Prestige hat (kalyeem), c. 1948-1960, Kuba culture, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cloth, beads, and cowrie shells, Gift of Miss Madge Rice, 1972.16.2.
Hats and headdresses are a visible marker of one’s status in the Kuba people’s complex system of leadership and titles. Prestige hats are worn by women and men at ceremonies and funerals. The kalyeem is a cone-shaped hat decorated with cowrie shells and beads worn by male titleholders. The cowrie shells, once prized as currency, signal wealth and status. This hat was typically buried along with other status items, with the deceased.