African textiles, £10.99
Bamum, probably early 20th
Masks of this type are to be worn on top of the head and are usually carved for kings, whom they are thought to represent. The swollen features symbolize the monarch's well-nourished state.
The central and western region of Cameroon is divided into many separate kingdoms. Secular and supernatural power is invested in the kings who, it is believed, are able to change into powerful animals, usually elephants, buffaloes or leopards.
The king presides over an elaborate hierarchy of titled nobles and secret societies who protect and advise him, as well as providing administrative, social and economic control of his kingdom. There are three main societies: Kwifon, who check royal decisions, ensuring that the king is not an absolute ruler; Nggiri, who are advisers, and Manjong, the military section which was historically responsible for warfare and hunting, but now oversees community activities.
H.M. Cole (ed.), I am not myself: the art of ma, Los Angeles monograph series, no. 26 (Museum of Cultural History, University of California, 1985)
P. Gebauer, Art of Cameroon (The Portland Art Museum in association with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1979)
R. Bleakley, African masks (London, Thames and Hudson, 1978)