In the Cameroon Grasslands, powerful animal imagery is associated with the wealth and prestige of rulers. During ceremonial occasions, this head adornment would have served as a symbol of social distinction – public paraphernalia of power and prestige. Surmounting the head adornment is the depiction of a standing leopard.
Features of the head adornment are decorated with cowrie shells, from the base of the twisted animal horns to the eyes of the animal crest. Across the African continent, cowrie shells are potent symbols of wealth and power. The surface of the headpiece is embroidered with small round tufts of hair, mimicking the appearance of a leopard’s spots. In this way, the head adornment relates to other forms of ceremonial vestments, sharing a stylistic similarity with Bamileke male ceremonial tunics – also embellished with circular ‘spots’ of hair. Among the Bamileke, leopard pelts were a symbol of power; a form of royal regalia reserved for the king (fon).
For the Bamileke, the leopard – a cunning, fast and guardedly aggressive animal – was the most important royal icon. It was believed that the king (fon) could temporarily transform himself into this feared predator.
Ex Andrzej von Staranburg Niedenthal Collection, UK
The Metropolitan Museum
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Rand African Art
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