Accession Number



Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
cast bronze with wool cloth

14 5/8 in x 5 5/8 in x 1 15/16 in (37.15 cm x 14.29 cm x 4.92 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Douglas and Mary Kelley

Label copy
(African Art and the Shape of Time; August 18, 2012-February 3, 2013)
18. Smoking pipe
Cameroon Grassfields (probably Bamum), probably mid-20th century, copper alloy, wool, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Douglas and Mary Kelley, 1987/1.344
Smoking pipes from the Grassfields of Cameroon, symbols of power and prestige, change with the prevailing fashions and tastes of their times, sometimes signifying specific moments and events. The bowl of this pipe depicts a European head, likely referencing a colonial administrator. Such a pipe would have reflected its owner’s status, but in a humorous twist it is he himself who is being smoked.

Subject matter
Throughout the Grassfields region of Cameroon, material culture acted as a signifier of a person’s place within the social hierarchy that many kingdoms in this area share. The king, in some kingdoms called the fon, had control over what motifs or symbols could be used on different objects, such as pipes, by certain classes of people.

Both men and women often smoked, although the everyday use of plain tobacco pipes declined after World War II when cigarettes became increasingly popular. Prestige pipes with human and animal images, however, were and still remain status symbols. Artisans from northwestern areas such as Bamessing, Babungo, and Babessi crafted highly decorated pipes from terra cotta, wood, metal, as well as ivory. Brass obtained through trade was used to make pipes exclusively for the king or fon through the lost-wax casting method. Current events also influenced the style and form of prestige pipes. After the Germans seized control of Cameroon as a colony at the end of the 19th century, pipes depicting German colonial officers appeared. This pipe’s figure, with European features and cap, is smoking a pipe.

References Cited:
Gebauer, Paul. 1972. "Cameroon Tobacco Pipes." African Arts 5, no. 2: 28-35.
___________. 1979. Art of Cameroon. Portland, Or.: Portland Art Association.
Homberger, L. 2008. Cameroon: Art and Kings. Zürich: Museum Rietberg.
Northern, Tamara. 1984. The Art of Cameroon. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
Page, Donna. 2007. A Cameroon World: Art and Artifacts from the Caroline and Marshall Mount Collection. New York: QCC Art Gallery Press.

Physical Description
A brass pipe with a figurative bowl in the shape of a human head wearing a cap and smoking a pipe. 

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
pipes (smoking equipment)
smoking (activity)
social status
symbols of office or status

& Author Notes

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