« Back

Bamileke Kuosi mask

Bamileke Kuosi mask
Bamileke Kuosi maskBamileke Kuosi maskBamileke Kuosi maskBamileke Kuosi mask
Tribe: Bamileke
Country: Cameroon
Ritual: Performance
Name: Kuosi Society Crest
 
Materials: Wood, glass beads, cowrie shells, indigo-dyed cloth, twine, cotton, nails
 
Provenance: Coll. Adamoun Mbombo 2001. Andrew Turley SuagaCollection 2002.
 
Comments: Collected from Bandjoun, Western Province Cameroon Dec 2001. Estimated age circa 1980.

I have had difficulty cross referencing this style of mask with Adamouns collection details. It didn't match any of the classic grassfield styles of lineage or kwifon/manjong masks although the leopard and elephant are often stated as "royal icons, symbolic of the privileges and authority granted to the group by the king".

But then I read the following in "A History of Art in Africa" and saw the costumes in the accompanying photograph.

A History of Art in Africa states that a society known as Kuosi is responsible for dramatic displays that involve spectacular masquerades. Formerly a warrior society, its membership is now composed of powerful, wealthy men. Kuosi elephant masks such as those in the image have large flaps of cloth and are covered with beaded designs. Costumes worn with the masks include beaded garments, indigo-dyed royal cloth and leopard pelts. Leaders of the Kuosi society report directly to the king and are allowed to wear beaded sculptural crests that represent leopards or elephants, both royal animals.

The indigo-dyed royal cloth in the accompanying photograph is a perfect match in design, texture and colours to the cloth still attached to the crest. I had noted in my journal that the face covering cloth of the mask showed particular care and attention in its creation - it is actually made of 3 layers hand stitched sequentially to give it length (there is tattered evidence of a fourth layer).

When all this information is put together it points to this mask as a beaded sculptural leopard crest worn by a leader of the Kuosi society. It shows significant care and attention in both its construction and its maintenance, in line with the expectations for such a powerful and royal mask.

Sources:

  1. Expressions of Cameroon Art, The Franklin Collection, Tamara Northern. Rembrandt Press. 1986.
  2. A History of African Art, Harry. N. Abrams Inc Publisher NY 2001.
  3. African Masks of the Barbier Mueller Collection. Prestel Verlag Munich. 1998.
  4. University of Iowa, Art and Life in Africa Project and UIMA. Stanley Collection Database.