Erickwoa (Hairpin)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

The Mangbetu placed great importance on body art. The higher classes adorned themselves with geometric body paint for special events and dances. Both men and women practised scarification, primarily on their chest and back. Women also adorned themselves with ear piercings, using small rods made of wood, iron, or ivory.

The Mangbetu were also known for their intricate hairstyles and elegantly carved hairpins, key indicators of social status. Wealthier individuals had more elaborate hairstyles, which they often accessorised with broad bands of black string, combs, and hairpins. Both men and women used hairpins and combs to decorate their hair, with the most valuable pins being made of ivory with delicate stems.

Hairpins and hatpins were not just a form of decoration, they also served various practical purposes, such as cleaning minor wounds, removing chiggers, or trimming hair. These pins were also used as gifts exchanged between lovers, and according to ethnographer Czekanowski, being offered a hairpin by a woman was considered an invitation to intimacy.

The most intricate hairpins were punctuated with one or several discs, which were often executed in two assembled parts. The finest pins were carved in one piece and were the rarest and most prestigious, as they required more ivory to produce. Making these pins required a steady hand and great skill, with the massive tip of an elephant's tooth used to carve the disc-shaped crown.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of bone, ivory, or metal
  • Rare examples made of wood
  • Thin rod crowned with spearhead, disc, star, trident, or sickle-shaped design
  • Intricate pins also worked in middle

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