Rare Bangwa Ritual Elephant Figure

The people of the Bangwa are one of the numerous smaller ethnic groups within the large Bamileke complex.

Musée du quai branly

Tribe: Bangwa, Bamileke

Origin: Grassfields, Cameroon

Approx Age: 19th Century

Materials: Wood

Dimensions cm: 55 long x 23 widest point

Ref. Number: 1784


A very rare Bangwa ritual elephant figure or sculpture from the Grassfields of Cameroon. A lovely show of an encrusted patina from ritual libations. This piece was collected by Pierre Harter in the field and is documented in the “Pierre Harter files”, now in the Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, Paris.

Provenance: Ex-Pierre Harter (1928- 1991) Paris, France.

AHDRC N˚ ao-0178326-001

Exhibited: Tribal Art London Exhibition 2022.


Most of the documented Bangwa figures are royal portraits, which are kept in royal shrines along with the skulls of the ancestors and the infamous frightening masks associated with the Night society are employed by the chief to maintain social order. As this is the only documented ritual elephant (to my knowledge) I would only imagine it sat with the other ritual figures and masks.

The Cameroon Grasslands is a large cultural area, which is inhabited by a large number of related peoples. These peoples can be divided into three smaller subgroups: Bamileke, Bamum, and Bamenda Tikar. The Bangwa are one of the numerous smaller ethnic groups within the Bamileke complex. They are loosely affiliated with other groups in the complex, sharing many historical and political similarities while retaining their separate identity. All members of this group originally came from an area to the north and migrated in various complex patterns throughout the last several centuries. Fulani traders moving steadily southwards into Cameroon in the 17th century forced the southern drift of most of the current residents. The Bangwa were only officially separated from the Bamileke during colonial administration during the early 20th century.

References: IOWA Art & Life in Africa. https://africa.uima.uiowa.edu/peoples/show/Bangwa

Musée du quai branly, Pierre Harter
Photo by:
Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, Paris, France
Courtesy of:
Pierre Harter files

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