Set of 3 Horsetail Flywhisks with Beaded Human Head and Animal Finials , Cameroon Grasslands
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Beads and royalty are closely linked in Africa. For centuries, African rulers accumulated valuable, locally made and imported beads. They also controlled their distribution and use. The ownership of large quantities of beads, the variety of exquisite beaded clothing and Regalia, and the right to display colourful beaded designs distinguish rulers from the rest of the populace. During public ceremonies, kings wear spectacular arrays of beadwork. They dazzle their subjects with the glorious colours and the unique designs of their royal costumes and Regalia.
In West and Central Africa, kings bring to their court's male artists who create masterpieces of beaded clothing, adornment, and bead embroidered regalia. Artists often vary the shapes of objects, apply different beaded designs, and follow various colour schemes. Rulers of the kingdoms in the Grassfields region of Cameroon possess lavishly beaded works of art, ranging from beaded sculpture to clothing, adornment, and Regalia (Harter 1986; Northern 1975).
The history of the Grassland beadwork is fascinating. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, beads were extremely rare. The tiny seed beads (memmi) had to be imported from the Cameroon coast and Nigeria through intermediaries. Cowrie shells (museum) were equally sought after and became a currency and an artistic medium. To this day, the term for money is mbuum. The Kings controlled both distribution and use of beads and cowrie shells. Toward the turn of the century, the bead and cowrie shell supply increased; this led to a proliferation of beadwork.
The Grassland Kings also exerted control over the bead workers and they worked exclusively for him and the palace elite (Geary 1983,87). In addition to considerable, beaded sculptures and masks, the artists created intricate headdresses and bead embroidered clothing, belts, necklaces, bracelets and flywhisks, that formed part of each King's Regalia.
Throughout the many Kingdoms in the Cameroon Grasslands region (Bamileke - Bamum - Tikar) employed a range of Regalia to assert their political, economic and religious power. Presented publicly in lavish displays of wealth and power, many court objects were distinguished by their elaborate bead embroidery.
Flywhisks in Africa served two functions, the first being used to prevent insects from alighting on people or food. They were also part of a leader or chief's Regalia, a symbol of power and authority that would accompany the chief during most of his official duties. Heads, figures, beadwork or other decoration on the handle would enhance the prestige of the object which served as a mark of social status. The hair would come from different animals depending on the region and tribal customs. Most Bamileke art (and the work of other kingdoms of the Cameroon Grasslands) relates to kings and important chiefs, who defined their power by the display of prestigious objects during important ceremonies. The flywhisks depicted here are fine examples of the intricacy and ingenuity of Grasslands beadwork:-representation of the King himself on the handle of the flywhisk;-representation of two retainers on the handle of the fly whisk wearing typical attire and adornment. The doubling of the human figure may reflect the significance of twins, who are sent to the palace by their parents to serve the King. Male twins are the most important and trusted retainers at court, while, in the past, female twins became royal wives;-representation of a leopard; cunning, fast, mobile and guardedly aggressive, signifies the ability to survive and is the most important royal icon, often even the King's alter ego
Dimensions 138cm x 12cm x 22cm / 113cm x 15cm x 20cm / 102cm x 15cm x 12cm