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Collection highlights

Elephant Mask

Elephant Mask
Cloth, beads
65 x 122 cm

The elephant mask is one of the most valuable objects from the Museum collections and it reflects the recognisable Bamileke approach to the decoration and symbolical enrichment of objects through the use of multicoloured beads. Sacred, royal objects such as sculptures, thrones, staffs and batons were often covered in beaded embroidery and on the elephant mask we notice that this technique of beaded decoration strictly follows the contours of the object it covers not detering its structural form.

The use of different coloured beads also allows the transmition of specific messages with the use of line, colour, their combination and arrangement. Black symbolically represents the connection between the living and the dead, white is the colour of the ancestors and different magical substances, red is the symbol of life, women, as well as the institution of regal leadership. The dominant triangle design represents leopard pelt which is also a symbol of royal power. The main motif remains the elephant that in its majestic appearance embodies the king, his authority and power. It was believed that the king could transform himself into an elephant or leopard, gaining with this the competency and character of these animals.