Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

African and Arabic Cultures Meet in Northern Nigeria

This resource is part of the Museum Snapshot collection - a collection of smaller resources perfect for starters, plenaries or spare moments to explore something fascinating.


Resource created by Doncaster Museums

Horse headdress made from engraved silver metal, with fabric triangles and bells.
African Horse Headdress or Kwalkwali

This horse’s headdress would once have been part of a set of parade or show armour rather than being used for protection in battle. The headpiece is called a Kwalkwali. It probably comes from Northern Nigeria, and is typical of the decorative style of the Hausa and Fulani peoples who live in that region of West Africa.

This type of highly decorated equipment would have belonged to somebody important: a tribal chief, or elite warrior, whose job it was to act as the cavalry guard. It was his job to act as a bodyguard on horseback for the local leader, the Emir. 

Close up of the headdress showing the fabric triangles and bells.
Detail of an African Horse Headdress or Kwalkwali
The head cover has a leather backing to protect the head, covered by a tin headpiece. This is patterned with diamond shapes, decorated with inlaid fabric strips, and hung with leather tassels, with bells attached. 
This object is interesting because it is an example of African and Arabic culture coming together. It shows the influence of the Arabic world in this part of Africa, which has been the case since Islam arrived over ten centuries ago.



Cavalry - Horses and riders used for military purposes
Elite - people of the highest class or rank in society (This headdress is used to show that the rider is of high rank in the army.)
Emir - a person of high office in the Muslim world, like a prince

Young person's response to this object:

The ornamentation and beads clash slightly with the metal used. Was this used purely to impress as ornamentation, or would it also protect the horse’s face in battle? - Tom Burke


Discussion Ideas

  • What other kinds of armour can you think of that are decorated?
  • Which part of the horse’s head would need most protection?
  • What were the advantages of the soft fabric parts of the headdress? 
  • This beautiful object was made in a place in Africa where two strong cultures meet: African and Arabic. Where else do you see two cultures meet?
  • How easy is it for the different cultures to live together?  What might the difficulties be?

Activity Ideas

    • Draw some patterns based on the diamond and semi-circle shapes on this headdress. You could:
      - invent a horse blanket to keep a British horse warm in winter based upon the patterns found in the helmet.
      - design a neck or head piece for  a carnival costume based on this headdress