After the Fon shares food and drink with his guests, a servant brings the Fon his pipe. Because the stem of the pipe is so long, it rests on the ground and so it must be lit by a servant. Pipe smoking has been a popular pastime among men and women in many African societies since the 1500s, when tobacco from America was introduced in Africa.

Pipes used everyday were small items without much decoration. Other pipes, like those shown here, were commissioned by individual patrons to use during ceremonial functions. A terra-cotta or cast brass pipe bowl was matched with wooden or metal stems, often as richly decorated as the bowl itself. The features of a pipe not only indicated the owner's appreciation of beauty, but also the owner's high social rank. In the Cameroon Grasslands, pipe decoration was strictly regulated by code. Only high-ranking persons could use images of animals and humans on their pipes.

The lower portion of this pipe features a sacred bird, a symbol of the smoker's privileged standing in the community.

A pipe cast in metal featuring elephant imagery indicates that it belonged to a chief or Fon. The elephant, like the Fon, is powerful and majestic, having no natural enemies.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University,
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester and Dallas Museum of Art
For more information please contact odyssey@emory.edu.
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