BAMILEKE, BEADED ELEPHANT MASK, CAMEROON
20th c.; Glass beads, fiber, cloth; On stand: 60 x 16" x 8"; Provenance: Allan Stone Collection, New York
Sale Price: $2,500
Estimate: $1,000 - $1,500
The Cameroon grassfield kingdoms were organized under a king (fon) and a group of titled nobles, essentially as a hereditary aristocracy. The display and ownership of masks were important indicators of lineage, privilege and prestige. Masks carried symbolically potent imagery, whether transmitted through zoomorphic and anthropomorphic forms or through adornment with costly and prestigious materials such as beads, cowrie shells, or brass. The elephant, and thus the elephant mask, represents the kings and nobles of the Cameroon kingdoms. It is rarely represented in lineage mask groups. The elaborate elephant masks known as mbap mteng belonged mainly to the Kuosi society whose membership combined all royals and wealthy title-holders of the kingdom with men of warrior status. They are beaded with human facial features, large ears, decorative panels on the front and back, and often a surmounting crest or headdress. Danced at ceremonies and funerals, the elephant is second only to nkang, represented by a human icon. It is the last to appear in a ceremony, concluding the entrance and the exit of its mask group. Throughout its performance it dances staidly in accordance with its elevated status. It was and still is worn for state ceremonies, such as the funeral for a fon.
Hahner-Herzog, Iris and Kecskesi, Maria. African Masks from the Barbier-Mueller Collection. Art Flexi Series, 2010, pl. 63Northern, Tamara. The Art of Cameroon. Washington D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution, 1984, pp. 157 – 162 Northern, Tamara. Expressions of Cameroon Art. The Franklin Collection, 1986