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Babanki Lineage mask

Babanki Lineage mask
Babanki Lineage maskBabanki Lineage maskBabanki Lineage maskBabanki Lineage mask
Tribe: Babanki
Country: Cameroon
Ritual: Lineage Mask Group
Name: Leopard Leader Mask
Materials: Wood, glass beads, abrus precatorius seeds, wicker, rope, nails, camwood powder, feather
Provenance: Coll. Niels Andersen prior 2001. Andrew Turley, SuagaCollection 2001.
Comments: Age estimated at circa 1970.

Cameroon's major artistic traditions originate in the area of the grassfields. The art has its roots in cultural systems in which kings (Fons) and their governments, interacting with the men's regulatory society (Kwifoyn), guide the well being of their people. As such, grassfield art is primarily art of royal status and wealth. Its dominant themes of royalty, authority and social prestige are carried out in a profusion of symbolic forms.

Kwifoyn and Lineage masks perform publicly at the commemorative death celebrations of Fons and title-holders and at the kingdoms annual dance. The performance of Kwifoyn masks is a solemn equation, while the dances of lineage mask groups and provide a dimension for entertainment.

Large and important lineages are accorded the privilege of owning mask groups. One such lineage group may contain 8 - 30 masks which are danced by the owners male lineage members. The dance sequence is loosely structured but generally includes certain obligatory mask types: a male leader followed by a female mask alternating with male and animal masks and concluding with a second leader mask, usually and animal representation. This second leader mask is usually a high ranking animal symbol. Elephant and leopard are both considered royal animals and their use is limited.

Most grassfield masks are worn on top of the head over a see through cloth covering the wearers face. Masking is complete with a vestment enveloping the body and with accoutrements that further identify the role of the mask.

This mask has a smooth and worn interior and a rich patina on the wicker work covering the head. There are some age cracks on the rear edge of the head piece. The wicker and rope fringe is held in place over the wood superstructure with several iron nails. Each eye has traces of camwood powder and is bordered by red, white and black trade beads as well as red abrus precatorius seeds. Interestingly there is a remnant of a single, well worn feather embedded in the wicker work between the eyes.


  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.