Beaded Bowl Figure

Kom, late 19th - early 20th Century
Wood, fiber, beads, metal
Gift of William S. Arnett

The Kom of northwest Cameroon created statuary figures symbolizing the royal family and the chisendo, elite attendants of the fon (king). This chisendo reflected the power and status of the king, but it also served to assist him by welcoming royal guests to court with offerings of kola nuts and palm wine in its bowl. The figure’s seated posture illustrates its authority and the legs of the figure are also the legs of its chair, reinforcing the way in which the chisendo supports the king. This particular sculpture was probably carved during the later part of the reign of Fon Yu who ruled from ca. 1865 to 1912.
This work is rare because it still has its indigo beads, which are often removed from old sculptures to adorn new ones. Beads like this were imported from Europe and create a work of striking color and texture: the smoothness of the wood on the face contrasts with the bugle-beads, which add length along the arms and legs and dynamism in the upper breast. A third texture is found in the small white beads, representing ivory bracelets and anklets. The warmth of the wood is complemented by the cool blue, but also reiterated by the red band at the bottom. Indigo is an important color in West Africa; it is a symbol of power, prosperity, and fertility. In the grasslands a resist-dye indigo cloth called ndop is worn by royalty and hung to distinguish royal spaces.