Wooden figure "Mu po"

270 €

Bamum people, Cameroon, early to mid. 20th century, private collection from Netherlands.

The Cameroon Grasslands is inhabited by a large number of related peoples. These peoples can be divided into three smaller subgroups: Bamum, Bamenda Tikar and Bamileke. Within these complexes there are numerous smaller ethnic groups. All of the people in this area are historically farmers who grow maize, yams and peanuts etc. Women, who are believed to make the soil more fruitful, are responsible for planting and harvesting the crops. Men are responsible for clearing the fields for planting.

Bamum (called also Môm, Bamoun, Mum) are living in the Cameroon Grasslands, nearby the rivers Nbam and Nun. Their kingdom, with its capital at Foumban in the high western grasslands of Cameroon, is ruled over by a king (mfon) whose position is hereditary within one of the exogamous patrilinear lineages. The mfon rules with the help of his queen mother (na). The approx. 100,000 Benue-Congo-speaking Bamum are farmers and herders who live in villages presided over by hereditary headmen. Manioc and the sweet potato are the chief foods after maize. The Bamum seldom hunt, and then only in the dry season at the time when the grassland is burnt. Animal flesh is often smoked and the stored for a considerable time.

The Bamum are one of the first peoples in Africa to develop a writing system, which is largely ideographic or pictographic, under the auspices of King Ibrahim Njoya (1860-1933) at the end of the 19th century. With the advent of colonialism, Bamum was one of kingdoms in Cameroon that collaborated closely with the German colonisers. Njoya was able to maintain his status as a ruler under German indirect colonial rule but was forced into exile when the French took over in 1916. The kinship has since been restored.

The Bamum people believe in a supreme god (Njinyi) who creates children, and who is everywhere and sees and hears everything. The Bamum doctors practise divination by interpreting the earth spider's manipulation of marked leaves. The Bamum believe that the ancestral spirits are embodied in the skulls of the deceased ancestors. The spirits of ancestors whose skulls are not preserved have nowhere to reside and may as a result cause trouble for the family. Recognizing the importance of the skull, representations of head are found in nearly all decorated utilitarian items and masks. Masks used in initiation and for education purposes are common. The "ngoin masks" represents a women, the first wife of "kam", who embodies the male leader. Both mask types appeared together. These so-called "lineage masks" perform publicly at the commemorative death celebrations of Fons (kings) and title-holders and at the kingdoms annual dance, a high point of celebration during the festive cycle of the dry season.

Curious anthropomorphic fetish or altar figure are carved from one piece of wood and dyed black with soot. Slightly encrusted. Good condition. Age-related minimal wear and abrasion. Gorgeous patina. Signs of ceremionial use and handling over many years. Dirt, soot and dust. Size approx. 35,0cm x 10,0cm x 11,0cm. Weight c. 566g.