Bamun Ngoin mask
Ngoin masks are one of several types that appear in memorial ceremonies held for important deceased persons in the kingdoms of the Cameroon Grasslands (Bafut, Bekom, Big Babanki, Ndop, Oku and others). These mask ensembles, in the possession of various lineages, can compromise more than 20 masks, most of which represent different figures. A few of the mask types are obligatory, such as "kam" (or akam) the leading male mask, and "ngoin", which represents his wife. Frequently other female masks occur and these are described as either subordinate wives or as daughters of "kam".
In contrast to "kam", which is a mask worn flat on the head, "ngoin" is designed as a three-dimensional helmet crest. The male dancerís head is concealed by a thin cloth; his costume consists of a loose garment of cotton fabric which is often dyed bluish-white. A fly switch completes the outfit.
The mask dances in short contained steps appropriate to its noble image. This mask also shows the application of camwood, a substance used to denote cult status.
The facial features of the "ngoin" mask do not usually permit determination of gender, so it can be identified as female only on the basis of the tongue shaped coiffure, which according to Tamara Northern, corresponds to that of royal wives. In addition the headpiece recalls the cap worn by kings and various dignitaries in this region.
This western Grassfields mask is from an unspecified area of the grasslands in south-west Cameroon. It is hilly and mountainous covered by equatorial forests in the south and savannah in the north. There are 3 main areas. The Bamileke area is occupied by approximately 700,000 people, ruled by localised kings. The 80,000 people in the sultanate of Bamun are ruled by a single sacred king who resides in the capital Foumban. And lastly the Tikar area is occupied by around 250,000 people who speak different languages but claim common ancestors.
- Expressions of Cameroon Art, The Franklin Collection, Tamara Northern. Rembrandt Press. 1986.
- A History of African Art, Harry. N. Abrams Inc Publisher NY 2001.
- African Masks of the Barbier Mueller Collection. Prestel Verlag Munich. 1998.
- University of Iowa, Art and Life in Africa Project and UIMA. Stanley Collection Database.