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Art Partners Lesson©

Lesson Title:

Crowns of Inspiration: African Animal Imagery and Personal Expression

Author: Lucy Andrus and Lora Evans 
Grade/Age Level: Elementary
Written here for:
Third grade Inclusion Class

Conceptual Basis For This Lesson:

Unit/Theme, Relation of Lesson to the Unit, Major Concepts to be Learned:

This is the second lesson in our series on African culture as part of the larger unit on exploring world cultures. Incorporating ideas of animal symbolism in African art with self-awareness and personal strengths, the students will create crowns that express their individuality and uniqueness. Our inspiration will come from study of the crowns of Yoruba kings, which are one of a kind pieces created exclusively for the wearer.

We will also learn more about the use of animal imagery in objects to be worn as a means to assume and convey power. As the students learn more about African design, they will continue to understand how artmakers all over the world, across time and culture, use the same alphabet of art elements and principles to express ideas visually.

Relation to Life:

A healthy self-concept is dependent on the development of a positive self-image, which includes an understanding of one’s cultural identity. Children need to know where they came from to fully understand who they are and where they are going. They need to develop a sense of personal competency as well as volition in order to become productive and contributing members of the larger community. In addition, as our society becomes increasingly more global, our children need to understand what makes them unique before they can understand and appreciate the uniqueness of others.

Learning Standards

Goals Specific to Lesson/Unit (reflecting NYS standards, & targeted learning areas. See Abbreviation Key at end):

The students will:

  1. Increase understanding and appreciation of African art and culture (AH, AC, Std. 3 & 4, S)
  2. Increase understanding of artworks/artifacts as a reflection of the culture in which they are created and used (AH, AC, Std. 4, A/C)
  3. Develop emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-esteem, respect for others (E, S)
  4. Understand the use of symbolism in visual expression (AC, Std. 2 & 3, A/C)
  5. Create artworks that convey personal ideas through the use of animal imagery (AP, Std. 1, A/C)
  6. Understand and appreciate the use of art elements and principles used by artmakers across time and cultures (AH, AC, Std. 3 & 4)
  7. Develop attending skills and group cooperation skills (AP, Std. 1, S, W/S)

Performance Objectives for Observational Assessment (reflecting goals):

The students will be able to:


  • Name and describe two things learned about African culture in general Goal 1
  • Name the people who created the crowns on view (Yoruba) Goals 1 & 2
  • Define the term symbol (see vocabulary) Goal 4
  • Describe at least one meaning of animal imagery used in the visuals presented Goals 4 & 5
  • Name at least one characteristic of the African crowns presented (materials used, symbolism, meaning) Goals 1, 2, & 4
  • Describe at least one way the elements and principles of art were used to create the crowns on view Goal 6
  • Name at least one animal characteristic/quality related to self Goals 4 & 5
    Attend to the slide show without disruption Goal 7


  • Identify/record at least one personal quality that is a strength and that makes self unique Goal 3
  • Choose at least one animal to symbolize the personal quality Goals 4 & 5
  • Create a crown that incorporates animal imagery to celebrate personal uniqueness and strength by:
    • cutting any desired designs along the top edge of the crown either freehand or using tracers to draw cutting line first (chosen animal head, or other shape)
    • using tracers to cut out full animal images from colored poster board and add to flat art of crown in desired areas using brush and glue
    • adding details using markers/crayons, and embellishing with raffia, seeds, shells, dried grass, etc. (can add raffia veiling if desired)
    • allow S/Ts to staple crown form to fit head Goals 3, 4, 5 & 7
  • Share materials without argument Goal 7
  • Assist with clean-up as directed Goal 7


  • Recall/describe at least two appealing aspects about African culture Goals 1 & 2
  • Indicate/describe the use of any art elements and principle used by any peer in the creation of their crown Goal 6
  • Present own crown to the group and describe at least one meaning intended by the use of animal imagery Goals 3 & 4

Tools Needed For Application

Visual Aids:

  • Teacher-made: example of crown, African animal/symbol chart, chart or handouts of African design motifs, culture chart, map of Africa.
  • Art Resources: Slides over viewing African culture, slides or pictures of Yoruba and other African crowns.
  • Art Resources: For online information on crowns in Yoruba culture, visit: http://www.wash.cr.k12.ia.us/academics/la/myth/africa.htm

Vocabulary (defined in age-appropriate, student-friendly language):

  • Adenla: “great crown”; term for the king’s beaded veiled crown (Yoruba)
  • Culture: a way of life of a group of people (includes customs, traditions, etc.)
  • Ashe: (ah-SHE) divine force, the power to make things happen
  • Oogun Ashe (ooh-GUN ah-SHE) a pouch of herbal medicines placed inside the crown that give it its power; even the king would not look inside his crown for fear he might be blinded by this divine power
  • Symbol: something that stands for an idea; a shape, color image that stands for another idea, like a red heart to symbolize love, or a circle shape to symbolize unity or togetherness
  • Unique: special, one of a kind (qualities that make us unique)
  • Yoruba: West African people who have lived in the southwestern areas of the country Nigeria and Republic of Benin (beh-NEEN)

Materials and Preparation:

  • Djambe drum if possible (or CD of African music and CD player)
  • Pre-cut poster board crown bases for each child, long rectangles app. 6 “ or more inches high (measure child’s head to determine length); draw a pencil line to indicate cutting line app. two inches down form the top edge
  • Assortment of African animal tracers (drawn in simplified form and cut from lightweight cardboard, like cereal boxes)
  • Oogun ashe packets for each crown (we created ours using crushed herbs and sparkle bits wrapped in a very small plastic or cellophane packet that gets taped or stapled to inside of crown)
  • Assorted color markers
  • Pencils and scissors for tracing and cutting animal shapes
  • Assorted color construction paper
  • White tacky glue/brushes/lids (margarine tub lids used as dishes for glue)
  • Glue sticks
  • Glue guns and power strip (for adult use only)
  • Assorted seed and beans (like black-eyed peas, colored lentils)
  • Small shells and pebbles, can also use macaroni pieces spray painted gold (these items should be placed in segmented containers if possible)
  • Raffia grass (to decoration and making optional veil)
  • Staplers for forming crowns
  • Masking tape
  • Mirror to view self wearing crown at end
  • Scrap paper
  • Slide projector and extension cord


Procedural Steps: none required in this case.

Procedural Steps: (details on procedures from beginning to end with ability-appropriate language scripted in as necessary):

Opening: African music is playing background during set up

1. If possible, leader beats djambe (JOM-bay) to call children to the opening space (beating of the djambe means “come together”). All sing Hello Song to beat of the drum.

2. Leader has children recall the term culture, refers to map of African, and asks children to name some things they remember about African culture learned from last week’s slides and teaching. Also, recall clothing and weaving of cloth.

3. Leader shows another segment of slides that continue the overview and that end with a recall of African animals and their symbolic meanings, and slides of royalty in traditional garb.

4. Referring to the map, leader introduces a particular people of Western Africa, the Yoruba, who have lived in the southwestern area of what is now Nigeria and the Republic of Benin for over 900 years.

5. Referring to the picture exemplar of a beaded and veiled Yoruba crown, leader focuses on the kings, or obas, of Yoruba culture, drawing attention to the distinctive beaded veiled crowns they wore as part of their royal regalia. Leader defines this term, explaining that regalia are the symbols of office that tell us a person is of royal importance, and asks children if they can think of other types of regalia – things people could wear or hold- that would tell others they are a king or queen or other royal person.

6. Leader defines the term adenla (“great crown”), and explains the importance of the beaded veiled adenla ("great crown") in Yoruba culture. Leader imparts the following as appropriate to the students’ age and grade level:

- Adenlas are more than just a symbol of royalty or kingship

- Each adenla, or crown, stands for/symbolizes important ideas about being a ruler that the king must always remember, such as:
Being a responsible and wise person in making good decisions for the people and the kingdom (ideals of political and personal stability), taking care of the people in the kingdom, especially those who are struggling (refuge for the oppressed), being a spiritual guide to the people (salvation), and much more.

- A Yoruba king's crown tells the people that he is royal. The adenla, or great crown, was only on ceremonial occasions, and wearing the crown gives the king the power to communicate with his spirit ancestors in order to make good decisions for taking care of his people.

- Leader explains that after the crown is made for the oba, a sacred person in the kingdom would add the power to the crown by placing a pouch of sacred herbs inside the crown. This is called oogun ashe (ooh-GUN ah-SHE)

- Because these crowns are so powerful, they are one of the most sacred objects in Yoruba culture.

7. Leader goes on to explain the symbolism contained in the objects that decorate the crown:

- The Yoruba crown (19th c) is made of thousands of tiny glass beads

- It contains a face, which represents a royal ancestor of the king, and is a symbol of uniting the spirit world of the ancestors with the earthly world of the king and his people.
- A Yoruba king’s crown is often decorated with birds, which are symbols of power and messengers to the spirit ancestor world

- The most unique (leader recalls definition of this word) part of this crown is the veil of beads that would fall down over the king's face. Leader explains that when wearing the crown, the king had so much awesome power (when uniting with ancestors) that this veil was meant to cover the king’s face and protect people from looking directly at him…too much power to gaze upon!

- Leader explains the symbolism of bird images on the crowns: The birds represent a divine force, that is, the power to make things happen, and the power to connect with the spirit ancestors when the king is seeking guidance so he can be a good ruler. Birds symbolize the king’s power and also the power of a group of elderly women who are called “the mothers”, and whose job it is to help protect the king and the people. (The mothers’ special power allows them to turn into night birds who punish those who are arrogant, selfish or immoral).

8. If available, leader can show images of other African crowns, explaining their symbolism and the use of animal images to convey power and other important personal qualities needed to be successful.

9. Leader discusses other uses of animal imagery in African culture: African stories often use animals as the main characters to teach us a moral. Animal images are often used in special ceremonial masks because they are symbols of some quality that the person who will wear the mask would like to have more of him or herself. Leader gives examples, referring to the animal symbol chart.

10. Leader summarizes that wearing crowns is a way to show/express that
a person is important, and that can symbolize show unique about that person using symbols like animal images. Leader explains that each one of us is unique, with special gifts to offer, and that each one of us is trying to learn to do good things, and to be educated and to contribute to our communities in some way.

11. Leader suggests that we can express some of these ideas about ourselves by making our own personal crowns that will show our uniqueness and also tell others about our personal qualities using animal symbols. Leader suggests that the students can decorate their crowns using an animal that stands for a quality they would like to have more of in themselves. Crowns can also be decorated with element of art and patterns inspired by African design (refer to design charts or handouts).

12. Leader shows the teacher exemplars and explains the process, then children proceed to their small groups to work with their S/Ts.


13. S/Ts begin by having children identify and write down: something that makes them unique, and/or at least one personal quality they would like to possess more of, using the animal symbol chart as a reference.

14. Children are encouraged to think about how they would use the animal symbols, as well as lines, shapes and colors to show/symbolize their ideas.

15. S/T’s explain/demonstrate how the animal tracers can be used: animal shapes can be traced on colored paper, cut out, and then glued to crown in desired areas, and/or, the tracers can be used to create a top edge of their crown that is cut in the shape of the top half of the animal (on basic crown form, place tracer so that app. half of it will extend beyond the actual drawn cutting line, and trace the image; then cut final crown form).
Crowns can be worked on while still open and flat (establish the midpoint of the crown with a pencil marking so children have a reference for placing/drawing designs), or once the basic form is established/cut, the crown form can be bent around and stapled before children begin to decorate it (there are pros and cons to both approach!)

16. Children are given the basic crown forms (write names on inside), and should first decide placement of their animals (either cut out and glued on crown, or traced on crown and colored with markers), then use the markers and crayons to add decorative designs (can refer to design chart).

17. As children near completion of above, the pebbles, shells, seeds and raffia can be brought out for further embellishment. Use the tacky glue with brush to adhere these-dimensional items. S/Ts only can use the glue guns for especially heavy items (at their discretion).

18. The raffia is added last. The children can decide is the wish to add a veil using the raffia, and leaving a little room for their eyes to be able to see out of (crowns will be used later in our ceremonial ritual!). Lengths of raffia can be added using the masking tape (on inside of crown).

19. Once crowns are completed, the final touch is the addition of oogun ashe pouches, which the S/Ts will staple or tape to an inside top area of the crown (this addition can be postponed for the later date when we will perform out ritual of power and protection).

20. Children assist with clean up as directed, being sure to keep all like items packed together. Damp sponges or wet wipes can be used to clean any sticky fingertips.


21. All reconvene for closing as leader asks the children to put on their crowns, and holds up mirror for them to see.

22. Leader asks some children to show and tell about their crown: what makes you unique, and how does your crown show this? (with a color, line, symbol?), and, what animal symbol did you use and what does it tell us about you?

23. Leader explains about our upcoming ceremony and ritual where we will use our crowns, and tells children that next week, we will be making something else to use for that special day as we continue our exploration of African culture.

24. Using the drum, leader conducts the Goodbye Song.


In addition to observation of the Performance Objectives described above for evaluating students, as well as noting what teachers may need to re-teach or do differently, questions to ask might include:

  • Did students express something unique about themselves in their crowns, as well as use an animal symbol to express a personal quality?
  • Did students incorporate elements and principles such as patterning, in conveying a message as well as decorating their crowns?


Creation Myth

Long, long ago, Olorun (OH-low-run), the sky god, lowered a great chain from the heavens to the ancient waters. Down this chain climbed Oduduwa, Olorun's son. Oduduwa brought with him a handful of dirt, a special five-toed chicken, and a palm nut. He threw the dirt upon the ancient waters and set the chicken on the dirt. The chicken busily scratched and scattered the dirt until it formed the first dry earth. In the center of this new world, Oduduwa created the magnificent Ife (EE-fay) kingdom. He planted the palm nut, which grew into a proud tree with 16 branches, symbolizing the 16 sons and grandsons of Oduduwa. Oduduwa was the first ruler of the kingdom and the father of all Yoruba. Over time he crowned his 16 sons and grandsons and sent them off to establish their own great Yoruba kingdoms. As descendants of the sky god, these first Yoruba rulers and their direct descendants were divine kings. Only they could wear special veiled crowns that symbolized their sacred power.


The Yoruba (pronounced “YOR-ba”)

The Yoruba peoples of West Africa have lived in the southwestern area of what are now Nigeria and the Republic of Benin (BE-neen) since the 11th century. The earliest Yoruba kingdoms of Ife and Oyo (oh-YO) spread over vast territories. Divine kings, descendants of Oduduwa, ruled these kingdoms, advised by councils of elders and chiefs. As part of their royal REGALIA, kings wore distinctive beaded veiled crowns.


The beaded veiled crown, called adenla ("great crown"), is more than a symbol of kingship. Each crown embodies ideals of political and personal stability, refuge for the oppressed, salvation, and much more. Worn only on ceremonial occasions, the crown gave the king the power to communicate with his spirit ancestors in order to benefit his people. At other times it was kept on display and given the same respect and attention as the king himself. Because these crowns hold so much power, they are among the most sacred Yoruba objects. Beginning in the 1830s, civil wars disrupted the Yoruba kingdoms. From the 1890s until the 1960s, British and French interference further challenged traditional Yoruba ways. In this climate of political upheaval, Yoruba leaders without official claims to kingship began to commission and wear veiled crowns. Although the sacred powers of Yoruba kings are limited today, disputes still rage over the rights to wear veiled crowns.

King's Crown

This 19th-century king's crown is made of thousands of tiny brightly colored glass beads. Many features of this crown are characteristic of nearly all sacred Yoruba crowns.


The most distinctive feature of this crown is the veil of beads that once cascaded over the king's face. A net of black, white, maroon, and blue beads is surrounded by multicolored strands of beads. The veil obscured the king's features to protect men and women from looking directly at his face when he was united with his powerful ancestors.


A great yellow face dominates the crown. Its black-and-white almond-shaped eyes, yellow nose, and oval blue mouth are raised from the surface. The three vertical lines on either side of the nose are scars denoting the king's lineage. The face represents a royal ancestor of the king, probably Oduduwa, and unites the spirit world of the ancestors with the earthly world of the king and his people.


A tall striped projection, perhaps representing a hairstyle, stands above the face. Among some Yoruba, projections from the heads of special individuals signify spiritual power. The projection on this crown once contained a pouch of herbal medicines that gave the crown its power. For fear he would be blinded, even the king could not look inside his own crown.


Sixteen colorful beaded birds surround the king's crown. These birds signify a divine force called ˆshe (ah-SHE)--the power to make things happen--which only the highest Yoruba men and women possess. The birds connote the ˆshe of the king and of a group of elderly women called "the mothers" who support him. The mothers' special power enables them to turn into night birds who punish or destroy those who are arrogant, selfish, or otherwise immoral. On the crown, the birds symbolize the king's power and the mothers' power to protect him and the people.

Key Ideas

According to Yoruba (YOUR-a-bah) mythology, the first Yoruba kings were the offs pring of the creator, Oduduwa (oh-doo-DOO-wah).
A Yoruba king's crown identifies the status of its wearer and gives the king the power to interact with the spirit world in order to benefit his people.
A veil, a large face, and a group of birds are SYMBOLS that commonly appear on a Yoruba king's crown.

Abbreviation Key

NYS Standards for the Arts:
AH = Art History Std. 1 = creating, participating in art
AC = Art Criticism Std. 2 = knowing art materials and processes
AE = Aesthetics Std. 3 = responding to works of art/artists
AP = Art Production Std. 4 = knowing cultural dimensions of art

Needs Assessment Areas for Developing Skills and Abilities:
A/C    = academic/cognitive M/P = motor/perceptual  E = emotional
C        = communicative status W/S = work/study habits S = social
Pre-V = prevocational skills  L = living skills  

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