Bamileke Kuosi Society Beaded Shirt
The Kuosi society elephant dance represents the power of the village chief.
Origin: Bafoussam, Cameroon
Approx Age: 1970s
Materials: material and glass beads
Dimensions cm: 51 long x 44 pit-pit (not including sleeves)
Ref. Number: 1634
A beautiful Bamileke Beaded Kuosi society shirt, these are worn with the beaded cloth elephant masks and Ndop cloth skirts for the Kuosi society elephant dance to represent the power of the village chief. They dance with grand beaded fly swishes of many beautiful designs.
Made with denim outer for the back and lined inside and beaded to the front, beautiful work.
Amongst the Bamileke peoples of Cameroons grasslands, glass beads were once very rare. The elaborate elephant masks and clothing, adorned with thousands of tiny beads, are the ultimate status symbol. Each mask was owned by the king and loaned to very selectmen at his behest. The elephant masked men would then dance at special occasions to promote the king or chief, and most notably at the funeral of the king himself.
In the past, payment of a slave or a leopard pelt to the chief who owns the society was necessary for entrance to the highest rank. The
glass beads used on earlier masks were nineteenth-century trade beads of Venetian or Czechoslovakian manufacture, used as well in
exchange for slaves. Elephant mask costumes were thus called “things of money” since their beads were both objects and symbols of wealth
(Brain and Pollock 1971:100; Northern 1975:17-21).
Elephant masks comprise cloth panels and hoods woven from plantain fibre over raffia. 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 symbolizes an
elephant, the face is human. Eyeholes provide visibility, and a nose and mouth with teeth are normally present.
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 camwood. Costumes also include beaded vests 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
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