The Bamileke are a Bantoid people. They are the largest ethnic group in Cameroon, Africa, 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. This crocodile was made to honor the King (Fon). 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 the most important part of this carving and the abstract patterns are symbols of great wisdom. The power of the Fon also ensures the protection of his people and guarantees the fertility of the fields and the fecundity of the women.
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 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 these precious luxury commodities for slaves, gold, oil, ivory and some types of fine woods.
From the Leonorra Orr Collection, collected in the 1970’s.
22.5"L x 4"H x 3.5"W