Bamileke Beaded Elephant Mask
This Bamileke beaded elephant mask has a lavish use of colourful beads displaying the wealth of the members of the Kuosi society.
Origin: Balevin village Grasslands of Cameroon
Exact Age: 1975
Materials: Ndop cloth, glass beads, material
Dimensions cm: 148 long x 65 ear-ear
Ref. Number: 1642
An extremely beautiful Bamileke beaded elephant mask used within the Kuosi society, the colourful beads keep this looking so vibrant and eye-catching. The styling of the mask and the patterns of the beading is exquisite. There seems to be no loss of the beadwork, this was made for wearing at ceremonies and dancing and has been, this is not as dirty as you would expect as the beads have been cleaned professionally. We do have the other garments that accompany this piece to put them in full regalia.
Provenance: Collected from the village of Balevin.
Such masks are often worn with robes of dark woven fibre covered with small fibre knobs or indigo and white tie-dyed “royal” cloth. The robes contrast greatly with the maskers’ bright red legs, dyed with cam-wood. Costumes also include beaded vests/shirts with broad belts and leopard pelts attached at the back. Since a chief owns or controls the masking society, both leopards and elephants are apt metaphors for symbolic impersonation.
Elephant masks comprise cloth panels and hoods woven from plantain fibre over raffia or Ndop cloth. On this background, multicoloured beads are stitched in geometric patterns. The basic form depicts salient features of the elephant—a long trunk and large ears. The hood fits tightly over the masker’s head, and two hanging panels, one behind and one in front, partially conceal the body. The front panel is the elephant trunk, and the two large, stiff circles hinged to either side of the head are its ears, which flap as the masker dances. While the mask symbolises an elephant, the face is human. Eyeholes provide visibility, and a nose and mouth with teeth are normally present.
Maskers dance barefoot in these colourful costumes to a drum and gong, moving slowly as they wave poles with blue and white beaded tips trimmed with horsehair. They whistle “mysteriously and tunelessly,” brandishing spears and horsetails. Maskers are later joined by chiefs and princesses, parading by an elaborate tent in which high-ranking men sit to observe. A masker hurls his horsetail to the chief, the crowd cheers, and the celebration continues with various feats performed primarily by younger maskers. When the festivities end, the favourites are rewarded with kola nuts and palm wine (Brain and Pollock 1971:100-104; Northern 1975:17).
The beauty of these masks is largely in their colourful beaded patterns. Dark blue, black or red backgrounds provide foundations for basic geometric designs laid out in white, creating a striking contrast, the masks show varying degrees of order and complexity. Masks may be sparsely or densely beaded.
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