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Beaded Bowl Figure Permanent Collection:
Sub-Saharan African Art:
Beaded Bowl Figure

Cameroon, Grassfields, Kom, Laikom. ca. A.D. 1900. Wood, beads. 28 x 14 x 12 in. (70.6 x 35.3 x 30.5 cm). Gift of William S. Arnett. 1994.3.3

In the Grassfields area of western Cameroon, the Kom chiefdom of the North West Province owned several lifesize throne figures and smaller seated figures holding offering bowls. Often decorated with prestigious items such as beads and cowrie shells, bowl figures are displayed only in the presence of the king (fon). The bowls usually hold kola nuts, which are offered to royal guests as a gesture of hospitality.

In the precolonial period, imported beads were scarce and sometimes used as a trading currency. They sometimes were stripped from beaded objects and reused. With the arrival of the Germans in the beginning of the 20th century, supplies of beads greatly increased, as did the availability of a wide range of bright colors. The dark blue, tubular beads seen here were more highly valued than the small, white seed beads. Both were sewn onto a linenlike fabric that was stretched taut over the carved wooden figure. The beads were strung onto thread, and one out of every second, third, or fifth bead was sewn to the cloth. The beads on this figure were a dull grey when it entered the collection, but a cleaning prior to the 1995 installation revealed their deep, cobalt-blue color.

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