Elephant Mask (Mbap Mtengis)
Masquerades are an integral part of Bamileke culture and expression.
They are donned at special events such as funerals, important palace festivals, and other royal ceremonies.
The masks are performed by men and aim to support and enforce royal authority.
The power of a Bamileke king, called a Fon, is often represented by the elephant, buffalo, and leopard.
Oral traditions proclaim that the Fon may transform into either an elephant or leopard whenever he chooses.
An elephant mask called a Mbap Mtengis a mask with protruding circular ears, a human-like face,
decorative panels on the front and back that hang down to the knee and are covered
overall in beautiful geometric beadwork including much triangular imagery.
Isosceles triangles are prevalent as they are the known symbol of the leopard.
Beadwork, shells, bronze, and other precious embellishments on masks elevate the mask’s status.
On occasion, a Fon may permit members of the community to perform an elephant mask along with a leopard skin,
indicating a statement of wealth, status, and power being associated with this masquerade.
The use of the elephant mask is considered a great privilege.
In the hierarchy of masks, the elephant mask occupies the second position just after the anthropomorphic Kam.
He will enter the scene last, and will also come out last.
This type of mask is worn on the top of the head, horizontally.
Among the Bamiliéké the elephant is made of fabric, very naturalistic, and of wood among the Babanki.
There are still a hundred years, in the geographical areas Bamoun, Bamiléké, Babanki, elephants were very numerous.
The arrival of guns in the 19th century finally relegated them to the rank of memory.
Elephant masks are a way of bringing the glorious past of this region to life.
Beadwork is an essential element of Bamileke Art and what distinguishes them from other regions of Africa.
It is an art form that is highly personal in that no two pieces are alike and are often used in dazzling colors that catch the eye.
They may be an indication of status based on what kinds of beads are used.
Beadwork utilized all over on wooden sculptures is a technique that is unique only to the Cameroon grasslands.
Before they were colonized, popular beads were obtained from Sub-Saharan countries like
Nigeria and were made of shells, nuts, wood, seeds, ceramic, ivory, animal bone, and metal.
Colonization and trade routes with other countries in Europe and the
The Middle East introduced brightly colored glass beads as well as pearls, coral, and rare stones like emeralds.
These came at a price, however.
There were often agreements with these other countries to exchange this precious luxury
commodities for slaves, gold, oil, ivory, and some types of fine woods.
The Bamileke are Grassfields people.
They are the largest ethnic group in Cameroon and inhabit the country’s West and Northwest Regions.
with seventeen or more dialects.
The Bamileke people are known for their very striking and often intricately beaded masquerades,
including the impressive elephant mask.
The sets of so-called “lineage” masks are present throughout the Cameroonian
Grassland and is exhibited during commemorative festivals.
In addition to the anthropomorphic masks, there are different animals such as buffaloes,
monkeys, sheep, bats, or different species of birds.
As the leopard and the elephant are considered royal animals, they rarely appear.