Cameroon Fang Justice mask
Apparently, it has been linked with the dead and ancestors since white is their color.
The Ngontang dance society also used white masks,
sometimes in the form of a four-sided helmet-mask with a bulging forehead
and eyebrows in heart-shaped arcs.
The ensemble of Fang peoples
practice a cult devoted to ancestor lineages, the Bieri, whose aim is to both protect
themselves from the deceased and to recruit their aid in matters of daily life.
This familial cult does not monopolize the Fang’s religious universe,
for it coexists with other beliefs and rituals of a more collective character.
It is the Bieri, or ancestor sculpture, which has most obviously given rise
to the making of remarkable wooden sculpture. The statuary of the Fang
can be classified into three main groups: heads on long necks, half-figures,
and full figures, standing or seated. Carved with great simplicity,
at the same time they exhibit a high degree of sophistication in the coordination of bulbous forms.
The neck is often a massive cylindrical form.
The arms have various positions: hands clasped in front of the body
(sometimes holding an object); held in front of the chest or attached to it;
hands resting on the knees in the seated figures.
The navel is often exaggerated into a cylindrical form. Legs are short, stunted.
Usually, there is a domed, wide forehead and the eyebrows often form arcs with the nose.
The eyes are often made of metal roundlets.
The Bieri would be consulted when the village was to change location,
when a new crop was planted, during a palaver, or before going hunting, fishing, or to war.
But once separated from the reliquary chest, the sculpted object would
lose its sacred value and could be destroyed.
The ritual consisted of prayers, libations, and sacrifices offered to the ancestor,
whose skull would be rubbed with powder and paint each time.
With its large head, long body, and short extremities,
the Fang Bieri had the proportion of a newborn,
thus emphasizing the group’s continuity with its ancestor and with the
three classes of the society: the “not-yet-born,” the living, and the dead.
The relics were essentially skull fragments, or sometimes complete
skulls, jawbones, teeth, and small bones. The Bieri also served
for therapeutic rituals and, above all, for the initiation of young males
during the great so festival.
This style of Fang mask
is used in the Ngil Association, which was active until the beginning of the
20th century. In addition to conflicts between rival clans, Ngil’s initiates
danced this mask to protect individuals against witchcraft,
The mask is considered terrifying because it personified a semi-human being.
The type is distinguished by the elongated shape and the broad arched forehead,
the heart-shaped face, and the small protruding mouth.
The white pigment was made from kaolin, which would have healing properties.