Category Archives: African Comb

Plumes: The Creative Museum at the Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Asie

In its second collaboration with the Museum of African and Asian Arts in Vichy, The Creative Museum has been invited to participate in the exhibition, PLUMES.

Human fascination with birds begins when their freedom of flight captures our imaginations. We watch birds soar and glide freely, as their beautiful, feathered wings catch gusts of air. Can we explore birds’ connection to the human soul in other cultures?

The exhibition PLUMES investigates five civilizations: India, China, the Ivory Coast, Papua New Guinea, and North America to show how art reflects human reverence for each culture’s emblematic bird.


Click on the image to go to the exhibition

From India: The peacock is India’s national bird and holds an important place in Hindu epic poetry and mythology. In Rajasthan’s miniature paintings, peacocks provide companionship to wistful nayikas. They are heroines in the Natya Shastra, written by Bharata, c. 100 BC. The Creative Museum’s silver-gilded comb comes from Rajasthan. The well contains perfume, which drips into the user’s hair, and is adorned with two peacocks.

From China: Tian Tsui is the art of cutting and gluing the kingfisher bird’s iridescent blue feathers to gilt silver. The feathers are so small, it is a painstaking task. The term literally means “dotting with kingfishers” and has been a traditional Chinese art for 2000 years. The Creative Museum’s magnificent diadem uses tian tsui. The flowers are topped with three symbolic child figures with painted bone faces.

From the Ivory Coast: The hornbill kaloa bird is the mythological founder of the Senoufo people. One opportunity for young tribal men is to join the Poro Society, a school where most carvings and masks are made. Statues combine human and animal elements. The bird’s horned beak is elongated, as it touches the fertilized, swollen belly. This comb from The Creative Museum shows the beak-belly relationship, as a man wears a kaloa-bird mask, perhaps for an initiation ceremony.

From Papua New Guinea: The Dani People from the Highlands have a fable. Once, a snake and a bird engaged in a great race to decide the fate of human beings. If the snake won, men would shed their skins and live forever. If the bird won, men must die. The bird won. The Creative Museum’s male headdress from the Dani is made of cassowary bone and feathers, crocodile claws, and warthog teeth. It was most likely worn by a warrior.

From North America: The Tlingit are an indigenous tribe who live along the Pacific Northwest coast: now Oregon and Washington in the USA; British Columbia in Canada. Modern-day Tlingit also live in Alaska. Before Christian conversion, they were animists. Their totem poles narrated stories, legends, and myths. The Tlingit have raven clans and eagle/wolf clans. As the eagle’s beak is curved, The Creative Museum’s bone hair pin with a totem pole eye probably belonged to an eagle-clan shaman.

With these five distinct cultural interpretations, The Creative Museum’s contribution to the Plumes exhibit at the Museum of African and Asian Arts in Vichy shows how bird mythology lives on in headdresses around the world.

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For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and The Creative Museum’s publications and these books:


Kingfisher Blue: Treasures of an Ancient Chinese Art

Powerful Headdresses: Africa and Asia

Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment

Hairdressing as Language: Exhibit at the Musée Dapper

The Musée Dapper in Paris was realized by the efforts of the Olfert Dapper Foundation. Dapper was a Dutch historian whose most famous book, Description of Africa (1688), wove geography, economics, politics, medicine, social life and customs. Free of ethnocentric judgments, it remains an indispensable resource for historians. The museum’s current exhibition, “Initiés, Bassin du…Continue Reading

Samburu Jewelry, Rebecca Lolosoli, and Half the Sky

In the Samburu district of Kenya, near Archers Post, lies a village of women’s dignity – Umoja. It is a refuge for victims of domestic violence. Normally pastoral cattle herders, Samburu matriarch Rebecca Lolosoli has started a business to make the complex beaded necklaces and headdresses for which the tribe is known. The Samburu knit…Continue Reading

Eyes Open: Tribal Combs and Masks

When light or wind passes through, the open eyes of a mask can haunt you. Ancestral spirits look back. I wanted to show some tribal combs and masks, whose open designs allow this emotional exchange to happen. From The Creative Museum‘s African collection come these examples: These three 20th Century hairpins with masks are ivory.…Continue Reading

The Nuba People of Sudan

In 1974-’76, Leni Riefenstahl published portraits of the Nuba people in two books: Africa, which was about the Mesakin Nuba, and the People of Kau, which featured the South East Nuba 100 miles away. In the mid-70’s, the Nuba’s artistic adornment included tattoos and complex geometric designs. A man or woman could chose one color…Continue Reading

The Creative Museum World Tour

Another blog wrote about them: Le Blog de Cameline! She tells the story of the family in French. This post will be an English translation, and then I will pick some of my favorite combs from this magnificent collection, so we can enjoy both posts. Cameline says, “The Creative Museum is a virtual museum devoted…Continue Reading

Hemba Combs of the Congo

The Luba Empire was a pre-colonial Central African state, which was founded by King Kongolo Maniema, c. 1585. The Hemba people were incorporated because they started to migrate into Luba territory at the beginning of the Empire. In addition to being artistically influenced by the Luba, the Hemba endured kidnappings by Arab raiders for the…Continue Reading

Creative Museum: Tuareg Jewelry Worn by a Wodaabe Woman

by The Creative Museum: Parmi les peuples de la savane africaine, les Peuls, appelés aussi Fulanis, se font remarquer par la finesse de leurs traits. Les hommes comme les femmes attachent beaucoup d’importance à leur aspect physique qu’ils entretiennent avec le plus grand soin. Ils utilisent de nombreux accessoires de beauté trouvés sur les marchés,…Continue Reading

Creative Museum: Fulani Hair Ornaments and Jewelry

The complexity and symbolism of Fulani coiffures, hair ornaments, jewelry, clothing, and tatoos reflect their history as a conquering people. They have 4 castes: noblemen, merchants, blacksmiths, and slaves. Before the Europeans arrived, powerful empires ruled the African Savannah for over a thousand years. They were fueled by gold mines. In the 13th Century, the…Continue Reading