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unknown Shona


Early 20th century
Carved wood

5 1/4 in. x 7 in. x 3 in. (13.34 cm x 17.78 cm x 7.62 cm)

Bryn Mawr College
Accession Number: 99.5.51
Other Number(s): 82-11 (Neufeld Collection Number)
Geography: Africa, Zimbabwe
Classification: Ceremonial and Performance Artifacts
Culture/Nationality: Shona, Zimbabwean, Southern African, African
Collection: Neufeld Collection
Description: Some sacred objects are for ceremonial purposes only while others, like this headrest from Zimbabwe, can be used as part of everyday life. It is carved in the geometric style primarily associated with the Tsonga and the Chopi of southern Africa. Headrests were used for elevating the head during sleep and were said to absorb a portion of the owner as they absorbed body oils from the sleeper. At the same time it brought the owner messages from the ancestors. Although the personal nature of the headrest meant that it was often buried with the owner, on occasion it was passed on to relatives to remain a connection to the ancestral realm.

Keywords Click a term to view the records with the same keyword
This object has the following keywords:
  • East African - Styles and cultures of the eastern area of Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, that together with the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia) make up Eastern Africa.
  • headrests - Shaped supports for the head either made as separate objects, as used in ancient Egypt and other African cultures, or as attachments to other objects, such as used on the backs of motor vehicle seats or barbers' chairs.
  • Shona
  • South African - Style and culture of the people of South Africa.
  • Zimbabwean - The style and culture of Zimbabwe or of Black Rhodesians in the former Rhodesia.

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Exhibition List
This object was included in the following exhibitions:
  • African Images, Western Imageries: Collecting and Recollecting African Bryn Mawr College , Sep 26, 1999 – Jun 15, 2000
  • African and Pacific Art from the Neufeld Collection Bryn Mawr College , Apr 28, 1993 – Jun 1, 1993

  • Owner Name: Mace Neufeld and Helen Katz Neufeld, Class of 1953
    Role: Donor
    Place: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, US
    Ownership End Date: 7/18/1991

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<ref name=BMC>cite web |url= |title=Headrest |author=Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections |accessdate=6/3/2023 |publisher=Bryn Mawr College</ref>

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