210902 - Old African statue from the Bamileke with beads - Cameroon.


Bamileke beads statue with from Cameroon.

Hand carved from a single piece of wood with beads.

The size are 44 cm high.

The Bamileke are a Grassfields ethnic group that make up 40% of Cameroons population and inhabit the country's western region. The Bamileke are subdivided into several tribes, each under the guidance of a King or fon. They speak a number of related languages from the Eastern Grassfields branch of the Grassfields language family. These languages are closely related, however, and some classifications identify a Bamileke dialect continuum with seventeen or more dialects. The Bamileke people are known for their very striking and often intricately beaded masquerade art, including the impressive elephant mask. The Bamileke people are also known for being very rich people. They hold the economic power in Cameroon. Most Bamileke are entrepreneurs[citation needed], and they always start from the very beginning and always become billionaires.[citation needed] For example Fotso Victor, he started by selling nuts and today he is one of the richest people in Cameroon.

Masquerades are an integral part of Bamileke culture and expression. Colorful, beaded masks are donned at special events such as funerals, important palace festivals and other royal ceremonies. The masks are performed by men and aim to support and enforce royal authority.

The power of a Bamileke king, called a Fon, is often represented by the elephant, buffalo and leopard. Oral traditions proclaim that the Fon may transform into either an elephant or leopard whenever he chooses. An elephant mask, called a mbap mteng has protruding circular ears, a human like face, and decorative panels on the front and back that hang down to the knees and are covered overall in beautiful geometric beadwork, including much triangular imagery. Isosceles triangles are prevalent as they are the known symbol of the leopard. Beadwork, shells, bronze and other precious embellishments on masks elevate the mask's status. On occasion, a Fon may permit members of the community to perform an elephant mask along with a leopard skin, indicating a statement of wealth, status and power being associated with this masquerade.

Buffalo masks are also very popular and present at most functions throughout Grassland societies, including the Bamileke. They represent power, strength and bravery, and may also be associated with the Fon.

Beadwork is an essential element of Bamileke Art and what distinguishes them from other regions of Africa. It is an art form that is highly personal in that no two pieces are alike and are often used in dazzling colors that catch the eye. They may be an indication of status based on what kinds of beads are used. Beadwork utilized all over on wooden sculptures is a technique that is unique only to the Cameroon grasslands.