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African Carved Wood Headrest - Somali Barshin Antique

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Early 1900s hand carved African double post headrest from the Boni or Somali of Somalia. Called a barshin or barkin, it is an antique wooden pillow for a man.

Intricately carved with an interlaced rope pattern that is reminiscent of celtic knots, this design carries some Islamic influence. The carving winds its way up both sides, and on the underside of the piece, and there is a trace of the original (now well worn) small design on the top where the head would rest.

If you sense that it would be uncomfortable for sleeping, you are probably right - this slightly wobbly form meant that men would remain somewhat alert throughout the night. Women's headrests have wide apart feet and are much more stable.

Most sources say that these headrests were commonly carved of Hagar (or Yucub) wood. The wood of this barshin has the loveliest patina - in particular the top surface has taken on a slightly reddish tone. In some areas the end grain has worn smooth and has the look of worn leather. The piece is structurally in very good condition. There is plenty of surface patina, marks and rubs and wear, and little drying splits in the very bottom from age. There is one notable, if small, flawed side: on one carved area, there is a 3/4" long shallow scrape, a flat gouge that has worn smooth and does not strike the eye particularly when the piece is upright. It can be seen in photograph #3. At the bottom of that post there is more very light scraping - these haven't so much removed material as just taken away some of the dark age off the surface. I am being very finicky with describing condition, so that you will get every little detail.

Measures approx. 6 and 1/2 inches tall, and wide, and perhaps 3 and 1/4 inches across its widest point. This is a *beautiful* and historical object, and similar pieces are found in museums and private collections the world over.


African Carved Wood Headrest - Somali Barshin Antique


  • Vintage item from the 1910s
  • Materials: wood, hagar, yucub
  • Ships worldwide from Canada
  • Feedback: 713 reviews
  • Favorited by: 21 people