[WORLDKINGS] Traditional clothing from around the world – P35 - Bamileke mask : The elaborate mask contains the culture of the Bamileke tribe, Africa


(WorldKings.org) The Bamileke are Grassfields people. They are the largest ethnic group in Cameroon and inhabit the country's West and Northwest Regions. The Bamileke are regrouped under several groups, each under the guidance of a chief or fon. They speak a number of related languages from the Eastern Grassfield branch of the GrassField language family. One of the most distinctive cultures of the Bamileke tribe is the Bamileke mask.

The Bamileke masks are made for the honor king (Fon) and or important chiefs. The piece is regarded as an object of power and is displayed during important rituals and ceremonies, to commemorate and celebrate the royal ancestors of the present Fon. The Colorful beads are an important part of masks and the abstract patterns are symbols of great wisdom. The cowry shells depict wealth.



Such masks are often worn with robes of dark woven fiber covered with small fiber 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 symbolic impersonation.



The mask's lavish use of colored beads and cowrie shells displayed the wealth of the members of the Kuosi society; and its colors and patterns expressed the society's cosmic and political functions. Cowrie shells are also symbols of wealth and power and were used in some examples of these masks.



Black denotes the relationship between the living and the dead. White refers to ancestors and potent medicines. Red symbolizes life, women, and the institution of kingship. The dominant triangle designs on both masks represent leopard spots, the leopard being a royal symbol of power and mastery like the elephant.



Every item in the Bamileke mask costume denotes wealth, power and privilege. This display of wealth is in fact one of the functions of the mask. The elephant and the leopard are also evocative of force and power, both the power of the animals themselves, masters of the bush, and also that of the fon. For a fon is said to be able to transform himself into an elephant or a leopard.

According to en.wikipedia; randafricanart.com and rebirth.co.za

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