achievements: African Arts of Dressing the Head, edited by Mary Jo Arnoldi and Christine Mullen Kreamer, 158–69. Los Angeles: University of California, Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1995. p. 168.