Littérature Afro ⭐

The Gôbi

The Gobi: a clothing complement among certain peoples in West Africa

The Gobi, for those who do not know, is a male headgear generally made of woven loincloth, embroidered or not. When worn, the Gôbi leaves an empty space between the top of the head and its upper end. This empty space is shaped to point in different directions (left, right, forward or backward).

A clothing complement

The Gôbi is often worn on traditional clothing such as the Boum Bâ (or Bohounba), the Agbada, a large traditional boubou of the peoples of West and Central Africa, on the Dhan chiqui or on the Jalabu. Once a symbol of belonging to certain cultural areas in Togo, Benin and Nigeria, this item of clothing is now more aesthetic than social. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon today to hear some people describe the Gôbi as a « piece of cultural identity of Benin » in general and of men from the Porto-Novo region in particular.

According to the literature, « a symbol of presence, indispensable for any ceremony, the Gôbi is originally a characteristic accessory of the Gouns of the Porto-Novo region in the south of Benin and of the Baatonous, a population of the north of the country. Cylindrical in shape, flexible and sometimes decorated with codes, this cap is a social marker that conveys messages, depending on how it is worn. Originally, it was used by the king’s ministers (in the kingdom of Porto-Novo), more precisely by the one who was in charge of his occult affairs (Mitô Apklogan) to hide his amulets. But it was also an object of social marking because for the great celebrations of the king, the ministers and the privileged of the king should wear the Gôbi.

The Gobi proudly on the head of a young African-Canadian.

Photo credit: Sovi

An instrument of coded communication

According to the academic Charles Dossou Ligan, quoted by the journalist Fiacre Vidjingninou, when the tip of the cap is folded back towards the left ear, it underlines « privilege » (i.e. respect due to the person wearing it). When it is folded towards the right ear, it expresses « the joy of living » (dominant position during celebrations and festivities). Swung forward (towards the forehead), it expresses « the will to go forward » or « the assurance to overcome a problem » (position displayed during negotiations or mediation). Folded over the back of the neck, it plays the role of provocation and marks indifference to criticism.

Other people we met in Porto-Novo, the capital city of Benin, report that when the tip of the hat is pointed to the right, the Gôbi indicates that one is rich; to the left, that one has an average social life and to the front, that one keeps one’s living condition secret.

The Gôbi with the end facing left.

Photo credit: Sovi

The Gôbi with forward facing end.

Photo credit: Agence Bénin Presse

Former Nigerian President Obasanjo in his left-handed Gôbi.

Photo: Premium times

Among the Baatônous, the orientation of the tip of the headdress has other meanings. When turned to the right, the Gôbi means that one has no father, and when turned to the left, that one has no mother, » explains historian Léon Bani Bio Bigou. When the wearer reaches a certain « social maturity » and his or her parents are alive, the Gôbi should in principle be oriented upwards. Finally, the backward position is reserved for chiefs, it means that they are at the top and have nothing to prove. »

If everyone agrees on the social and coded communication function of this clothing complement, it is important to remember that the meaning of the orientations of the tip of the cap varies from one environment to another and within the same environment, the meanings are sometimes contradictory and can be a function of the social stratigraphy of the Gôbi users. For example, for Guy Tagnon, a fashion designer working in Ouando in the city of Porto-Novo, quoted by Sébastien Woinsou, « the originality of the Gôbi lies in the position that only the initiate is supposed to master. When the hat is pointed to the right, the wearer expresses how elegant and beautiful he is and how he deserves to be classified among men of value. This is the best position for festive events or celebrations. As for the position oriented to the left, it symbolizes nobility and translates the expression of the most vivid feelings like love. The expression of authority and power can be seen when the Gobi is raised straight on the head. This position allows the wearer to draw more attention to himself and to stand out without embarrassment. On the other hand, when the hat is pointed forward, as shown in the photo above, the wearer allows evolution to be read; it is a progressive posture. »

The Gobi as a symbol of defiance

Others believe that the Gobi, in the orientation of its tip, is also a symbol of defiance. In the position facing backwards, the bearer of the Gôbi rather marks defiance. This position is more adopted in the disputes so to say to his opponent that he is left to the neck with his attempts. It is also done to get rid of slander as if to say « the dogs bark, the caravan passes ».

Former Nigerian president Obasanjo in his left-handed Gôbi. Photo: Premium times

As we can see, the Gôbi, beyond its social function, which today is of little importance for the new generation, is its function of elegance that is sought after and valued.  To this end, it has become more than a hat. And designers have adopted it and added it to their creations. Present in all styles, it underlines the elegance and seduces. Nevertheless, it remains the traditional hat that says a lot about ethnic and social origins as well as about belonging to a royal lineage whether in Benin, Togo or Nigeria.  


Sovi L. Ahouansou


Afrique/Culture: Port du Gôbi, plus qu’un chapeau, c’est une affirmation de soi

Le « GOBI »: tous les codes de ce chapeau africain (PARTIE I) Translated with (free version)

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