Gurage Gouraghe Headrest

  • Tribe: Gourage /Gouraghe
  • Origin: Ethiopia
  • Approx Age: Mid 20th Century
  • Materials: Wood
  • Dimensions cm: 16 tall
  • Ref. Number: 1083

Impressively carved Gurage Gouraghe Headrest from Ethopia. Made of a single piece of wood and very highly carved with a pattern of both rings and small squares. A lot of time and care having been taken to decorate the stem of this Gurage headrest being shown not only by the intricate design but also by the colouring in both an orange and red pigment highlighting its fascinating design. The orange colouration could possibly be the natural wood colour. Showing good signs of being used and also cherished as at some time this beautiful headrest has undergone a repair. Overall this lovely headrest is an endearing piece of Gurage tribal art.

The headrest is an important piece of everyday art that is not only used as a place to rest ones head but can and is also used as a seat. Often headrests have the purpose not only to rest a head on but as a means of protection for some of the elaborate hair styles/coiffures  that many african tribes display. In many parts of central, western, and southern Africa, headrests were carved by their owners; while others were exquisitely crafted by professional carvers. These headrests often supported elaborate coiffures that were far too complex and time consuming to restyle on a daily basis. Hair was intricately braided or embellished with clay, beads, and other decorative materials. Small, wooden supports protected these styles during sleep, helping to preserve a hairstyle for weeks or even months at a time. Being of the size they are it make the headrest very portable and hence can be taken anywhere with ease.

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Gurage people are agriculturalist Afro-Asiatic ethnolinguistic group inhabiting the fertile and semi-mountainous region some 150 miles  south and west of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, bounded by the Awash River on the north, the Gilgel Gibe River (a tributary of the Omo River) on the southwest, and Lake Ziway on the east. The Gurages are generally liked in Ethiopia. People like their food and dancing, as well as the fact that they are clean and hard-working. There are many examples of Gurages who started out with almost nothing, and today are rich. They are also known to for helping each-other, being a bit clannish. It is truly an interesting people, from a country rich in culture and diversity! The Gurage live a sedentary life based on agriculture, involving a complex system of crop rotation and transplanting. Ensete is their main staple crop, but other cash crops are grown, which include coffee and chat. Animal husbandry is practiced, but mainly for milk supply and dung. Other foods consumed include green cabbage, cheese, butter, and roasted grains, with meat consumption being very limited (also used in rituals or ceremonies).

Related image
Turkana tribesman sitting on his headrest.

The Gurage raise Zebu cattle. These cattle give very little milk, which is seldom drunk. Instead, it is churned into butter, and a typical Gurage household has a large quantity of spiced butter aging in clay pots hung from the walls of their huts. Butter is believed to be medicinal, and the Gurage often take it internally or use it a lotion or poultice. A Gurage proverb states that “A sickness that has the upperhand over butter is destined for death.” Different species of ensete are also eaten to alleviate illness. The Gurage regard overeating as coarse and vulgar, and regard it as poor etiquette to eat all of the ensete that a host passes around to guests. It is considered polite to leave at least some ensete bread even after a very small portion is passed around. It is typically expected that a Gurage will extend hospitality to their neighbors and kinfolk in dispensing ensete freely to them. However, Gurage often hoard extra food and eat it secretly to avoid having to share it.

An interesting read to get to know more about The Gurage Tribe.

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