A beaded cone-shaped crown with a long fringe of beads that covers the wearer's face is the most important symbol of Yoruba kingship. Beaded crowns signify that the king-wearer can trace his ancestry to Odudua, the mythical founder of the sixteen original Yoruba kingdoms.
This crown, formed by starched cotton placed over a basketry structure, is decorated with beaded faces, birds and geometric patterns. The faces represent local kings, past and present. The gathering of birds refers both to rituals that make the king semidivine and to the concealed forces that enable him to control and mediate the human and supernatural realms. Interlace patterns called salubata are associated with royalty or leadership. Their meaning is debatable, although the pattern may depict intertwining snakes, symbols of continuity. The veil protects the king's subjects from the supernatural powers radiating from his face.
According to the crown makers of Efon-Alaiye, the earliest crowns were decorated with beads of one color. No examples survive of the first crowns, made with blue segi (Aggrey beads). The next crowns were decorated with red coral beads, which the Portuguese introduced in the late 15th century. Such crowns are rare. Crowns are now decorated with brilliantly colored glass beads, which have been imported from Europe probably since the mid-17th century.
A Yoruba king might have several different beaded crowns and caps to wear for particular occasions. Like human beings, each ritual crown has its own oriki (chanted attributes or oral history).
Conical beaded crown with netted bead veil, strands of beads and straps with beaded birds. The crown is decorated with two frontal faces, interlace panels and seperately constructed three-dimensional birds.
Milton F. and Frieda Rosenthal, Westchester, New York, ca. 1989 to 1994
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