Head crest in the form of serpents

20th century
Artist Unidentified

Object Place: Mali


55.88 cm (22 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, fiber

Not On View


Africa and Oceania



This vertical head crest is linked to a dance called nama tyétyé performed by secular village associations called Ton, which concern themselves with success in agriculture and encourage their young members to become good farmers. Part of masquerades during these Ton dances, head dresses often represent animals whose characteristics provide opportunities for moral lessons about human behavior. This zigzag serpentine form is said to refer to the deviousness of the hyena (nama), an animal also associated with imperfect knowledge.


June, 1990, sold by Pace Primitive and Ancient Art, New York (stock no. 53-0150), to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1994, partial gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA; 2014, acquired fully with the bequest of William Teel to the MFA. (Accession Dates: January 26, 1994 and February 26, 2014)

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel