Queen Ramonda’s headdress in Black Panther movie was inspired by African tribal hats and hairdos. We often see similar elongated shapes of hairstyles, headpieces, and even the skull itself in African old photos. People artificially changed the shape of their heads, bandaging the babies’ heads. It was dictated by the local standards of beauty, old traditions, and cultural identity. This tradition has disappeared in the mid-20th century. But a specific woven hairstyle of Mangbetu women in the same shape as Ramonda’s hat is still used today and allows to maintain this peculiar African tradition.
One of the eye-catching headwear pieces of Black Panther’s Queen Ramonda resembles very much a headpiece of African Zulu people from South Africa. Married women of this ethnic group wear very similar hats. Another African tribe traditionally makes hairstyles in the same shape – the Mangbetu people from Congo. Mangbetu women weave striking coiffures of various shapes and sizes. This tradition was especially popular in the early 20th century. But where did this unusual shape of a headpiece come from? Let’s see.
Zulu woman and queen Ramonda
Queen Ramonda and Mangbetu woman
Headwear of married Zulu women
Traditional cranial deformation of Congolese babies
The Congolese had a rather strange for modern-day people tradition to elongate their heads by deforming the skull in early age. Actually, this tradition is not unique and not so rare – we have archaeological finds and live evidence of deformed skulls practically from all over the world (South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, Oceania, etc). In different periods of human history, different tribes performed the cranial deformation. It’s just in Congo, this tradition lasted till the mid-1900s – almost to our day!
Why did they do it? There are several theories but no one can tell which one is correct. We can only assume. Some scientists say that ancient people imitated the head shape of those ethnic groups who naturally had the elongated shape, like some of the Ancient Egyptians. Others consider that various unusual shapes of the skull were estimated because of their uniqueness. And so on. By the way, this old tradition to perform head binding to change the skull’s shape even brought out the theory about aliens with elongated skulls coming to the Earth at some point in our history.
How did they do it? A baby’s skull is comparatively soft, some of the bones aren’t fully formed yet (it helps humans to give birth to babies with large heads, which means higher mental ability). So, the shape of a baby’s head can be changed from round to elongated, flat-topped, or conical. People used head binding to alter the skull’s shape and size.
This procedure may cause brain injuries, but usually when performed incorrectly. Most of the people with altered skulls didn’t have any serious brain problems – at least there is no confirmed evidence of it. Still, the whole process looks cruel and unnecessary to a modern man.
In Congo, the locals called the head binding “lipombo”. And it was typical and considered a norm in the early 20th century. Both little boys and girls were subjected to this tradition. This head-elongating custom disappeared around the 1950s due to the Westernization of Africa and the ban by the colonial government.
Mangbetu hairstyle called “tumburu”
The Mangbetu woven coiffures shaped like Queen Ramonda’s headdress in Black Panther movie are called “tumburu”. They are still artfully made by the Congolese hairdressers today. These intricate hairdos are complicated, hard to make (a few hours of detailed work), and look striking. The hair is woven in a technique similar to those used to make baskets. A special frame is required to maintain the needed shape.
Traditional hairpins are used to finish the look.
This Mangbetu hairstyle today can be often seen at fashion shows and fashion photoshoots.