The QCC Art Gallery of the City University of New York

Through the Eyes of Our Ancestors: African Art from the James and Marjorie L. Wilson Collection by James & Marjorie L Wilson
Through the Eyes of Our Ancestors: African Art from the James and Marjorie L. Wilson Collection
James & Marjorie L Wilson
May 19th to June 30th, 2011
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(1) Hunter’s Shirt This garment is equipped with multiple protective devices, including wrapped bundles and horn amulets, colored threads, fur and leather strips. Even the basic shirt was created with protection in mind. Cotton was woven into cloth, then immersed in a plant-based dye which itself was believed to have protective powers. A carved wooden stamp dipped in concentrated dye created the circular pattern that repeats over the entire garment. Each material and process played a part in defending the wearer. Stamped patterns can also be seen on Senufo hunter’s shirts. A tunic similar to this one is reproduced in African Costumes and Textiles: 114.

(2) Bird Headpiece This unusual headpiece features a prominent beak and a circular projection on the forehead, embedded with cowrie shells. Incised geometric patterning indicates its origin among the cultures of Burkina Faso, which include the Mossi, Bwa, Lela and Nuna. Masks represent bush spirits and are also affiliated as clan animals with the spirits of the ancestors. They appear at funerals and at a yearly ceremony intended to rid a village of evil spirits. Remains of sacrificial offerings including chicken feathers can be found on the beak and face of this headpiece, indicating that the mask itself became an object of veneration. After several effective masquerade appearances, a mask was sometimes used as an altar that received offerings to its spirit.

(3) N’tomo Mask N’tomo is an initiation society for young boys. During their long seclusion, youngsters formerly learned male roles and were circumcised. This seven-horned mask communicates a number of ideas through symbolic visual language. In Bamana thought, according to Pascal J. Imperato, “three and its multiples represent masculinity; four and its multiples represent femininity, and 2, 5, and 7 represent androgyny.” In this case, seven may represent youth prior to sexual instruction. The color white, carried by the cowries, denotes ancestry, harmony, and purity. Red seeds evoke the blood that is shed during this time, as well as war, heat, and energy. The black spots on each seed imply the future maturity of the young man, as he takes his place in society (Imperato, pc 11/30/10 and in Surfaces: 175).

(4) Poro Society Mask Poro is a powerful age-grade male society found in many West African cultures. Its ‘home’ was in the forest, with entry allowed only to initiates and priests. Each age level of the society is associated with a different mask type. This beaked mask with human features is accented with white metal around the eyes and mouth, as well as vertical strips delineating the face. Imported brass bells, mirrors and cowries, along with round crotal bells of African manufacture add fields of reference to its appearance as an entity that may exert control in several spheres. The costume remnant combines brown country cloth with imported red cloth. Red is associated with the Poro Society. Brown is considered the color of the bush, home of animals and wild spirits. Wrapped duiker horns and attached to the mask reinforce that symbolism.

(5) Poro Society Mask With the mouth of a crocodile, long straight horns, and an animal head rising out of the forehead, this powerful creature defines the essence of the Poro Society to which it belonged. It associates the strength of each animal with Poro, visually describing its ability both to devour (initiates) and defend (territory). Subtle color pervades the surface: black dye with a red underlayer, the color of Poro, accented with white kaolin, signifier of purity and a good outcome. The Poro Society combines religious, political and social functions in an atmosphere of secrecy. Their masks are intended to embody potent spiritual entities that perform for the benefit of the entire community.

(6) Poro Medicine Ensemble Cloth masks are unusual in the lexicon of collectors, who often prefer the aesthetics of wood masks. Because the materials are also ephemeral, cloth masks are subject to wear and tear, making them less likely to have been exported, thus emphasizing the rarity of this ensemble. It should be noted that the accoutrements on this red cloth mask are the same as those found on wood masks. Cowries surround the eyes, monkey fur surrounds the face, and wrapped cloth power bundles were once attached below the eyes. Only one remains on the proper left side. A fur topknot extends from the crown. Both the mask and the underside of the body cover are made of red cloth, associating it with Poro, and possibly with a Zo or priest.

(7) Korubla Mask Ensemble, Poro Society In this mask, human features are combined with the jaws and white teeth of a crocodile, warthog horns, porcupine quills and bird feathers. Each element exemplifies a symbolic power. Teeth, horns and quills are outward signs of both defense and aggression, strengths associated with the Poro Society. The cloth body cover is ornamented with white geometric patterns and a network of spots. The Korubla masquerade is associated with Poro initiations and funerals. Young boys were taken into the Poro camp, instructed in agriculture and the ceremonies involving masked entities. They emerged at the end of their training as men, ready to take their place in society. Upon becoming elders, they were expected to guide their community, and in death they were honored as respected ancestors. The Korubla mask ensemble played a part in both the beginning and the end of this continuum.

(8) Mask Ensemble The patchwork cloth mask incorporates information about the identity of this ensemble. To create it, worn country cloth was stitched together, and augmented by fur and the hornbill beak. Braided raffia forms the beard of a male character. Bound tufts of monkey fur and the hornbill beak symbolize creatures with specific attributes. In Dan mythology, the hornbill was created by God to fetch palm nuts, providing sustenance to humans. Monkey is a creature of the wild, resourceful but unpredictable. The indigo blue and white striped country cloth has a circular sacrificial offering spot at center front. That circular pattern can be seen on other Poro masks and costumes in this exhibition.

(9) Mask This mask has an articulated jaw, meaning that it ‘spoke’ during performance, sometimes in a gibberish language that was interpreted by an assistant who accompanied the masquerader during his appearance. The mask was carved with four eyes—two perforated circles and two tubular projections, all outlined in white, an attribute of the spirit world. A cloth and cowrie covered amulet is positioned at the crown of the head, marking an entry place for the spirit. The red band across the eyes signifies Poro affiliation. Monkey fur and animal claws mark this as a bush spirit. The Kran are related to the Wè of Liberia and Ivory Coast. Mask production is dominated by male Poro Societies in each culture.

(10) Initiation Mask and Body Cover The combination of facial features in this mask refers to both humans and animals. It has an elongated, angular face and nose, an articulated jaw once covered with monkey fur, and metal-rimmed eyes. Forged, curled iron pegs atop the head may refer to the strength of Poro. According to an oral account, mothers of initiates placed money in the mouth of the mask to support their boys in bush camp. A bag placed in the mouth of the mask received the contributions, so that the spirit appeared to eat the money. The Poro Society controlled male initiation and also solicited food from villagers to support their initiates.

(11) Mask Ensemble Similar in type to the previous combination, this ensemble includes an over-garment made of leopard and goat skin and fur arranged in complex patterns. Four circles on the costume are composed of cowries on red textile. The mask has a hinged mouth, indicating that it emitted sounds described as “bestial croaks, growls or twitters” (The Arts of the Dan in West Africa: 8). The Kpelle in Liberia and related Guerze in Guinea were organized into powerful Poro Societies that acted as shadow governments, ruling the chiefdoms in which they were found.

(12) Bird Mask Ensemble Many mask forms are shared by Dan, Mano, Kpelle and Mau groups in Ivory Coast, Liberia and Guinea. Among the Dan and Mau, the bird mask is considered a harbinger of good luck, and the inclusion of white (metal) on the mask reinforces that message. The hornbill is considered an auspicious bird, and this masked character sings and dances while blessing the audience (Arts of the Dan in West Africa: 67). The feathered topknot is bound with brown cloth, with amulets stitched in place around it. The ensemble is completed by a dense raffia body covering, indicating that this represents a bush spirit. A flattened snake skin is attached to the back.

(13) Bird Mask Among the Dan, some masks were ‘dreamed’ by their future owners, who then commissioned carvers and costume-makers to render the dreamed image as accurately as possible. Other masks represented cultural or mythological characters. This mask belongs to a type found among many related cultures (Dan, Mano, Mau) in Ivory Coast and Liberia. It combines human features with the beak of a hornbill, the spiritual precursor of humans that brought knowledge of cultivation, the use of palm nuts and oil. When the hornbill appears, the image suggests a good outcome. In performance, the masquerader might mime the movements and sounds of a bird. Deep-set round eyes enhanced the dancer’s vision.

(14) Female Mask Ensemble Called Deangle or Gaa Wree Wre this mask could serve different functions. Among the Dan, this was the mask type that came out from the circumcision camp into a village to ask for food. In other circumstances this mask type could serve as a justice mask, sitting to hear cases. Multiple material additions attest to the importance of this spirit. Each of the items had to be purchased, the mask commissioned, and the ensemble created to embody certain characteristics. The black mask has soft, feminine features, accented by a white band across the eyes, imitating cosmetics worn by women. White cowries and red beads form the rolled headband, and a black-white-red color scheme is echoed in the colors of her shawl. The brown undergarment is dyed cotton, woven in strips and sewn together. A raffia skirt concealed the dancer, and the tall, pointed cap adds height. The considerable cost of such a costume was usually shared by members of the society to which it belonged.

(15) Monkey Mask The monkey mask represents a bush entity. It is equipped with an articulated jaw, indicating that it was a speaking spirit. The red head band signifies volatility, while the cowries denote wealth. Among the Dan, Kaogle, the monkey masquerader, acted as an entertainer, stirring up the crowd with its erratic behavior. It carried a hooked stick with which it intimidated onlookers. However, this mask apparently advanced in rank. It was released during the Liberian war, at which time it was presented to the current collector as a Gle Wa or judgment mask. These were powerful masked entities, controlled by the Go Society, that were able to decide the fate of defendants in legal cases. If a mask performed admirably over the years, it could advance in rank, to achieve higher station, as apparently happened with this mask. When that happened, the masquerader’s dance steps became more restrained to fit this new role.

(16) Singer Mask (Ble Gla) This mask incorporates feminine features in the oval face and slit eyes, though human hair replicates an elder’s beard. The open mouth of this mask, and the attached bells, denote its ability to create music. Within public celebrations, this masker acts to commemorate local heroes and to create fables relating to local oral history. To sing, the dancer pushes the mask onto his forehead, while his face is still hidden behind the costume. This masker occupies a fairly high position in the Gla or masking society. Cowries add white coloration of the spirit world and allude to wealth. (Masks of the We in Western Côte d’Ivoire)

(17) Mask This mask incorporates a number of pigments and materials to create an unusual character. The face has been colored with black dye, and accented with an over-layer of white, red, and a vivid blue color sometimes seen on Grebo masks. Vertical blue and white forehead stripes recreate former tattoo marks. Blue and white fabrics form a conical head cover topped with black and white feathers. The mask also shares some characteristics with Zro Gla (Beggar masks) worn by junior initiates in Gla, the Wè masking society. The mask has feminine features---slit eyes, oval face, and white teeth---but also wears a beard. Zro Gla is an entertainment mask. In performance, the dancer mimics a woman’s step, amusing the crowd and then holding out his hand to receive gifts. (Masks of the We in Western Côte d’Ivoire)

(18) Monkey Mask This masterful carving is triangular in shape, with a broad forehead showing a male scarification mark from forehead to brow line, slit eyes and an articulated lower jaw. The mask represents monkey (Kaogle) one of the main characters in Dan masquerades. The mobile jaw means that this spirit had a ‘speaking’ role. His costume would have been a thick raffia shroud that hid the dancer’s body. This character’s actions are erratic and wild, as befits a bush spirit. He carried a hooked stick with which he thrashed young men, challenging them to dance aggressively. In so doing, he clears the dance circle in preparation for other masqueraders to follow. The red pigment across the eyes reinforces his aggressive nature.

(19) Sande Society Mask Sande Societies are found among Mende, Gola, Vai and Temne groups in Sierra Leone and Liberia. This association controls initiation and social advancement among women. Unique among African cultures, women here commission masks and perform with them during community celebrations. Masks and costumes are typically black, though a white headwrap is sometimes added to the coiffure during performance. This mask shows attributes consistent with ideal female beauty. The eyes are downcast, the coiffure is beautifully made, and the neck rings are accented. The ensemble is called Sowei, but each mask also has a name, sometimes that of a male ancestor, sometimes a term indicating personal characteristics of the dancer.

(20) Jolly Masquerade Headpiece In post-slavery 1800’s, a variety of peoples—Yoruba, Igbo, and Kru—settled in Freetown, Sierra Leone, mixing with Mende and Temne inhabitants, and bringing with them masquerades including Egungun and Gelede. Men’s dance groups, now called Jolly masqueraders, celebrated an amalgam of characters and phenomena. This headpiece is a tribute to Al-Buraq, the winged horse with a woman’s head, once ridden by the Prophet Mohammed (John Nunley in Mami Wata: 74). The mask would have been worn at a slant atop the dancer’s head; he saw through a crochet veil just below the face. In motion, mirrors flash light, and the white scarves fly about.

(21) Kente cloth Woven cotton cloth was created by Asante weavers for centuries, long predating Kente cloth. The origin of Kente as a specific kind of cloth began with the advent of imported silk, brought in by European traders in the early 1700’s. Their silk yard goods were unraveled, and the brilliantly colored threads were woven into the cotton. Complex patterns were created as time went on, each of which became known by a name derived from one of a variety of sources: famous chiefs, queen mothers, plants, historical events, and proverbs. Colors also acquired symbolic associations: yellow with royalty and wealth; blue with peace and love; red with sacrifice and spirituality; black with maturity and spiritual energy. The cloth has been associated with royalty who controlled its use and distribution. Men wear the cloth over the left shoulder, while women wear shorter lengths as skirts (The Asante: 153). According to Asante legend the origin of weaving came through observation of the spider and first weaver, Ananse. This textile is draped over an asipim chair once used by Asante royalty.

(22) Egungun Ensemble with three-headed mask Egungun performances honor ancestors with drumming, dance, and elaborate costumes that reflect well upon a lineage and its deceased ancestors. An extended family will band together to afford such a display, since each element must be separately purchased. A headpiece is commissioned, colorful fabrics are purchased from various sources, a netting veil made, cowries and accoutrements bought, and the whole thing assembled to accommodate a dancer’s body. Three-headed Egungun carry complex meanings. The larger head at the center is flanked by two smaller heads, perhaps recognizing the departed’s identity as iya ibeji (mother of twins). The axe may refer to Sango, protector of twins, and the small, attached bow string with cowries relates to Osoosi, deity of the hunt. Egungun and Ibeji are related conceptually, as both acknowledge origins in the Colobus monkey (Bolaji Campbell, pc 10/28/10).

(23) Egungun Ensemble with three-headed mask The central head of this Egungun is female, as indicated by the coiffure. The two small flanking heads wear caps associated with men. This headpiece may portray an ancestral mother of twin boys, or it may allude to Iya Agan, female chief of an Egungun society. Within Egungun societies, authority positions are accorded to titled elders, both men and women. Both could own Egungun masquerades. According to Yoruba mythology, the first Egungun masquerader was half monkey, half human. In recognition of its origin, Egungun maskers speak in guttural, varied tones imitating the monkey. The red color of the cloth costume replicates the color of its fur (Henry Drewal, pc 10/23/10).

(24) Egungun Ensemble A successful Egungun ensemble incorporates a lavish display, with layer upon layer of imported cloth sewn into lobes (traditionally 16 in number) with serrated edges symbolizing protection. The strips and patterns rise and swirl with the movements of the dancer. He sees through crochet netting at face level, and his face is framed in cowries denoting wealth. The mask is conceived and maintained by lineage members who purchase accoutrements, invent praise songs and practice dance movements that accentuate the visual splendor of the costume. According to Henry Drewal, the ensemble and whirling dance embodies the saying ayé l’ajò, òrun nilé, meaning ‘life is a journey, the afterlife is home’ (Beads, Body and Soul: 270).

25) Mother and Child This maternity figure was once seated within a shrine to which women came hoping to conceive or to heal an ill child. The body position of this figure is strong, upright and nurturing. Her coiffure is duplicated in that of the child that she protects on her lap. The hands of mother and daughter meet on the head of a snake that the mother holds. Both the snake and the white over-color of the figure identify this as a water spirit, whose attributes are fertility and healing. The snake, especially the python, is sacred to many Nigerian peoples, and its killing is prohibited. In a related manner, a snake was believed to endure forever, as it shed its skin but lived on. Thus the messages embedded in this maternity figure speak of fecundity and long life.

(26) Display Figure The crested coiffure of this female figure is similar to Igbo Mmonwo (Mmwo) masks, carved to honor female ancestors. It replicates a hair style worn by women during the early part of the last century. Around the forearms of this figure are rings meant to suggest ivory armlets; the leg rings would have been made of brass. The necklace of beads and crotal bells would have been worn by a woman of rank. Elaborate scarification adorns her midsection. The body of the wood figure has been oiled, echoing a human practice, and creating a lustrous skin-like tonality. Display figures were carried on the shoulders of male bearers during processionals to honor ancestors.

(27) Epa Mask Epa masks, when not in use, resided in shrines. They were brought out to perform only at post-funeral rites of men known for their singular achievements in life. The masquerader who wore an Epa mask had to be athletic and agile, as his feats included leaps and jumps to express the extraordinary character of this spirit. The doubled or janus face means that the spirit is able to see past and future, this life and the next. Large eyes indicate spiritual power. Atop the mask are several figures, dominated by a female with a baby on her back, signifying continuity. Her coiffure was said by William Fagg to replicate a Yoruba hairstyle of the 19th century, according to the collector, Jim Wilson. Two out of a trio of small figures at the back survive. Both are attendants: one holds a bowl on the head, the other holds a calabash.

(28) Costume with cloth mask The spirits of generic Igbo ancestors appear during festivals, funerals and age-grade celebrations. Invisible entities manifest themselves at night, through sonic displays that are heard, not seen. Visible entities appear during the day in masquerades (mmonwu) regarded as spirit visitations from the other world. For these, the body of the masquerader must be fully covered, with cloth if it represents an ancestor, or with raffia for a bush spirit. Appliqué and colorful cloth strips create the body and arms of this costume. The burlap mask has chain-stitched yarn patterns, with an attached butterfly-shaped nose. Masqueraders adopt different roles. Some are singing entities, others athletes, dancers, or elders. Characters may be added or discontinued as the community changes. The male societies that sponsor masquerades also have the power to adjudicate community disputes (The Dead Among the Living: Masquerades in Igbo Society).

(29) Royal Hunter’s Ensemble, cowrie hat, and gun Hunters’ tunics were worn on occasion by local rulers as ritual garments. This one incorporates multiple protective devices to symbolically shield the wearer from harm in hunting or war. Ornate brass amulet holders fastened to the front of this tunic may once have enclosed Koranic verse, solicited from an Imam for protection. The beaded crocodile alludes to a powerful devourer of prey. Horns and fur call upon the power and cunning of wild animals. The gun replicates those used and sold by colonial powers. Cowries are associated with Sango, god of thunder and Osoosi, god of the hunt.

(30) Calabash mask Calabash masks are worn by Afikpo male initiates of all ages, from 5 to 20. They sometimes appear in public, in procession where hierarchy is expressed by the height of the mask. The largest of these, worn by ranking initiation officials, could be over 20 feet tall. This mask is about 5 feet in height, so perhaps belonged to a male society member in the mid-range of the hierarchy. The face-cover is an oval half-calabash with three sets of pierced eye slits. Cane and cord were attached to create the superstructure. Pigment remnants include kaolin, red and yellow ocher and black. Along with this mask, initiates wore body-coverings consisting of long fiber strips.

(31) Helmet Mask The Niger River connects the Igala kingdom to many other Nigerian peoples, and cultural influences have long moved back and forth along that route. The town of Idah is central to the kingdom and site of the royal house, within which several royal masks are kept by the Ata, or king, to symbolize his power. Each mask plays a different role, executing its own steps during masquerade performance. Similar masks are associated with ancestry, and are said to bring forth the spirits of the dead. The facial striations characteristic of Igala masks evoke those on Ife sculpture. This mask also has raised keloids under the eyes. At each side of the face, keloids extend from forehead to cheek, and are accented with kaolin as are the eyelids and upper lip. Ancestor masks commonly appear at the annual yam harvest. Masks very similar to this one are in collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Des Moines Art Center (The Arts of the Benue to the Roots of Tradition).

(32) Robe A narrow-strip indigo dyed cloth, with symbolic patterning embroidered and appliquéd on either side, this once belonged to a man of high status. Called babba riga or great robe, the size and scope of the decoration indicates the wealth of the man who wore it. Patterns and motifs are linked to Muslim protective signs. The long triangles are knives. The square inside the circle signifies the four corners of the world, the creation of Allah. The majority of the patterned designs are located on the left side of the garment (A History of Art in Africa: 97).

(33) Male Gelede Ensemble & Female Gelede Ensemble These masks display similar faces, each with triple tattoo marks reflecting scarification once borne by every Yoruba adult. Their wide, staring eyes see the spirit or are possessed by it. The symmetry of each face reflects balance, and the sealed lips are calm and serious. White color alludes to ancestors, and also to iwa (inner character). Gelede masks honor the ancestral role of women as bearers of life and the source of wisdom. However, only one of these masks portrays a woman. She has a female coiffure surmounted by a four-legged animal with a curled tail. The other mask shows a bearded male wearing a Muslim cap surrounded by a ring containing squared amulets. On each of the side panels is a crescent moon with a roundel and flower. Atop his head stands a lion. These signs all carry meanings related to the religious strength of this honored ancestor.

(34) Male Leader Ensemble (Kam) In a Bamum masquerade group, the position of leader is occupied by a male mask, usually portrayed with a crested head and a beard. His woven raffia tunic is inset with human hair. Amadou Njoya has noted that this hair is gathered from all the members of the Society to which the mask belongs, thus representing all of them in one ensemble (A Cameroon World: 37). This male mask always takes first position in any processional. During performance he holds a weapon, a sword, knife or spear, and he paces the masquerade for the other dancers. At a funeral, this mask alone may dance on the grave of the deceased, leading him into the next world (Cameroon Art and Kings: 91).

(35) Female Leader Ensemble (Ngon, Ngoin) The second position in Bamum masquerade processionals is taken by the female mask, Ngoin, said to be the wife of the male leader Kam. She is powerful in her own right. She is shown here with a serene face and close-fitting coiffure. Her ensemble may consist of indigo dyed cloth or an appliquéd fabric garment as in this case. During performance, she holds dance whisks in either hand. Her step is contained and graceful. Onlookers may offer gifts or money to her by placing it on the ground as she comes past. Both Ngoin and her male counterpart, Kam, appear at entitlement ceremonies, annual festivals and celebrations honoring the dead.

(36) Kuosi Society Ensemble Kuosi is an elite male Society within the Grassfields region of Cameroon. They reinforce the dominant hierarchy, admitting only nobility and important men. Their regalia consist of a beaded cloth mask with a long trunk and large ears, which symbolically incorporates the strength of the elephant, and a large red parrot-feather headdress, the color alluding to royalty. Combined with an indigo-dyed display cloth robe, the costume presents an image of wealth and advantage. Costumed Kuosi members are present at funerals and community celebrations. They have a stake in and are influential in protecting royal power.

(37) Drum This drum was found in a Bamenda palace around 1998. It was probably made in the 1940’s or ‘50’s, perhaps by the carver Fonbeoom who worked in the area of Big Babanki. The carving of the woman incorporates a hair style popular in the early part of the twentieth century. She presents her male child to the assembled audience. Multiple heads may allude to the people, and the large head to the presiding king. The drum may have been carved to celebrate the birth of a royal child, and played at naming ceremonies. The drum was also played during Njang celebrations and at the Palace Dance during several years of performance. After many years of use, it was stored in the king’s palace (Amadou Njoya, pc).

(38) N’Kem Ensemble Oku is one of a number of Bamileke kingdoms in northwestern Cameroon. This N’Kem mask appeared during commemorative celebrations for deceased members of a secret society in Oku. The extended jowls signify age and dignity. The open headdress is composed of six lizards whose tails meet at the top. The lizard was believed to inhabit two worlds, above and below ground. By extension, its image is symbolic of the connection between those currently living and their ancestors in the other world. This mask surmounts a cloth costume embroidered with inverted gongs, representing the double gong emblem of the Kwifoyn Society, with whom the king has a special relationship. The dance whisk is surmounted by a beaded elephant, calling upon the power implicit in that animal (Amadou Njoya, pc).

(39) Royal Tunics Banjoun, in the Bamileke region of the western Grassfields, was the origin of these royal garments. The princess’ tunic is beaded in bold turquoise and white diamonds. The sleeves repeat the same colors in a four-leaved floral pattern. The prince’s tunic has a central radiating diamond pattern in blue, yellow, black and red beads, surrounded by indigo-dyed display cloth. Red is a color associated with royalty in this hierarchical culture. The color appears in both garments, in the central panel and lower border of the male tunic, and in the lower row of diamonds on that of the female. This display attire would have been worn during festivals (Amadou Njoya, pc).

(40) Commemorative Figure This male figure was carved in remembrance of an ancestral king from Oku in the Bamileke region of Cameroon. Shown as an upright figure with a wide stance and regal bearing, wide eyes and closed mouth, the carving embodies qualities associated with royalty. With both hands, he holds a prestige staff covered at top and bottom with cowries, symbolic of wealth and status. The figure is shown wearing a double-lobed prestige cap. The chevron beads in his necklace would have been worn only by a person of rank. This figure would have been kept in the royal palace and could be brought out to stand near the current monarch as he received visitors. It was a guardian and attendant to the king, and a sign of his legitimacy in succession to the throne (Amadou Njoya, pc).

(41) Mask This subtle carving of a bearded male has slit eyes and an open mouth with inset metal teeth. The coiffure is formed of braided raffia, arranged in thick, layered loops over a cane armature. The thick raffia ruff is attached to rim holes in the mask. It most resembles helmet masks of the southern Suku. In that area, masks like this one were created and performed to remind the community of departed elders, especially those who had been important leaders within the matrilineal society. This mask could also function in other ways for the benefit of the community, identifying and deflecting those with malicious intent, ensuring a successful hunt, or healing the sick. The power of the mask was such that it supported the beliefs and morals of society (Art of the Yaka and Suku).

(42) Kifwebe mask The Songye masking society, bwadi bwa kifwebe, controlled the carving and use of male and female masks. Both were used within the society, but for different purposes. Male masks, characterized by a high sagittal crest, danced aggressively, sometimes breathing fire. This is a female mask, as indicated by the flat crest. Her role is to sniff out witches and evildoers. She also fosters continuity through her powers of procreation. In both aspects, she is associated with night. Her dance steps are restrained and more confined than those of the male. This mask has an hourglass shape with a thick raffia attachment. Its box-like lips, nose, eye slits, and flat crest are colored brown-black, probably with plant dye. Linear incisions are pigmented with kaolin (Songye Masks and Figure Sculpture).

(43) Beaded Apron Beads like these were introduced as trade goods by European merchants, replacing older stone, shell and wooden beads. Young women made aprons as body adornment, and other beaded regalia as gifts for male admirers. Necklaces, bracelets, belts, earrings and aprons were once worn daily. Now, they are primarily worn on festive occasions. Traditional patterns and colors had significance to courting couples; both varied with the message to be communicated. Design and color could also identify the tribal affiliation and location of the maker. This apron is most likely from the Nongoma area, center of the Zulu kingdom, where white, black and green stepped patterns predominate (African Arts 38:2 p. 40).

(44) Calabash with carved top This calabash probably originated in the Cameroon village of Kambé, near the Keaka of Nigeria. It once belonged to a diviner, who used it to help clients find the sources of problems and redress grievances. Four carved figures face the cardinal points, calling upon the powers that reside in each direction. The attached bones suggest sacrificial offerings. In use, the diviner removed the stopper, freeing the power inside the calabash to rectify the problem and to caution wrongdoers. “Four is the fetishman’s number for helping people. A person comes from this direction and he helps that one, someone comes from there and he helps that one. People come from each direction and he helps them” (Amadou Njoya, pc; Two, Three, Four: Multiples in African Art: 34).

(45) Painted calabash The Nupe live in the vicinity of Bida, along the northwestern segment of the Niger River in Nigeria, and also in the country of Niger. In Nigeria, they are neighbors to the Yoruba. Nupe culture is strongly influenced by Islam, so that most visual expression takes the form of abstract geometric embellishment. This is seen on calabash decoration as well. In this example, the body of the gourd has been painted in bold, triangular patterns, outlined in black, and divided horizontally by a trio of white-red-white lines. Its short neck is rimmed with silver paint. The entire surface is worn and scratched in many places. These accidents of age and use reveal the original color of the gourd.

(46) Half Calabash The Bororo are semi-nomadic Fulani herders occupying northern areas of several countries, including Cameroon. Women use calabashes like this one to store and carry milk and butter. The larger ones are grown in Nigeria, brought in by Hausa traders and decorated by the Bororo. Searing the edge of a heated blade and applying it to the calabash creates the delicate linear patterns seen here. Patterns were localized, so that one familiar with them could identify the group to which the maker belonged.

(47) Palm wine container Containers like this were used to dispense palm wine in the home and within male society houses. The more elaborate the container, the higher the rank of the man who possessed it. Patterned beadwork along the neck and upper portion of this calabash indicate the status of its owner. To drink from a single vessel was a sign of brotherhood among society members and of cooperation among one’s peers. It was understood that those who imbibed from the same container were committed to the same goals and would support one another.

48) Wrapped calabash This remarkable long-necked calabash has been carefully wrapped in raffia and twine, and embellished with rows of cowrie shells. Along the neck, we see woven raffia, with black thread describing well-crafted geometric patterns, topped by three rows of cowries. The body of the calabash is also wrapped and embellished with cowries. The gourd itself is only visible through rectangles cut into the wrap, and white paste covers those open areas. Tightly-braided raffia strips divide neck and body into horizontal sections. A black residual coating covers the entire vessel. The care with which this container was made suggests that it was created for medicine and/or divination, rather than utilitarian usage. This very unusual vessel was acquired in Cameroon, and may have originated in the west or north of that country. It also resembles certain Igbo gourds from Nigeria that are often wrapped and embellished.

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Personal Correspondence:
Campbell, Bolaji 10/28/10
Drewal, Henry J. 10/23/10
Imperato, Pascal J. 11/30/10
Njoya, Nji Amadou. 12/2010
Siegmann, William 12/2010