Elephant Mask

Accession Number

Elephant Mask


Artist Nationality

Object Creation Date
19th century - 20th century

Medium & Support
fabric, beads and palm fiber

47 in x 28 in x 3 1/2 in (119.38 cm x 71.12 cm x 8.89 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of the Robbins Center for Cross Cultural Communications in memory of Warren M. Robbins

Subject matter
The Kuosi society, previously for warriors, is open to titled men and those who can afford to purchase entry. Member dance at funerals, state occasions, and society meetings. The elephant masks danced by members are called mbap nteng, mbap mteng or tukum, while the society and masks are called aka by western Bamileke peoples. While the elephant no longer inhabits the Grassfields region of Cameroon, it is still a powerful symbol of the king. Elephant masks, with human facial features, large ears, and a long trunk have been called “things of money”, as the beads and cowrie shells used to decorate the masks were used as currency prior to German colonization. Many of the patterns found on the masks are geometric. Some prominently feature isosceles triangles, which have been interpreted as leopard spots. The leopard, like the elephant, is associated with royal power and authority.

References Cited:
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.
Pemberton, John III. 2008. African Beaded Art: Power and Adornment. Northampton, Mass.: Smith College Museum of Art.

Physical Description
A fabric mask with round eyes and an oblong mouth and nose made from red and yellow bound cloth. The brown base fabric is covered with small beads in a geometric pattern. The majority of the beads are white, with red, yellow, green, and blue beads also used. The edges of the mask are bound in red and tan cloth. 

Primary Object Classification
Costume and Costume Accessories

Primary Object Type

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
Elephantidae (family)
beadwork (visual works)
royalty (nobility)
social status
symbols of office or status

2 Related Resources

I Am Not Myself Tour
(Part of: Docent Thematic Tours)
Suiting Up Tour    
(Part of: Docent Thematic Tours)

& Author Notes

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