Bangwa commemorative sculptures are among the most spectacular pieces of African art. Each one of them corresponds to a precise king of which one has often lost track. King Bangwa seating on his stool holding a calabash of wine, a sign of fertility and abundance.
The Bangwa of Cameroon are spread across nine independent kingdoms run by a central chief (fwa) and a number of secret societies responsible for the social rule of each kingdom. Fontem is the largest of these Bangwa chiefdoms run by the Lefem secret society of royalty and chiefs.
Tradition dictates that two years after inauguration, the new fwa must commission the creation of a large scale Lefem figure in his likeness, to display his full power and authority to the community. These royal figures were also used to commemorate past leaders during funerary ceremonies and during annual community blessings. Each figure is addressed by the name of the ruler depicted to not only bring the figure to life but also to ensure that the deceased ruler remains part of the Bangwa community even after his passing.
When not in use, the Lefem figures are kept in royal shrines, paired with other royal relics (including skulls and possessions of the deceased fwa).
Made of wood
Freestanding figure with active stance (sometimes depicted seated)
Triangular teeth exposed
Back of the head is rounded
Ears are pronounced
Large almond shaped eyes (protruding & fringed with eyelids)
Shoulders are rounded and powerful
Holding attributes of leadership (e.g. ceremonial calabash, drinking horn, long tobacco pipe)
Wears prestige cap
Some depicted wearing leopard pelt garment (extending between legs)
Thick encrustation (from sacrificial libations that have been poured over the figure)