Wooden figure "Tadep"
Mambila people, Cameroon/Nigeria, early 20th century, private collection from Finland.
The Mambila people (in Nigeria called Mambilla) live on both sides of the Nigeria/Cameroon border, most of them (c. 40,000) on the Mambila plateau in Nigeria. A smaller number (c. 15,000) live in Cameroon, especially at the foot of the Mambila Plateau escarpment, on the Tikar Plain. Cameroonian Mambila have adopted the Tikar institution of the chiefship. Nigerian Mambila did not have the same type of institutionalized chiefship as is found in Cameroon.
The Mambila live in small, localized family hamlets. A compound usually consists of from one or three dwellings, one or more granaries, as well as small shelters (called ndip so) used by the men for storing their ritual objects. The houses of the compound are normally built around a central courtyard, which is kept cleared except for a small section in the middle where plants having magical powers grow. The majority of these are said to defend the compound against witches.
The Mambila are farmers. The main staples are maize, sorghum, millet and rice. They also grow bananas, yams, gourds, groudnuts etc. The Mambila have two planting seasons: one during the early rains in March, April, and May, and other, during the heavy rains in September, October, and November. The annual "feast of all souls" happens during dry season. Palm wine, maize porrige, and pieces of meat are offered inside shrines (called kuru) during this dry season festival.
Mambila practise either Christianity or Islam along side their indigenous religion, which includes witchcraft, spider or crab divination (ngam), and rituals relating to lunar cycles. The people are governed by priests whose laws come from the gods. Although the Mambila believe in a creative god (càng or nama), they only worship their ancestors. The word used for personal spirit is "càng". The principal focus of this word as the creator of the world and everything in it. It is commonly held that càng decides what will happen, and that people cannot avoid this. When someone dies, they believe his spirit (càng) leaves the body and is then banished from the house into the bush (tandalu), becoming a "spirit of the bush" (càng tandalu). Their leaders were buried in attics like wheat because they were supposed to symbolize prosperity.
Most of the Mambila art centers upon an healing association called Sùàgà (or Sua). The society is concerned with justice, fertility, ritual cleansing and, also defending the community from hostile neighbors and protecting it from witchcraft. The wooden figures (called Tadep) are perhaps the most common type of sculptures in Mambila art. Tadep figures are often placed in shrines outside the village, at the threshold between civilization and the wilderness. Masks and statues were not to be seen by women.
Fascinating smaller Tadep. They were thought to be ancestor figures, but now it seems that they should have been used for therapeutic purposes instead. The Tadep figure were used in magical healing rites and deter thieves. Made of hard wood and dyed dark brown. Its massive head features a heart-shaped face with deep set coffee bean eyes, a short nose and an open mouth. The characteristic Mambila hairstyle consists of inserted wooden pegs. The eyebrows are embellished with wooden pegs too. The head rests on a neckless, compact body with cubist abstract features. With bent arms and sketched hands, protuding abdomen, short legs with pointed knees and thick feet.
Good condition. Age-related wear and desication cracks. Wormholes. Some missing wooden pegs from hair. Lovely encrusted patina. Traces of dirt, soil and dust. Sacrificial materials. Traces of libation. Size approx. 41,5cm x 16,0cm x 15,0cm. Weight c. 892g.