Cameroon; Bamileke peoples


Wood, copper, H. 39.7 x W. 32 x D. 15.9 cm


Masks similar to this one, covered with a thin sheet of copper applique and brass upholstery tacks, were kept in the royal storerooms of the Fon, the ruler of the kingdom of Kom. According to Pierre Harter (1986:218), this type was called akam, and was worn on top of the performer's head facing upward, together with a costume of blue-and-white cloth imported from the Benue River valley. Writing of the nearby Bamun kingdom, Geary states: "Every Bamun stood in a pyramidal dependency relationship to the king which was visually expressed by the anthropomorphic masks' bowing before the king. Such an interpretation of the masquerade stresses the symbolic reproduction of social and political structure" (Geary 1983:134). This was a very important mask type, worn by the chief dancer of the king's court. During celebrations, the dancer wearing this mask would lead a long procession of several distinctive mask types across the plaza in front of the palace.

Professor Christopher D. Roy, School of Art and Art History, University of Iowa