Aweer people, Somalia/Kenya, early to mid. 20th century, private collection from Finland.
The Aweer (also called Waboni, Boni, Wata, Sanye or Ogoda) people inhabiting the Coast Province in southeastern Kenya. Some members are also found in southern Somalia. They are thought to be distinct relatives of the Oromo and the Watta who originally migrated from Ethiopia. The community is small (approx. 9.000-20.000 people) and isolated, majority of population live in Lamu and Ijara districts. There are two main subdivision of the Aweer. The Kenya Aweer group and the Kilii, the latter located in Hola area of Badhadhe district in the southern Lower Jubba Region of Somalia. The Aweer have historically been known in the literature as Boni or Sanye, both of which are derogatory terms for low-caste groups. Their lives were drastically changed their traditional way of life in the 1960's, forcing them to settle villages along the Hindi-Kiunga Road, between the Boni National Reserve and the Dodori National Reserve.
They are hunters and gatherers and indigenous forest dwellers. Traditionally over 80% of their diet consisting of plant food, including berries, nuts, roots and melons gathered primarily by the women. The remaining 20% was meat, hunted by the men, using poison arrows and spears but nowadays they practise small scale shifting cultivation. Main crops are maize, beans, bananas, cassava, mangoes, pumpkin and cashew-nuts. The Aweer is also best known for its unusual practise (mirsi) of using semi-domesticated birds to find honey, with whistling signals.
The Aweer historically practised traditional faiths such as Waaqism, though most have today adopted Islam. Athough there are group differences a basic belief system exists where they believe in a mythical being, part trickster, part creator (called Kaggen or Cagn). This creator god are capable of great good but also of playing tricks on people.
Headrests from this region are very refined, profusely decorated and artistically executed. Headrests are used both as pillows and as indicators of status. Men's headrests generally feature a smaller base that makes them somewhat unstable to sleep on, while the rectangular bases of women's headrests are usually more stable. The small, easily unbalanced base has made the headrest an emblem of alertness and the ability to wake to action. Made of sturdy but relatively light wood, the headrests are used on beds and are carried by herdsmen, who also use them to rest while keeping an eye on their herds. The headrests may be carved by the owner or commissioned from an artist. Most of their headrests are embellished with elaborate linear, circular and geometric motifs. The more elaborate the headrest, the higher the status is of its owner.
This type of man's headrest is one of two types used by Aweer people and neighbouring Somali nomads. Where both forms are used, the single column is generally for men with lesser status than those who use the double column type. Carved initials. Good condition. Age-related wear and signs of use. Aged cracks and dents. Deeply matured polished patina. Dirt, dust and traces of pigments. Size approx. 17,3cm x 15,0cm x 5,6cm.
References: National Museum of African Art