15 African Headdresses: A Crown for Every Craft

By National Museums of Kenya

The African headdress


The African headdress is an elaborate piece of art worn on the head to denote one's high position in society. People in leadership positions, administrators or spiritual leaders, and sometimes the wealthy in society, often wore headdresses on special occasions.

Maasai MoransNational Museums of Kenya

Feathers, animal skin, or hides


A large majority of traditional headdresses were designed to rise in height from the crown of the head, and often included items such as feathers, animal skin or hides. Sometimes the headdresses were decorated with bead work, embroidery, paint, leaf fronds, porcupine quills or other animal parts.

HeaddressNational Museums of Kenya

Adornment: a social and functional perspective of headgear


In as much as most African headdresses had a profound cultural meaning attached, some were worn purely for their glamour during social appearances – for instance, during dances. Others were worn purely for their ability to shield the wearer against the elements as they carried on with their day to day activities

HeaddressNational Museums of Kenya

Symbols of leadership


Various communities had a specific headdress which reflected that the wearer had attained an exceptional level of authority and wisdom. Consequently, such gear was reserved only for the chiefs and elders of the community.


Explore Kenyan culture through these 15 African headdresses...

Kenya EssayLIFE Photo Collection

1: Turkana chief headdress


This is a Turkana chief in ceremonial headdress made of ostrich feathers.

Turkana Chief's Headdress by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

2: Pokot elder headdress


A Pokot elder wearing an ostrich feather headdress.

Pokot elder by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

3: Mbeere elder headdress


A Mbeere elder wearing ostrich feather headgear, signifying his social status.

Elderly Mbeere Man by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

4: Borana chief headdress


A Borana chief wearing a traditional turban and an ostrich feather. The chieftaincy was denoted by the metal phallic symbol worn on his forehead, which is referred to as Kalacha. These and other items were symbols of leadership.

Borana Chief by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

5: Maasai warrior headdress


A Maasai warrior wearing a headdress made of lion mane, which symbolises bravery.

Maasai Warrior Headdress by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

6: Maasai warrior headdress


A Maasai warrior, commonly referred to as a moran, in ceremonial regalia and traditional weaponry. His headdress is made of ostrich feathers and cow skin. It is sewn using leather thongs and has a leather strap to keep it in place when worn. These were worn by the Maasai morans who had gone through circumcision.

Maasai Warrior by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

7: Pokot warrior headdress


A Pokot warrior wearing a headdress made of hair and clay.

Pokot Warrior by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

8: Kadam warrior headdress


A high ranking warrior, as indicated by the red feathers and the arrangement of his headdress. The tattoo on his right side means that he has killed a man in battle.

High-ranking warrior by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

9: Njemps warrior headdress


A Njemps warrior wearing a lion mane headgear and holding a leather shield and spear.

Njemps Armed Warrior by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

10: Kisa basketry headdress


A Kisa man wearing a ceremonial outfit comprising of a basketry headdress decked with skin and feathers, and a leopard skin cloak.

Kisa Ceremonial Outfit by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

11: Pokot warrior headdress


A Pokot warrior dressed up for a dance.

Dancing Outfit by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

12: Mbeere warrior headdress


A Mbeere warrior in ceremonial wear, white ochre paintings, and ostrich feather headgear.

Mbeere Warrior by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

13:Turkana elder attire


A Turkana elder dressed for a dance. His headdress is made of ostrich feathers.

Turkana Elder attire by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

14: Samia headdress


A Samia man adorned in ceremonial wear and bead necklaces.

Samia Ceremonial Outfit by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

15: Samia headdress


Samia warrior dressed in a ceremonial skirt and headdress, and armed with a shield and spear.

Samia Warrior by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Credits: Story

Learn more about the National Museums of Kenya by visiting our website.

Exhibit Curators: Immelda Kithuka, Archivist.imuoti@museums.or.ke and Mercy Gakii,Cultural Expert, Cultural Heritage Department.
mkinyua@museums.or.ke

Photography and Creative Direction: Gibson Maina and Muturi Kanini. Gibs Photography

Exhibit Layout: Barnabas Ngei.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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