Ethiopian Carved Wooden Headrest


Ethiopian Carved Wooden Headrest

– Originally used as a timber headrest by the Ethiopian women to rest their

heads and not disturb their intricate hairstyles.

An intriguing addition to a bookcase, desk, or side table.

Dimensions TBA

In stock


Ethiopian Carved Wooden Headrest

Personal objects, headrests support the head by cradling it along the jawline, elevating it from the ground.

While some regions of central and southern Africa associate headrests with dreaming and divination,

they are purely practical in eastern African. Ergonomically, they align the spine, while functionally,

they protect intricate hairstyles from dust or from being flattened. Hairstyles, which can take hours to create,

are not simply for beautification but serve as the visual representation of their wearer’s social status, age, rank, and gender.

The personal nature of the headrest is reflected in the vocabulary used to describe them in two of Ethiopia’s

most commonly spoken languages.

In Amharic, they are known as yagertera (“pillow of my land”), while in Oromiffaa, they are called boraatiz (“tomorrow-you”).

(Moreno 2015, 194) Even after the end of their useful life, headrests retain the traces of their owners;

several examples in the Metropolitan’s collections have a dark sheen on the upper platform and sides,

the result of the wood becoming imbued with butter-based hair dressings

(käbbe) and other materials used to shape and condition the hair.

The oldest preserved headrests on the African continent were found in Egypt and

have been dated to the second and third dynasties of the Old Kingdom (ca. 2649–2150 B.C.).

Many of these ancient Egyptian headrest forms—particularly the solid block-shaped rest—have

parallels in east African headrests created some five millennia later.

In southern and central Ethiopia, the use of headrests is believed to have started two to three-hundred years ago.

Among the most common forms are the single block, the columned rest with the curved platform,

and the conical base with the curved platforms, such as this example.

Due to their portable nature, headrests were once used widely among the

pastoralist groups of Ethiopia and other regions of eastern Africa.

They are less commonly used today because many pastoralists have transitioned to sedentary farming or moved to cities.

The diversity of forms in Ethiopian headrests cannot be strictly categorized by gender,

or assigned to a single ethnic group; rather, every form is carved by the Oromo, Sidaama,

Gurage, and other south-central Ethiopian peoples.

Some shapes and ornaments are also shared with groups in nearby Kenya,

Uganda, and South Sudan, reflecting the transfer of forms across the region.

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