Indiana University Bloomington IU Bloomington IUB

Headrest (Barkin)

In traditional pastoral Somali society, headrests are among the most common objects owned by men. Created to raise the head off the ground when a man is sleeping, they are light and portable, easily carried by young men who spend the night away from their homes while guarding their family herds. Somali men’s headrests have two forms: a single central post joining a base and a platform that supports the head or, as in this example, two thin, curved pieces that join base and platform and are intricately carved with relief patterns related to Islamic art. While the decoration on the sides is non-figural, the platforms of some headrests, including this one, include a carving of a scorpion, a reference to the belief that using the headrest will protect the head from scorpions and other small dangerous creatures that crawl on the ground.

Somali peoples, Somalia
Headrest (Barkin)
Mid-20th century
H. 7 1/8 in. (18.1 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Gift of John William Johnson, 88.15.10