The information below is from:
"More Than a Seat: Numbers and Symbols in the Cameroon Grasslands"
In Cameroon seats, in particular, were the prerogative of royalty. Only a ruler could sit on a seat depicting an animal.
Certain carved wooden stools are reserved for important people in Western Cameroon: the Fon (king), chiefs, Ma Fo (a powerful female), and
certain nobles. Some stools are for everyday use and others are used during the meetings of traditional societies.
Stools are carved from one piece of wood. Plain stools are used by commoners and may be given away or sold, but stools that include certain
symbols cannot be disposed of so easily. The royal throne or stool, even when empty, still represents the Fon, and is therefore regarded with
Gebauer states that “Persons of some social importance were allowed larger stools with geometric patterns or limited symbolism to indicate the
owner's position in the social scale.” The elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion, and python are royal symbols, usually reserved for the Fon. The earth
spider is one of the most common motifs seen today, especially on the many “tourist” stools from Foumban. Another popular motif is that of the
cowry shell. According to Knöpfli “The glossy bright cowry shell with its elongated opening is the symbol of wealth and royalty, respect and
dignity.” A variety of geometric motifs can also be seen on specialized and common stools. Knöpfli writes that “Stools with geometrical designs
are for commoners, men and women.”
Nobles do not sit on ordinary stools. When an appropriate stool is not available, they prefer to stand. For this reason, stools are sometimes
carried from place to place. Sometimes a stylized design and the poor condition of a stool may obscure the ownership and restrictions. One of
my African colleagues was fined because he sat on a stool reserved for a council member. In more serious cases, a special
ceremony is required to rectify the action. Sometimes a penalty results with privileges, though. In the past, if a wealthy person from a lower rank
acquired an object that could only be used by the nobility, like a beaded stool, then the person was asked to present a gift to the Fon (the king).
After the presentation and an appropriate ceremony, the guilty party was then granted the necessary title that allowed him to posses
|I do not have a Cameroon stool in my collection.
The images and information below are for reference purposes only.
Cameroon. Bamoum. Given by king Njoya to a German officer, c.1905.
Wood, cowries, beads and leaves of hammered copper.
H: 57 cm. Musee Barbier-Mueller, Geneva.
30 inches tall and about 33 inches in diameter
T. Musso collection
Provenance: Annie Kadji – Doula, Cameroon (a Bamileke royal)
The stool belonged to Mrs. Annie Kadji’s grandfather who was a Bamileke ruler.
|Seat with back.
Wood, beads, cowries and plates of hammered copper.
H: 120cm. Musee Barbier-Mueller, Geneva.
|Royal Beaded Throne
Wood, beads, shells and fiber
71 x 26-1/2 x 26 inches (180.3 cm)
Purchase: the George H. and Elizabeth O. Davis Fund [F92-13]
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
This beaded throne is in the form of a ruler seated atop a cylindrical stool supported by the figure of a leopard. The ruler also is seated on
a miniature stool supported by a leopard. The ruler is shown wearing several attributes of leadership. These include a prestige cap, large
beaded necklace and a European officer's coat with brass buttons and tails. European-style apparel was appropriated by Cameroon
titleholders as symbols of rank and status in the 19th century. The image of the leopard is also an important symbol of leadership
throughout Subsaharan Africa. The presence of the leopard symbolically relates the ruler's personal character to the authority, strength
and ferocity of the leopard.
The throne is carved from a single block of wood entirely covered with coarsely woven cloth and completely beaded with a variety of
tubular glass and seed beads. Extraordinary effort was made by the beadworker to match the size and color of the beads to the surface of
the sculpture in a harmonious fashion. For the leopards, small clusters of white beads spread across the dominant blue beaded bodies
suggest their spotted coat.
A number of independent kingdoms emerged in the Grassfields of western Cameroon during the pre-Colonial times. Rulers and other
titled dignitaries created a demand for numerous emblems and insignia of political rank and authority. Objects like this one were probably
displayed together with other regalia at public events and ceremonial occasions rather than being used primarily as a stool or a throne.
Demonstrating the wealth, grandeur and authority of the court was of utmost concern on these occasions. Imported beads and cowrie
shells which encircle the seat and ring the base were symbols of wealth in the 19th century. In a similar manner, the combined symbols of
royal cap and European officers coat suggests success in both national and international affairs of state.
|Bali Kingdom, Grassfields, Cameroon, 1916
Accession Number 7.3.1925.1
From 1884, Cameroon had been a German protectorate but during the 1914-18 World War it was divided between the British and French.
This royal leopard stool belonged to the Fon or ‘King’ of the Bali kingdom. In 1916 he gave it to King George V as a diplomatic gift.
World Museum Liverpool
National History Museum of Los Angeles
|19th century; Cameroon, Bamenda; Wood, beads; height 47 cm
(18 1/2 in.); Founders Society Purchase, Eleanor Clay Ford
Fund for African Art; 79.18
African beadwork is outstanding for its frequent use on large
three-dimensional objects. Since beads were valuable objects
imported from Europe, a lavish beaded throne like this was
literally "fit for a king." The leopard depicted on this throne was
considered "lord of bush" and was traditionally equated in
African symbolism with the king, lord of his people.
Detroit Institute of Art
|Christie's - Amsterdam
Auction Date : Dec 11, 2001
Lot 432 : A CAMEROON STOOL
The support pierced and carved as a leopard with pokerwork spots, pokerwork zigzags about
the rim of the circular seat 43cm. high
PROVENANCE Scheibler Basel Mission, collected 1904 Lorenz Eckert, Basel.
Estimate:$ 1,800 - $ 2,700
Price Realized:$ 4,230
|Sotheby's - New York
African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art
Auction Date : May 12, 2005
Lot 77 : A FINE CAMEROON, BAMILEKE, STOOL
the highly stylized leopard decorated with incised circles overall, with a curved tail and broad
back, the attenuated arms and legs perched on the circular base, the small protruding head
with jagged teeth and eyes overlaid with metal beneath the pointed ears, the whole
surmounted by a large disc-like seat with carved projections at the perimeter; fine, slightly
glossy medium brown patina.
Across the Grasslands area, caryatid stools appear as royal supports. The animal figure
support was symbolic of royalty, chosen from a pantheon of animals imbued with power. The
appearance of the animal figure as a caryatid supporting the chief of king underscored their
power, and the stools were used for important ceremonial occasions.
The treatment of the animal in the offered lot, most likely a leopard, given the spots, is highly
stylized and abstract, and may indicate the work of a specific atelier. For related Bamileke
stools see Christie's London, June 13, 1978, lot 255 for a stool showing a similar banding motif
encircling the seat, and very similar treatment of the attenuated limbs; see also Christie's
London, July 13, 1977, lot 160 for another from the collection of Dr. Karl Ferdinand Schadler,
with a very closely related treatment of the angular limbs.
height 22 1/2 in. by diameter 19in. 57cm by 48.3cm
Estimate:$ 15,000 - $ 25,000
|Sotheby's - New York
African & Oceanic Art
Auction Date : Nov 11, 2005
Lot 88 : A FINE GRASSLANDS, PROBABLY BAMUM, STOOL WITH WATER BUFFALO CARYATID
PROPERTY FROM AND ENGLISH PRIVATE COLLECTOR
height 15in. 38 cm
the buffalo standing with rounded feet on a hollowed circular base, the angular bent legs and abstract, dramatically sloping body supporting the
disc-shaped seat decorated around the rim with a band of raised alternating chevrons, and the large diamond-shaped head protruding to the front with
hollowed semi-lug ears beneath tapering horns; exceptionally fine deep brown-black patina.
As Harter (1986:63) notes, like the major decorative architectural elements in Cameroon, bed, stools and foot rests were only used for Royalty - - the fon,
the fonte and their mafo - - and only in a ceremonial context.
Stools, as with the ones offered here (see lots 88, 89, and 90), were not always carved of a proportion that would have been comfortable to sit upon, and
were also used to represent the king himself at a ceremony or important gathering. In many kingdoms, the thrones or stools also played an important
commemorative function following the death of the king, playing a related role to effigy statues.
The relatively simple stools, such as the offered lot, were decorated with symbolic motifs encircling the rim of the seat. The more important iconography,
however, was in the caryatid-- almost always a leopard, a symbol of the king. The offered lot is distinguished by the clear appearance of the caryatid as a
water buffalo. The hunting of buffalo was a right reserved only for the chief as head of the lineage. The importance of the buffalo is clear as a symbol of
courage, power and force also worthy of Royal associations.
$ 15,000 - $ 25,000
|Sotheby's - Paris
Paolo Morigi collection : Important African Art
Auction Date : Jun 6, 2005
Lot 128 : f - EXCEPTIONNEL TRÔNE ROYAL, BAMUM, GRASSLAND, CAMEROUN An exceptional Bamum throne, Grasslands
f - EXCEPTIONNEL TRÔNE ROYAL, BAMUM, GRASSLAND, CAMEROUN An exceptional Bamum throne, Grasslands area, Cameroon
Le plateau circulaire est soutenu par une frise de dix maternités cariatides, disposées en quinconce, reposant sur une embase cylindrique. Très
grande puissance plastique, les jambes semi-fléchies, les bras repliés sur les enfants allongés, l'exécution des têtes conforme aux conventions
stylistiques Bamum : de forme ovale, les visages montrant des yeux semi-globulaires à la bordure ourlée, des sourcils arqués, un nez plat à
narines dilatées, des lèvres protubérantes, des oreilles semi-circulaires projetées en haut relief. La tête, les pieds et les mains ont conservé des
fragments des feuilles de métal qui les plaquaient. Très belle patine sombre, profonde, alternant les surfaces brillantes et les parties croûteuses.
L'embase porte, inscrit à l'encre blanche et partiellement effacé, le numéro d'inventaire dans la collection Keller : G.F.K. 223. Sous le plateau
figurent deux anciennes étiquettes, l'une portant la mention : Bignou, l'autre le n° B01.
Ancienne collection Etienne Bignou, Paris
Ancienne collection Georges F. Keller (inv. G.F.K. 223)
Ancienne collection Mme Couttoli, Paris
Acquis de Jean Roudillon, Paris
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES
Harter, 1986 : 67, n° 67
Exposé et reproduit dans :
Reid et Lefevre, Primitive African Sculpture, 1933 : pl. 66, catalogue de l'exposition, The Lefevre Galleries, mai 1933
Sweeney, African Negro Art, 1935, : n° 336, catalogue de l'exposition, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 18 mars - 19 mai 1935
Allemand, l'Art de l'Afrique Noire et l'"époque nègre" de quelques artistes contemporains, 1956 : n° 111, ill. 78, catalogue de l'exposition, Musée
d'Art et d'Industrie, St Etienne
Cole, Icons - Ideal and Power in the art of Africa, 1990 : 78, fig. 83, catalogue de l'exposition, National Museum of African Art, Washington
An exceptional Bamum throne, Grasslands area, Cameroon
This elegant work is one of several exquisite royal thrones and stools from the Cameroon Grassfields region which have been in European
collections since the first decades of the twentieth century. Judging by its iconography, style and materials, artists working for the court of the
powerful Bamum kingdom created it in the second half of the nineteenth century. Like most stools from the Cameroon Grassfields, it is carved from
a single block of wood - here a type of wood that may have been reserved for royalty. The configuration of ten mother and child figures supporting
the circular seat of the stool is ingenious. The rounded figures are arranged in two staggered rows of five each, and rhythmically alternate with
open spaces. With their slightly flexed legs and the arms cradling the children, they have a dynamic quality rarely seen in other caryatid stools from
this region. The work fits well into the Bamum corpus, for the motif of one or several human figures supporting the seat of a royal throne occurs in
other exceptional stools and thrones from this kingdom. Among them are a beaded throne in the Barbier-Mueller Collection, which displays a row of
royal servants, and a beaded stool with a seat supported by a male caryatid figure in the collection of the Museum für Ethnologie in Berlin.
The royal stool compares favorably to other mid to late nineteenth century works from Bamum, which came from the workshop of artists who
descended from the Pangouot, inhabitants of a small kingdom conquered by the legendary Bamum King (Mfon) Mbuembue (ruled from c. 1825-
1850). King Mbuembue resettled the Panguot artists, famous for their carving and bronze casting skills, near the palace in the quarter of Njinka in
Foumban, where their descendants live and work to this day. Like some other nineteenth century works, among them anthropomorphic masks,
which performed during the annual nja festival, the faces of the caryatid figures have a thin bronze overlay. Hands and feet are also covered with
bronze, similar to a late nineteenth century beaded figure in the collection of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution,
Washington, DC. The execution of the heads follows Bamum stylistic conventions - oval in shape with faces displaying semi-globular rimmed eyes,
arching eyebrows, flat noses with flaring nostrils, and protruding lips. Semi-circular ears jut out on both sides. The headdresses/hairdos of the
women remain enigmatic. The carefully incised linear patterns represent either braided coiffures or high status caps, similar to beaded or
crocheted headdresses worn by high ranking Bamum women, including the queen mother, in photographs taken in Bamum at the beginning of the
Thrones and stools in Bamum society reflect and enact hierarchy, power, and influence. The height, materials, and motifs of stools visually
indicated the rank of those who sat on them. The most intricately designed stools, including those with anthropomorphic motifs, were reserved for
royalty, as was bronze, which overlays part of the figures on the offered stool. A stool like this one might well have served the king himself, the
queen mother (na mfon), or the King's sister (momamfon), another titled woman who plays an important role in the palace. During large festivals
and annual celebrations, royal thrones and stools were brought out of the palace and displayed to the populace. When the king or an important
royal woman sat on this stool, they literally sat "on people," a visual reference to the hierarchical nature of Bamum society and the power of royalty.
In several meaningful ways, this stool then embodies the core concepts of the monarchy. The knowledge that its creators were subjugated artists
placed in the service of the court recalls the notion that the Bamum kingdom was built on constant military expansion to create wealth. Moreover,
the depiction of maternities alludes to fecundity and wealth in people, which guarantee the prosperity and well-being of all Bamum.
The collection history of this stool remains mysterious. In most instances there are records indicating when and how exceptional thrones and stools
from the Grassfields came to Europe - often as generous gifts by rulers to colonial military men and administrators, as purchases by colonial
agents and collectors, and, at times, as war booty. The only reference to the stool's origin states that it was collected in Yoko, a town in Vute
(Vouté) territory some 150 kilometers east of Foumban, the capital of the Bamum kingdom. This cryptic information, however, may link it with other
works in European collections. Until the end of the German colonial period in 1915, Yoko was the location of a military station, which kept the
surrounding Vute peoples under control. Did the stool come to Yoko with a German military officer who received it as a gift or purchased it in
Bamum, and remained there after the departure of the Germans? Was it thus part of the exchanges between the king of Bamum, Ibrahim Njoya
(ruled from c. 1887 to 1931 until the French forced him into exile), and German colonials? Furthermore diplomatic gift exchanges between African
rulers, which included works of art, have been a common practice in the region to this day. Perhaps the stool came to Yoko as a diplomatic gift to a
Vute chief? Finally, during the later years of King Njoya's rule, when the French stripped him of his power and influence, objects would at times
leave the palace, yet another possibility how the stool came to Yoko.
In the early 1930s the work was in the collection of Etienne Bignou in Paris. In 1933, it showed up for the first time in an exhibition and catalog,
when the Lefevre Galleries in London put it on display under the heading "Ceremonial seat, Cameroon," in the exhibition "Primitive African
Sculpture." The stool came to the attention of James Johnson Sweeney who was in the process of organizing the seminal 1935 exhibition "African
Negro Art" at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in collaboration with Alfred H. Barr Jr., the museum's director. They selected it as one of the
featured works. In conjunction with the exhibition, renowned photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975) captured two images of the stool, a full view
and a detail. Since then, the work has been featured in exhibitions and publications, a testimony to its visual power and superb quality.
Christraud M. Geary
haut. 54 cm
21 1/3 in
Estimate:€ 600,000 - € 900,000
Price Realized:$ 662,169 / € 549,600
|Click on any image to see full size version
Sotheby's May 2003
A RARE AND IMPORTANT CAMEROON, BAHAM CHIEFDOM. ROYAL COMMEMORATIVE GROUP
of massive imposing form, carved from a single piece of wood, the circular hollowed base supporting a frieze composed off two human figures, a
frog, a chameleon and a leopard beneath a hollowed seat supporting three over life-sized figures carved in relief, the largest, a male king figure,
wearing a loin cloth with legs splayed and holding a gourd in his right hand beneath an undulating torso and massive head, and flanked by two
smaller female figures, of similar elongated style, one holding a bowl in her lap and the other turning and carrying a calabash, the whole
decorated with intricate dynamic beadwork and cowrie shells overlying burlap cloth affixed to the wood and highlighting the shape of the figures;
fine and varied encrusted patina overall.
height 83in. 2.11m
Harter, 1986:287, figure 319
Notoe, Batcham: Sculptures du Cameroun, 1993:148-149,
catalog for the exhibition at the Musee d'Arts Africains,
Oceaniens, Ameridiens-Centre de la Vielle Charite, Marseille,
November 13, 1993-January 3 1994
Bocola, Afrikanische Sitze, 1994:100-101, catalog for the
exhibition at The Vitra Design Museum, Well am Rheim,
June 10-September 25, 1994 (see bibliography for additional venues.
According to Harter (1986:286-287) the oral traditions of the Baham suggest that for many years strong cultural and artistic affiliations have
existed between the Baham and Bali-Nyonga. The Bati, however, became official sculptors for the Bali-Nyonga reflecting the overlapping
cultures. Some of the most important sculptures in both the Baham and the Bali-Nyonga such as the offered lot, according to Harter, were
carved by Bati artists.
During the reign of the 11th fon of Baham, Kamwa Mars, the sculptor Kwam, for example, worked in the Bati style. Kwam became the official
sculptor of this_reign and his style was particularly inventive, working with new themes and images including relief on double gongs, and
animated carving of animals, skulls and people.
Kwam's life masterpiece is the offered magnificent commemorative carving of the fon Kamwa, his mafo or queen mother, and a queen. It is
exceptional in African art that we know the name of the carver of such an important work. The sculpture was decorated with elaborate beadwork
by the famous beadworker of the period, Kandep. The three figures in the group are seated on a shared circular seat-Kamwa himself, originally
wearing a beaded beret (now missing) wears a beaded necklace with numerous tosi to which are attributed supernatural powers, and eight
bracelets on his left arm. He holds in his hand a gourd or cup, a symbol of power and abundance. The queens are beaded in an ornate
geometric motif-one holds a calabash and the other carries a cup marked with the name of the carver.
Kwam and Kandep had already begun to work together during the reign of Pokam, the 10th fon, at the turn of the 20th century. The hand of
Kwam is very distinctive, as the figures are carved with slightly rounded stomachs and hollowed on the reverse, the faces with puffed cheeks
and exaggerated hollowed pierced ears.
Beads were an extremely important element of trade in central west Africa from before the arrival of Europeans in the late fifteenth century.
Precious red coral beads from the Mediterranean as well as glass beads from Bohemia had been exchanged with Arab traders to the north for
many centuries preceding this time. The first European traders brought fabric and metal items as well as beads to Africa. However, in the
Grassfields of northern Cameroon, two types of beads were in demand: those that had been hand rolled and those that were mold-made. Beads
in greatest demand were opaque in color. Beaded objects appear across the Grassfields, but not in all chefferies. Major sculpture that had been
beaded, be it commemorative figures or thrones, reinforced not only the status and legitimacy of the royal patron, but also underlined his wealth.
The largest beaded sculptures, such as the offered lot, would have required extensive financial resources.
For related beaded thrones and sculptures from Northern Cameroon see Harter (1986:figure 148) for a photograph of the Bandjoun royal
treasury showing a large beaded throne with two figures; (ibid:figure 156) for a beaded throne from the Beleng; (ibid figure 190) for a
photograph of the fon Sokoudjou of Bamendjou, circa 1957; (ibid:figures 208-209) for a beaded throne from the Mfon Ngouwo and (figure 210)
for a photograph of the Sultan Njoya upon his magnificent beaded throne, circa 1911; (;ibid figure 313) for a commemorative statue of the fon of
Bansoa and (figure 315) for a commemorative carving of the fon Kamga of the Bandjoun after his indoctrination.