Headrest (barkin) from the Boni or Somali people of Somalia
Somali or Boni headrest from Somalia
Men in East Africa use headrests both as pillows and as indicators of status. This type of man's headrest is used by the Boni of northeastern Kenya
and southern Somalia and by Somali nomads. 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. Boni shepherds rest while standing on a single leg, with their head lying on the neckrest set
on their shoulder. These neckrests symbolize vigilance because since their base is so small, the resting person could not fall asleep without falling
over.

The patterns on Somali and Boni headrests probably reflect the Islamic influence in the region. Some scholars interpret the patterns and iconography
as a "form of shorthand for a prayer," to ensure God's protection of the sleeper. Headrests also play an important role in the nuptial ceremonies of
Somali nomads. On his wedding night, the groom places the tubash (a sum of money) under the bride's headrest. The morning after the marriage is
consummated, the bride will use this money to purchase an amber necklace, the symbol of her new status.

The headrests are carved from a single piece of fine-grained wood known as
hagar in Somali, or also yucub wood. The wood is usually left its natural
color, but is sometimes painted red or black by its owner. They may be carved by the owner or commissioned from an artist.

Somali and Boni nomads make use of two types of headrests; one with a single cylindrical supporting column and one with a double column. It appears
that the different styles are for men of different status, with the single-columned variety for young men and the double-columned variety reserved for
elders. The more elaborate the headrest is, the higher the status is of its owner.
Boni headrest from Somalia
References- National Museum of African Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art
A beautiful and well used Boni headrest (barkin)
Acquired from: Oliver Vit, Basel Switzerland
The photo above shows the 3 Boni headrests currently in my collection
(male headrests on each end and female headrest in the middle)

CLICK HERE to see some nice Boni headrests from the Calverton Collection
Other examples and information about Boni headrests for reference purposes
Headrest
(barkin)
Boni peoples
Benadir region, Somalia
Mid 20th century
Wood
H x W x D: 16.7 x 14.6 x 7.4 cm (6 9/16 x 5 3/4 x 2 15/16 in.)
Gift of Blake Robinson
In the collection of the National Museum of African Art 87-3-1  
An example of another single post Boni headrest (left and below left) and the detail on the side of a beautiful double post headrest (right and below right)
These headrests are ones that Tribal Gathering London had at the San Francisco Tribal Arts show.

He still has these, as well as other double post headrests available for sale.
CLICK HERE to go to their website to contact them if you are interested in
finding out more about the headrests they still have for sale. Tell Bryan you heard about them from me.

Below are a couple of photographs of the headrests and a few other objects they had on display at the San Francisco Tribal Arts show.
Most of the material they deal in is from Eastern and South Africa and they had a lot of very unique objects on display.
Another beautiful Boni headrest above being offered at the San Francisco Tribal Art Show from Kip McKesson African Art.
Kip also featured one of his Boni headrests in the catalog for the event (see below). Kip still has a few headrests for sale.
A fantastic Boni headrest featured in the catalog for the 2006 San Francisco Tribal Art Show by
Kip McKesson African Art
Headrest (barkin)
Somali peoples
Mogadishu, Somalia
Late 20th century
Wood, plant fiber
H x W x D: 21.0 x 16.3 x 7.3 cm (8 1/4 x 6 7/16 x 2 7/8 in.)
Gift of the Loughrans
This object is in the collection of the National Museum of African Art, 76-16-13

This type of man's headrest is one of two types used by Somali nomads. Where both forms are used, the single
support is generally for men of lesser status than those who use the double-support type. 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 also carried by herdsmen who use them to rest
while keeping an eye on their herds. They may be carved by the owner or commissioned from an artist. The
inscribed interlace patterns reflect the influence of Islamic graphic design in the region.
Headrest, 19th–20th century
Somalia; Somali (?) people
Wood; H. 6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection
Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.31)
In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

Subtle, curvilinear forms are combined with intricate, incised patterns in this exquisite headrest from eastern Africa. With a crescent-
shaped upper platform, small circular or oval base, and two flattened supporting columns, is this style of headrest is found among the
nomadic Somali of both southern Somalia and eastern Kenya.

Headrests are used by both Somali men and women while resting or sleeping. It is popularly believed that the headrest serves a
protective function by elevating the head off the ground during sleep, thereby preventing any possible attack by snakes or scorpions.
Men's headrests, such as this one, 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. Scholars suggest that this instability is purposeful as it prevents the
user from falling into a deep sleep while guarding the herds at night. It is in this sense that the headrest itself has become a symbol of
vigilance among Somali nomads. In this example, the surface decorations of both supports are identical and feature interlaced rope
motifs on the top and bottom interrupted by a honeycomb-like relief in the middle. The patterns on this and many other Somali
headrests probably reflect the Islamic influence in the region. Some scholars interpret the patterns and iconography as a "form of
shorthand for a prayer," to ensure God's protection of the sleeper. Headrests also play an important role in the nuptial ceremonies of
Somali nomads. On his wedding night, the groom places the tubash (a sum of money) under the bride's headrest. The morning after the
marriage is consummated, the bride will use this money to purchase an amber necklace, the symbol of her new status.

The headrests are carved from a single piece of fine-grained wood known as hagar in Somali, or also yucub wood. The wood is usually
left its natural color, but is sometimes painted red or black by its owner. Somali nomads also make use of another type of headrest with
a single cylindrical supporting column. It appears that the different styles are for men of different status, with the single-columned variety
for young men and the double-columned variety, as seen here, reserved for elders.
A Southern Somali Double Column Headrest  (1800 - 1900)

wood

16.50 cm h x 15 cm w (6 1/4 in h x 5 3/4 in w)

Literature
These headrests are used by the nomadic Somali in southern Somalia and north
eastern Kenya . They are used by both men and women . The male type , as in this
fine old example , have a relatively small base and are therefore unstable , making
deep undisturbed sleep difficult , and enhancing the men's vigilance in the night .
Whilst the examples used by women have a more stable base .

The extensive Islamic influence in the region is reflected in the guilloche patterning
carved on the sides of the headrest which ensure God's protection for the sleeper .

Description / Expertise
A Southern Somali Double Column Headrest . Wood with incised decoration , fine old
glossy patina
19 th Century

This headrest was at the Finch & Co Gallery in the UK
HEADREST [AFE/00374]
AFRICAN ETHNOGRAPHIC COLLECTION
Culture: SOMALI?  
Country: SOMALIA?
Material: WOOD
Dimensions: L:16 W:7 H:17.8 [in CM]
In the collection of the
American Museum of Natural History, NY
HEADREST [AFE/00375]
AFRICAN ETHNOGRAPHIC COLLECTION
Culture: SOMALI?  
Country: SOMALIA?
Material: WOOD,COATING
Dimensions: L:17.2 W;7.1 H:15.1 [in CM]
In the collection of the
In the collection of the American Museum of Natural History, NY
HEADREST [AFE/00376]
AFRICAN ETHNOGRAPHIC COLLECTION
Culture: SOMALI?  
Country: SOMALIA?
Material: WOOD,COATING
Dimensions: L:18.4 W:8.2 H:17.3 [in CM]
In the collection of the
In the collection of the American Museum of Natural History, NY
The Boni people are commonly found in the southern part of Somalia and also in Kenya.
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