Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures

September 21, 2011–January 29, 2012

Dancing Figures and Effigy Thrones: Grassfield Chiefdoms

Here is the stone where your fathers' family have sat before they were called to the throne, and it is on this very stone that you sit to-day[;] you are therefore king. May Yoruban [God] bless you. . . . May Yoruban grant you many children and may your war-spear be mighty and your work strong. May Yoruban give you much and good advice increase your wealth; . . . Yoruban accepts you as king of the Bamum.

—Njoya, as cited in M. D. W Jeffreys

Within the Grassfields region of northwestern Cameroon, the Bamileke and Bangwa chiefdoms in the west and the Kom kingdom of the northwest developed distinctive sculptural genres that powerfully evoked past leaders. Among the Bangwa, freestanding sculptures, referred to as lefem, depicting royal ancestors in seated or active stances physically documented a particular reign within a line of succession. At Kom, effigy thrones that synthesized seats of office with majestic lifesize representations of a fon and his key female relations were the state's most esteemed possessions. Never used as functional thrones, they were the focal point of installation rites at which their presence was essential to the legitimate transfer of a fon's title.

Selected Artworks