Bamileke Tribal Mask History

Cameroon - Western Grassland.

Bamileke tribal Art

The Bamileke masks on display was made to the honor king (Fon) and or important chiefs. The piece is regarded as an object of power and is displayed during important rituals and ceremonies, to commemorate and celebrate the royal ancestors of the present Fon. The Colorful beads are the most important part of this mask and the abstract patterns are symbols of great wisdom. The cowry shells depict wealth. The power of the Fon also ensures the protection of his people and guarantees the fertility of the fields and the fecundity of the women.

The masks are also used during:

  1. Planting and harvesting.
  2. For the annual festival of the dry season,
  3. At the opening of the royal hunt,
  4. For expeditions of war.

The masks bearing human and animal figures:

The Fon supported by non-secreted societies was believed to have supernatural powers that allowed him to change from man into animal, namely elephant, lizard or buffalo. This allowed him to create a link between the human and spirit realm, to seek guidance from his ancestors. This crossing of the boundaries is only done during special rituals.

The elephant and buffalo masks also represent strength and power.

Various occupations since the 17th century led to the Bamileke people moving to the South where they intermarried with the Bamum people, this resulted in a cross fertilization of ideas and artistic skills.

The Bamilike recognize a supreme god (Si), but they more commonly pay homage to their ancestors. They believe that ancestral spirits are embodied in the skulls.

Women are believed to make the soil and land more fertile and are responsible for planting and harvesting crops. The Bamileke men assist with the clearing of the land and are excellent hunters.

The Western Grasslands were part of extensive trade routes connecting with the seaport of Douala and through trans-Saharan traders including the Fulani and Hausa to the north.

The Bamileke tribal chief or Fon is in control of the village and is assisted by a council of elders. The chief is in direct control of all the land that belongs to a given village and is seen as the dispenser of supreme justice. Social behavior within the village is further controlled through a series of extensive age-grade associations and secret societies, both of which fall under the auspices of the village chief.

Also Read

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