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This Shona hardwood headrest sold at South Down Auctioneers to a French tribal art specialist for £29,000.

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Headrests such as this, made by talented Shona sculptors across modern-day South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, serve multiple purposes. In addition to providing a comfortable support for the head when resting - and a means to keep the elaborately braided coiffures of Shona men in good order and free from soil or dust - they are among the most important personal items, imbued with supernatural significance.

In particular they are used as a tool to make contact with the spirits of the dead through dreams. The animals chosen for representation are those considered best for communicating with the ancestors - in this case a large mammal, possibly a stylised elephant. It probably dates from the late 19th century.

Offered for sale on November 23, it was picked up on the-saleroom.com and attracted competition from London, South Africa and North America on the telephones as well as UK and Continental dealers in the saleroom at Midhurst Grammar School.

The winning bidder at a multi-estimate £29,000 (plus 15 per cent buyer's premium) was a French tribal art specialist.

Tribal Art also saw an upbeat performance at the sale of the Rosenthal collection at Sotheby's New York on November 14 that chalked up a premium-inclusive $10.85m (£7.75m ) with 87 per cent sold by lot and half a dozen new auction highs amongst the individual prices.