Berz Gallery of African Art

Enigmatic and Charming Bamileke Fetish Figure

Bamileke Tribe, Cameroon

wood, encrustation from shrine offerings, textile, fetish material, oils, twine/fiber Dimensions: 5.75" (h) /14.605 early 20th century Provenance: Ex. Amyas Naegele, NY Description: What an interesting face with offset features and nice crusty patina on the figure's nose, mouth, hands, and body. Legs, belt, neck of twine with a type of fetish bundle under the chin, tied around the head. Wonderfully contained body, arms traversing horizontally, front skirt and rear wooden carved skirt represent Cameroonian cache-sex. Packs a punch for its size, and the details make it even more compelling. About the Bamileke: The Bamileke occupy the region in a large part of the west of Cameroon and are native to the region. As D. Toukam, in “Histoire et anthropologie du peuple bamiléké”, p. 15, wrote, "The Grassfields area therefore encompasses the West and North-West and small part of the South-West region of Cameroon. Apart from the Bamileke, there are other tribes that are historically more or less linked to the Bamileke, such as the Igbo's of Nigeria whether by blood or through certain cultural intercourse." Speaking a variation of a Bantu language, historically, the Bamun and the Bamileke were united, but during the mid-17th century, the Bamileke forefathers left the North to avoid being forced to convert to Islam. They migrated as far south as Foumban. Conquerors came all the way to Foumban to try to impose Islam on them. A war began, pushing some people to leave while others remained, submitting to Islam. This marks the division between the Bamun and Bamiléké people. Fascinatingly, their origins trace to Egypt and they have a history of migration and resistance to the slave trade. Incredible stuff--we haven't spent much time studying the Bamileke in detail but have begun to recently.... Further reading and references: Fanso, V.G. (1989) Cameroon History for Secondary Schools and Colleges, Vol. 1: From Prehistoric Times to the Nineteenth Century. Hong Kong: Macmillan Education Ltd, 1989. Neba, Aaron, Ph.D. (1999) Modern Geography of the Republic of Cameroon, 3rd ed. Bamenda: Neba Publishers, 1999. Ngoh, Victor Julius (1996) History of Cameroon Since 1800. Limbé: Presbook, 1996.