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Bamoun Tribal History - Cameroon

Art objects were symbols of position in the hierarchy; the number of art pieces, the materials from which they were made, and their iconography changed progressively as one descended or ascended the social ladder.

Competition among sculptors was often great, for the artist's "office" was not hereditary. Sculpture's goal was to commemorate and celebrate the royal ancestors of the present fon. In the fon's palace, next to the ancestral figures and the masks, one would also find headdresses, beaded thrones, bracelets, necklaces, pipes, leopard skins, elephant tusks, swords, commanders' sticks, fans, dishware, horns, and terracotta bowls.

A large number of prestigious items of paraphernalia were produced within the Grassland area, including large house-posts, door and window frames carved with human and animal figures, thrones, stools and tables decorated with small heads and figures, large bowls, carved horns for royal feasts, anthropomorphic terracotta and bronze pipes. Musical instruments such as anthropomorphic and zoomorphic drums, as well as metal gongs, were played during royal and state ceremonies.

The artistic production of the people living in the Grassland of Cameroon is closely associated with royal and societal ceremonies. To assert his power, the king uses large figurines, thrones and prestige paraphernalia.

Bamum social life was oriented toward the conquest of surrounding chieftaincies, and forays were made into neighboring lands: from this stems a warrior mythology and an abundance of material symbols of strength. The Bamum produced large and smaller sized figures encrusted with beads and cowries.

The northern part of Cameroon has been Islamized and has no sculpture; on the other hand, the savannas of the west, the Grassland, are composed of three ethnic groups with ancestors in common.

There are the one million Bamileke spread over the southwestern plateaus, in communities that have from 50,000 to 100,000 people; the 500,000 Bamenda-Tikar in the north; and. finally, the Bamum in the northwest, with a population of 80,000. The Bamileke resisting slave raids with suicide or rebellion, contributed very little to the Black population of the New World.

The Grassland was divided into ninety kingdoms governed by a king, the Fon, supported by non-secret societies. In the past, the Fon was endowed with supernatural powers that allowed him to change into an animal - an elephant, leopard, or buffalo. He ensured the protection of his people and guaranteed the fertility of the fields and the fecundity of the women.

The fon was responsible for rituals of planting and harvesting, for the annual festival of the dry season, for the opening of the collective royal hunt, and for expeditions of war. His predecessor, who chose him from among his direct heirs, excluding the eldest, appointed the fon.

Bamoun Mask Catalogue