Showcasing the art and ritual of the African and African-diaspora religions

Kuba Hat

Catalog Number: E009


With feathers: 21.0 x 20.5 x 17.0 cm; without feathers: 19.0 x 17.0 x 16.0 cm


With feathers: 8.3 x 8.0 x 6.7 in; without feathers: 7.5 x 6.7 x 6.3 in


Country of Origin: Democratic Republic of Congo
Materials: Beads
Usage: N/A
Detailed Description of Significance:

The Kuba are divided into eighteen separate ethnic groups who were historically united under a single king. They have long lived in a forested area between the Sankuru and Lulua Rivers and the Kasai river and its tributaries in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kuba society contained numerous titled positions for men, each with its own distinct regalia. By the mid-[19th century], titles had grown so numerous—a strategy by the monarch to bring more men under his control—that most adult men considered attaining some sort of official rank a feasible goal within their lifetimes. Throughout the colonial period, however, titles became less common, and men had to compete more fiercely for rank. Nevertheless, both the central kingdom and the villages maintained related systems of title and hierarchy.

This hat has many characteristics typical of Kuba manufacture. The conical body is surrounded by four short “ears” (mato). Earlier examples are shorter, but by the twentieth century, younger men tended to prefer taller hats. Men used pins to keep the hats in place. Eventually the Kuba developed more than 20 distinct types of hat, each intended for a different titleholder. Upon attaining each rank, a Kuba man was allowed to use a different kind of feather (lashal) in his hat as well. Species used included the eagle, guinea fowl, owl, and parrot. The styles in which the feathers were displayed—upright, at an angle, or down—were dictated by strict rules. The cowries in this example attest to the Kuba’s long trade with the peoples of the coast, dating back to the 1650s.