15-07-16-2200NE01A Shona headrest.jpg
Shona headrest – £23,000 at Bishop & Miller.

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Headrests such as this, made by talented Shona sculptors across modern-day South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, serve multiple purposes.

They provide 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. The headrests 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 gazelle or antelope. It probably dates from the late 19th century.

Offered for sale on July 4 as part of a small collection of tribal items found by Oliver Miller in Suffolk, the 6in (15cm) high headrest attracted 11 phone bidders before it sold to a UK buyer well above the £1000-1500 estimate, with the disappointed underbidder sitting in the room after driving from Belgium.

South Down Auctioneers of Midhurst, West Sussex, sold a similar headrest formed as a stylised elephant for £29,000 back in 2008.

The buyer's premium at Bishop & Miller was 18%.