Senufo N’tong Hat
Origin: Ivory Coast, Boundiali Region
Approx Age: Mid – Later 20th Century
Materials: Cloth/Fabric, Cowrie Shells, Mirrors, Beads, Animal Horn
Dimensions cm: 35 ( back – front ) x 20 tall not including tails
Ref. Number: 1042
Alluring Senufo N’tong Hat. This style of hat from the Senufo people is made of a woven cloth/fabric which is then completely decorated with cowrie shells, each one sewn on individually creating a beautiful head covering. Short beaded strands, with single cowrie shell attached on the end dangle around the edge of the hat, giving it a delicate appearance and feel. Two longer plaited, cowrie shell adorned strands hang at the front of the hat where as a single wider plaited strand also adorned with cowries, decorates the back of the hat. Round mirrors are positioned on either side of the hat with an animal horn fixed to the back. Worn by women during ceremonies of the Poro society to high light the rules within the society, and to show maturity of girls for the eligiability for marriage. Typically coming from the Boundiali region of Senufo country this hat is not only stunning in appearance is holds great significance in Senufo and poro culture.
The Poro society organization is a universal age-grade initiation association ; they exert social and political control, convey traditional knowledge, and fulfill religious functions, especially during elaborate funeral ceremonies. Poro society is reserved primarily for men, although young girls and postmenopausal women are permitted to join. The main function of Poro is to guarantee a good relationship between the living world and the ancestors. Nerejao is an ancestress who is recognized as the true head of the Poro society.
Accordingly, young initiates spent weeks and even months together in secluded sacred groves where they developed the survival skills and intellectual foundation to prepare them for adulthood. Senior poro members instructed initiates in the work of poro, also referred to as work for “Old Mother,” the female aspect of the supreme deity and protector of poro initiates. As a result of locally sponsored initiations, poro members forged strong connections to their communities that cut across lineage divisions.
The girls wear a headdress decorated with cowrie shells and feathers and on their backs a globular array of vegetable fibers. The Senufo girls from the area of Boundiali wear this decoration during the ngoro dance that they perform as the conclusion of their initiation period. The cowries symbolize fertility and sexuality. In addition, as an instrument of payment, they are also the symbol of wealth.
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