Yoruba people, Nigeria, late 19th –
early 20th century
Glass beads, textile, unknown organic substances, height ranging from 8.2 to 11.3,
diameter from 18.5 to 19.2
Anonymous gift to American Friends
of the Israel Museum
B04.1367–68; B06. 2443–44, 2451–52
Beginning in the 18th century, Yoruba court regalia came to be fashioned from multicolored glass beads (mainly made in Bohemia), which were now readily available thanks to Africa’s trade with Europe. Orikogbofo were the everyday beaded coronets worn within the palace, since the Yoruba king could never go bareheaded, even indoors: his headgear offered spiritual protection and functioned as a container of ase, the life force. The top of the coronet therefore contained potent medicines and magically charged, empowering materials. This secret concoction was not to be unveiled by anyone, especially the wearer, and it was believed that whoever saw it would die within seven days.
The repetitive action and intense concentration demanded by beading produce a dreamlike state, and the artisans who made the royal regalia were said to enter a state of altered consciousness. Thus they became synchronized with the autonomous life and energy of the beading process, both a physical and a metaphysical experience.