Bamileke Mfo Helmet Mask
Origin: Village ‘Big Babanki’ Grasslands Cameroon
Approx Age: Mid – Later 20th Century
Materials: Wood, glass beads, cowrie shells, traditional boubou cloth
Dimensions cm: 36 (tall) x 28 (wide) x 31 (deep)
Ref. Number: 1373
A wonderful example of a Bamileke Mfo or Nfo beaded helmet mask, the beadwork is very skillfully applied on a traditional Bamileke booubou cloth on top of the wood. The use of hundreds of a larger shiny baguette shaped beads in a midnight blue, in contrast glass beads of light blue, red and white colour denomination adds to enhance this incredable helmet mask. The ears have been adorned with glass beaded earring and the cowrie shell configuration give this piece an overall regal presence. This was collected in a village called “Big Babanki” a very well known neighbouring village to Babanki.
Used personally by the cheif for the funeral dance of the ancestors “Mfo or Nfo,” leaders are known as both, the mother of a leader would call them “Mafo”. The hole at the top of the helmet allows the chief to hold it in his hand up in the air, this is a tradition right within the village.
The Nfo or Mfo dance is in memory of the ancestors who have died over the years, to which they ask the ‘ancestors skull’ for a blessing for these people now departed from their world. Nfo / Mfo means chief in Bamileke language.
This is also the helmet that a chief would use for the ceremony held in the palace for the commemoration of a chief who has died.
When a chief dies, the notables to him recover his body, the first thing they do is cut off his head, which is then placed in the “house of the skull,” this standard practice in Bamileke culture.
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