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Between and Mortarboard

UMMA Object Specific Fields

Query builder

Pipe Bowl

Accession Number

Pipe Bowl


Object Creation Date
early 20th century

Medium & Support

6 3/4 in x 4 1/16 in x 3 1/8 in (17.1 cm x 10.3 cm x 8 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Dr. James and Vivian Curtis

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 terracotta, 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.

The pattern on this pipe bowl may represent a spider, associated with the power of the fon and the process of divination. Also known as an earth-spider, because it lives underground, the spider is thought to be closer to ancestors and other spirits. As the fon is also close to the spirit world, the spider is a symbol of royal power and wisdom.

References Cited:
Gebauer, Paul. 1972. "Cameroon Tobacco Pipes." African Arts 5, no. 2: 28-35.
Gebauer, Paul. 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
Terracotta pipe bowl in a cylindrical shape. The body of the bowl is covered with 'spider-motif' decorations knobs. Another smaller, cylindrical projection—where the pipe stem would attach—is undecorated. 

Primary Object Classification
Personal Accessory

Primary Object Type

Additional Object Classification(s)

Collection Area

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

& Author Notes

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