A Bamun headdress from Cameroon

Bamun Head Christie's 1

The last Christie’s sale featured an interesting Bamun head. Since I had overlooked this headdress in the catalogue, it again teached me how important it is to visit the viewing days of the bigger auction houses. The picture in the catalogue didn’t do the piece any justice.

While the front of this head was very flat, damaged and not really attractive, the back and side of the head revealed a magnificent modernistic sculpture.

Bamun Head Christie's 2

I have no idea what the spherical protuberance on the back of the neck represents but  sculpturally it fitted perfectly, counterbalancing the other volumes. If the face hadn’t been that damaged and with more 3-dimensional facial features, this would have been a masterpiece. But for € 10.625,- it was still a very good deal.

Below the field-photo by Oldenburg from 1912 that Christie’s mentions in the object description. See the second headdress from the left, for an example with a similar hairstyle. This wonderful image shows how these heads were originally danced; attached to a raffia collar and concealing costume.

Performance of the masks during the dance patambuo, Fumban, Bamun, ca. 1912. Field-photo by Rudolf Oldenburg. Image courtesy of the Oldenburg Collection - Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna. (published in: "Cameroon. Art and Kings", Lorenz Homberger (editor), Zürich: Museum Rietberg Zürich, 2008:57, fig. 34)

Performance of the masks during the dance patambuo, Fumban, Bamun, ca. 1912. Field-photo by Rudolf Oldenburg. Image courtesy of the Oldenburg Collection – Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna. (published in: “Cameroon. Art and Kings”, Lorenz Homberger (editor), Zürich: Museum Rietberg Zürich, 2008:57, fig. 34)

For an excellent article on these headdresses, see: Joseph (Marietta B.), Dance Masks of the Tikar, African Arts, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Spring, 1974): pp. 46-52+91. Christie’s does acknowledge they are not sure this head is in fact Bamun.