Vintage Cameroon Stool 20
Natives of Cameroon, the Grasslands people (such as the Bamileke, Bamum, and Bamende Tikar), consist of many tribal communities organized by a chief known as a Fon. The most prominent communities range from 50,000 to 100,000 people. The Fon is considered a spiritual, judicial, and military leader.
Most Grasslands peoples figural art represents the Fon and the royal court. Furnishings were the prerogative of royalty. For example, only the Fon or descendant of the Fon could sit on a stool depicting an animal.
In contrast to the Fon is the Kwifo society comprised of royal subjects who are in charge of enforcing the law, social order and upholding the customs and value of the ancestors by seeking the guidance of supernatural ancestral forces.
Each Kwifo society has an individual that serves as the spokesman and representative. Known as Mabu, this individual presents the decrees of the society to the community. It ushers members of Kwifo through the village, alerting the people of the group's approach and compels them to behave appropriately. Mabu also makes special appearances at the burial and commemorative death celebrations - they are viewed with awe and reverence.
This vintage (early 20th century) stool was hand-carved by a Bamileke craftsman out of a single trunk of Kola wood, undoubtedly for a member of the Fon's court. In this instance, given the image depicted with exaggerated facial features, round cheeks, open mouth, and a rich dark finish, the figure is almost undoubtedly "Mabu," the herald of the Kwifo.
What makes large extensively carved stools like this rare is that it undoubtedly belonged to a Mabu of importance, likely of a large community. In this stool's instance, what makes it exceptionally rare is that often once the noble person associated with a stool dies, the stool is taken to the forest to rot and expel the spirit associated with it. This example possibly passed on from one Mabu to another as the tribe wanted to preserve the spirit of the previous Mabu.
You will see many modern representations of Cameroon stools depicting the earth spider web (represented as a connected geometric pattern) online and at auction, depending on their age and provenance. Rarely do Cameroon stools emerge that depict either animals or symbolic positions of tribal court life. Of note, single figurines of Mabu repeatedly fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction. To encounter a stool carved from a single trunk of wood depicting multiple instances of Mabu and this quality, size, and age is truly something to behold.