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This well-to-do Akha woman’s headdress, which dates from the colonial period, is from the Loimi-Akha group. It is shaped like a large helmet with prominent side flaps and a trapezoid-shaped silver back piece which rises over the headdress. The handwoven, cotton substrate has been dyed with natural indigo to give it a blue-black hue.
The front and sides are covered with large silver half-spheres. Each side is decorated with five large, hollow silver balls.
The lower sides and straps at the front are embellished with colonial Indian rupee coins and six quarter rupee coins of various dates, between 1880 and 1942 (one minor loss).
Numerous strings of red and other trade beads hang from the sides, as well as red-dyed feather or cockerel down tassels that terminate with coloured pompoms and tassels of dyed pig hair. These hang to the shoulders when the headdress is worn.
There is a fringe of woven silver wire and silver floral tassels that hangs beneath the chin, along with further strands of glass trade beads. To the sides of this are cotton straps that end in heavy silver ornaments of coiled silver.
The back of the headdress is decorated with more strands of coloured glass trade beads, strung over the prominent silver backplate that is embossed with spirals and other geometric designs.
The Akha (also known as Kaw) moved into Kengtung State in Burma around the middle of the 19th century. They were a minority group from Yunnan in southern China. Today, there are around 200,000 Akha living in Burma. There are Akha still in China, and also in northern Thailand. However, the Burmese Akha origins of this headdress is confirmed by the use of colonial Indian rupee coins which were also used in Burma, which was ruled by the British as part of colonial India. Their traditional language is part of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages.
Items of silver were prestige objects among the Akha, Such a headdress with so many silver embellishments would have been worn by a woman from a particularly wealthy family.
The headdress here is in excellent condition.
Copies of these sorts of headdresses abound but in general they are poor imitations of the genuine item such as the example here, with its copious embellishments, genuine silver applique, feather tassels, and so on. It is heavy and has ample signs of age.
A quality, black-metal, custom-made stand is included.
van Cutsem, A., & M. Magliani, Powerful Headdresses: Africa-Asia: The Ira Brind Collection, 5 Continents, 2010.
Lewis, P. & E., Peoples of the Golden Triangle: Six Tribes in Thailand, Thames & Hudson, 1984.