Vintage Yoruba Cowrie Shell Crown, Africa, Nigeria (1657BSK)


This vintage handmade crown-like cowry-covered cylindrical crown called an ile ori, is a mixed-media shrine made to manifest ideas of individuality and authority among the Yoruba people of Nigeria. The headdress is round, divided into sections, and with four upward pointed and curved triangular panels leaning inward and set in a sea of arranged cowries. The flat-topped symbolic crown is made with a wide rectangular cutout for viewing. As it is handmade, the size, placement, and tones of the cowries may vary, but the design is very impressive.  This headdress was included in the San Francisco International Airport, “Crowning Achievements”, exhibit in April-August, 1994. The headdress is in good shape with a dark patina showing age and use, some leather bindings lifting, minor insect damage to the fabric, scrapes on the leather, and some missing cowry shells. It comes with a lucite stand.

See other African textiles, Vintage Kuba Cloth Square and Vintage Kuba Cloth Rectangular Textile for complementary accessories.


,,The Yoruba in Nigeria believe in a “cult of the head” in which the head is considered a person’s soul and essence and is where good judgment, spiritual intuition, and destiny are contained. More than simply a head, ori is a Yoruba metaphysical concept referring to human consciousness, mental clarity and ethical worth. The ile ori is the “house of the head” and is an iconic object usually covered with cowrie shells and referred to by the Yoruba as a crown made to show gratitude for and recognition of the power of the head. This concept is central to Orisha (Orisa), a word used for both Yoruba deities and also their religion. Most Africans cowrie sew shells on their textiles as a sign of wealth and status. Cowrie crowns are often placed on altars for prayer and divination and can also be a symbol of a Yoruba deity. Cowries have long been considered African symbols of womanhood, fertility, birth and wealth and an important in African folk Art and ethnic art  . They were used for centuries by Africans as currency (shell money), and early colonialists imported huge numbers for use in the slave trade. Given their use as a medium of exchange, they were a symbol of wealth and prosperity and were controlled by the powerful. Resembling the shape of female organs, they have also been long used on African altars with prayers for births, fertility, and sexuality and represent protection by goddesses. Their use in divination, originated by the Yoruba, is among the oldest spiritual practices used to affect the guidance of deities, ancestors and spirits.  They are also used to send symbolic messages (aroko), prepare medicinal herbs and aesthetically decorate jewelry and many other objects.


Beverly Chico, Hats and Headwear around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013, p. 249-251

James, B. Odunbaku, Ph.D., “Importance of Cowrie Shells in Pre-Colonial Yoruba land South-Western Nigeria: Orile-Keesai as a Case Study,” in, International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Vol. 2, No. 18, October 2012, p. 234-241.

Additional information

Place of Origin

Africa, Nigeria


Antique/Vintage (1910-1980)


20th Century

Materials and Technique


Dimensions (inches)

Ht: 15” W: 9” D: 9” On Stand: 20”

Dimensions (metric)

Ht: 38.1 cm W: 22.86cm D: 22.86cm On Stand: H: 50.8cm


6 lbs 10 oz


Very good, patina and wear consistent with age and use

Reference Number



18” to 23.9”


6” to 11.9”

Shipping Box Size