Topi Beaded Hat

Dayak people

Not on view

Among the most distinctive types of metalwork in Borneo were brass forehead ornaments made by the Kenyah, Kayan and neighboring peoples and worn by men of noble birth and high-ranking warriors. The ornaments were attached to helmets made from coiled basketry and served as markers of wealth and social status as well as offering physical protection from enemy weapons during battles. Kenyah/Kayan societies are divided into hereditary social classes: high chiefs, minor nobility, commoners, and, formerly, slaves and only members of the highest ranks are permitted to wear or use objects decorated with human-like faces or figures. These ornaments are likely to have been worn in pairs to frame the front and back of the individual’s face and head, offering spiritual armature during significant political events and battles where the support of ancestors was required.

This beaded hat with metal boss has an underlying structure of woven basketry made of sturdy plant fibers. The exterior surface of this basketry structure is wrapped with a plain-woven trade cloth, once red but now faded with age. The exterior of the hat is highly embellished with two panels of intricate glass beadwork showcasing the vibrant designs so characteristic of Dayak imagery: a sinuous blend of plant and animal forms which distort to create a distinct register of ancestral faces, profile and eyes looking out from the surface plane of the design. Four sections of hanging tassels of twisted and plaited cord strung with beads, metal ornaments and faunal incisors attach to both sides of these beadwork panels. These accoutrements form a dramatic frame which surrounds the large V-shaped ornament which is bent slightly outward creating a crest along the central axis. A sequence of punch marks have been beaten out along the outer edge of this crest and a series of delicate perforations are cut into the upper contour depicting a stylized human face, a dramatic feature that attests to the high status of the man who would have worn it.

Topi Beaded Hat, Copper-alloy, fiber, cotton trade cloth, glass beads, animal teeth, brass, Dayak people

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