The History of Juju Hats – Things You should Know


Large juju hat

If you want to be stylish when decorating your house, you could do much worse than considering adorning your walls with a variety of Juju hats. They were not designed for buildings but for heads but have made a smooth transition from one to the other. Since their movement from Africa, they have changed from the domain of the few to be available to the many.

The juju hat is otherwise known as Bamileke hats, but this name can be a little misleading. The term can cover around 100 groups who are linked just because they speak the same language. There are a number of things that need to be understood about Bamileke.

  • The group contains 11 different languages
  • Within those languages there are a number of dialects.
  • The languages involved are “Ghomala', Fe'fe', Kwa', Medumba, Mengaka, Nda'nda', Ngiemboon, Ngomba, Ngombale, Ngwe and Yemba.
  • Around 2.1 million speak these combined languages with some reports increasing it to 8 million

The name Juju does not come from the Bamileke language but may have its basis in Nigeria. Their word djudju translates as “evil spirit” although there is a theory that it could come from the French joujou that describes a toy. It has even been used as a way to describe healers in West African religions. Healers were known as Juju men. It is possible that the dancers and dignitaries were mistaken for doctors and the name Tyn was used from then on.

Bamileke groups have strong ties although some differences. All groups have a Fon – King and they are supported by 8 “holders of hereditary rights” – Mkem. Each has their own duties such as financial or military related and have made contributions of wealth. Bi-annually a meeting is held to show the kings wealth and it is here where appropriate masks are worn. The leopard and elephant masks can only be worn by warriors of the Kemdje and Kuosi or by the King. The Juju hat will be seen in abundance at this event.

Tyn hats will be designed and produced for royal events. These will tend to be the death of the current king or one of the richer members of the community. Not all will have the honor of the hats being used to mark their passing.Raffia is taken and woven so that it creates the base on which the feathers of the juju hat will be laid. Many wild birds will have their feather removed to produce the hats, although chicken and guinea bird tend to be the most popular. Once they are died, they will be attached to the raffia structure.

To ensure the hat opens enough, there is a leather strap at the rear so that it can be properly used. Sizes of juju hat will vary a great deal, and this is especially the case when the hats are made to decorate houses rather than for ceremonies. Traditional ones can reach over 31 inches and will be designed in a way that will make them easy to put away when not in use. This process will also ensure that the feathers do not get damaged as the raffia base is harder than the feathers.