Spotlight on the Collection: December 2016

/ Spotlight on the Collection

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Chief’s Crown (sika kle) About 1950-60 Baule people, Côte d’Ivoire, Village of Kondiehinou, West Africa textiles, cardboard, wood, and gold leaf Gift of Ellen and Fred Elsas, 1986.778

This crown would have been worn by a chief of the Baule people who live in the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire, which means Ivory Coast in French. The Baule, like many groups in Côte d’Ivoire and neighboring Ghana, encode cultural knowledge and wisdom into proverbs. These sayings help people understand the nature of life, how to avoid or face problems, and how to be good citizens of their communities. The proverbs often have corresponding visual symbols, and these meaningful emblems are found on jewelry, clothing, textiles, furniture, and other forms, providing many visual reminders of how to navigate life.

The proverb emblems on the crown are associated with leadership. The gold-leafed elephant on top may refer to the saying “Only the elephant can uproot the palm tree” or “When an elephant steps on a trap, it does not spring”—sayings that allude to the power of the chief. Another funny proverb addresses the occasional challenges of working with a powerful person: “When you walk behind the elephant, what you feel falling on your head is not rain.” The horns on the crown may serve as reminders of the chief’s power, but could also bring to mind proverbs that caution against the abuse of power. One such proverb states, “It is the heart and not the horns that lead the ram to bully.”