Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Bamum Mega Mask | Cameroon

The Bamum Kwifo society acts as a police force, carrying out punishments and executions at night (kwifo means night). As an agent of the king's administration, Kwifo also mediates significant conflicts and pronounces sentence in both civil and criminal cases.  

Each Kwifo society has a mask that serves as the spokesman and representative.  Known as mabu, thi smask presents the decrees of the society to the community.  It ushers members of Kwifo through the village, alerting the people of the approach of the group, and compelling them to behave appropriately.

Masks like this usually perform in groups of eight to thirty, accompanied by an orchestra of drums, xylophone and rattles. When they make special appearances at the burial and commemorative death celebrations of a member of the group, they are viewed with awe and reverance.

Source: A History of Art in Africa  ISBN0-13-183356-1

Source: Metropolitan Musuem | NYC

In the socially and politically Grassfields Kingdoms of Cameroon, the display and ownership of masks are important indicators of privilege and prestige.

"Kwifoyn", a regulatory society whose members derive their authority from the Fon, or king, oversees all levels of criminal justice and functions as an executive branch of government. "Kwifoyn" is organized into ranked lodges; membership requires the payment of prescribed fees commensurate with each lodge's relative status. Among the privileges of membership is patronage of mask forms in celebrations performed in honor of its members. "Kwifoyn" also controls the right to license the replication of mask forms to lineage groups willing to pay a fee.

Masks distinguished by the application of beads, cowrie shells, or brass sheathing are the prerogative of the Fon and function under the joint authority of the palace and regulatory society. This mask, which bears a rich accumulation of these costly and prestigious materials, also depicts the symbolically potent imagery of a stylized spider, associated with wisdom, in the headdress.

Distinguished individuals are honored by the appearance of masks such as this one at funerals and related events. Surrounding the burial and commemoration of titleholders, these celebrations provide occasions for the masks to emerge from their guarded storerooms and to be danced before the entire population. Another occasion for the public display of masks and other prestige arts is a palace-sponsored festivity known as "Nja", the Fon's dance. This annual celebration coincides with the conclusion of the main harvest in late December or early January.

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