- Tribe: Kuba
- Origin: DRC
- Approx Age: Late 20th Century
- Materials: Raffia, Cloth, Cowrie Shells, Beads
- Dimensions cm: 15 diameter
- Ref. Number: 0888
A lovely Kuba Laket hat from the Kuba Kingdom DRC. The frame of this cap is made of vegetable fibers using basketry techniques. Inside the hat has been covered with a cloth fabric where as the outside has then been adorned completely with small cowrie shells. A string of both black and white beads have been attached around the top.
Among the Kuba, such caps are known under the generic name of laket. They are worn by Kuba nobles (Mbeemy and Mbeengy) and princes as symbols of their high rank. Kuba hats such as this were worn as a part of daily attire and also as ceremonial hats. They were also part of their regalia and play the role of emblem of the status and social rank. They also intend to demonstrate royal health and power.
Established as a confederacy of chiefdom by the seventeenth century, Kuba society is organized into eighteen distinct subgroups, each of which has an internal political hierarchy. One’s elite status within the hierarchy was underscored by such headgear. Classified generally as laket, small raffia caps signified both personal and cultural identity and function as the primary means of communicating one’s status within the local political hierarchy. While primarily worn by titleholding men, conical or scalloped-edged laket were also worn by some female dignitaries. Laket are given to their owners at a variety of stages in life: they are first received upon the completion of initiation as a sign of one’s adult status and readiness for marriage. Later, more elaborate models are gifted to individuals along with titles and praise names as a sign of their personal achievement. Cowrie-covered examples belonged to individuals of the highest ranking titles in a given village. As the shells and glass beads were imported, they were a costly luxury commodity in scarce supply. This laket was produced by a Bushoong artist, a member of an elite Kuba subgroup known for its elaborate royal regalia and textiles. Men were not only the primary patrons of prestige caps, but also their authors. At the time this hat was created, weaving raffia palm fiber was a male vocation among the Kuba.
Kristen Windmuller-Luna, 2016
Sylvan C. Coleman and Pam Coleman Memorial Fund Fellow in the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas