Headrest, 19th–20th century
Uganda; Karimoja peoples
Wood, copper, pigment
8 15/16 x 13 1/4 x 4 1/8 in. (22.8 x 33.7 x 10.5 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1972 (1978.412.643)
The use of headrests in southern Africa is ancient and has been traced as far back as the twelfth-century archaeological site of Mapungubwe, an urban center along the Limpopo River. There, evidence of gold sheeting believed to have adorned a long-disintegrated wooden headrest has been recovered.
While headrests are designed to serve a functional purpose—to support the head while sleeping in order to protect elaborate hairstyles—their intimate connection with their owners is such that they are also seen as precious vehicles for communicating with an ancestral realm. In many instances, such artifacts are buried with their owners along with other personal items.