1. Arts and the Fon
Distribute copies of Handout LEADERSHIP ARTS OF THE CAMEROON GRASSFIELDS so that students can read about power and the arts in this region. At the bottom of the handout there are twelve scrambled words—all are referenced in the narrative—that are to be unscrambled and circled in the accompanying Handout WORDSEARCH. Photographs of the twelve art objects named make up the Handout ARTS AND THE FON with each of the photos labeled with a letter of the alphabet. On the following Handout READING ABOUT THE FON, students will write the twelve words, unscrambled, in the appropriate blanks and will insert the identifying letter in the box at the end of each sentence. A Teacher’s Key follows.
2. Pageantry in the Palace
In the accompanying video for class viewing, narrator Usmanou Nsangou returns to his Cameroon home. The film shows market day near his village and a special biennial Nguon festival. Here we see people filling the city, and we hear their music, sense the rhythms of their dance, and experience their group pride in their heritage
As you show the video, have students consider the following questions:
How is pageantry played out in front of the palace?
People surround the king, singing, preceding him by walking backwards, sounding horns, shooting guns into the`air, thrusting up and down the umbrellas that shade him, performing with a variety of rhythms, headdresses, and masquerades.
What do we see that tells us that we’re in the presence of the king?
His garments can be worn only by the king and his ministers, he sits on a royal throne, he is surrounded by ministers, people come to pay him respect.
How do the people honor their king and what do they do to impress him?
People offer him gifts, they perform for him.
How does the king show care for the people?
He sits in front of the palace where visitors can freely come to see him.
The gate is always open.
What objects seen in the video are like those in this section of the exhibition?
You will see a tsesah and other masks, a fly whisk, and beaded regalia.
What comments does the narrator make about the masks we see danced? What reactions do the students have to the masquerades?
Ngoua says that the masks represent spirits and can be feared or revered. The features are enlarged and distorted. When a person dons the mask you don’t see that person any more.
What memories are brought back to the narrator?
He has memories of coming to the town with his grandmother, of the music and pageantry, of happiness.
Pageantry has transformed the community. The video ends with people returning to their outlying homes and the town growing quiet. Have students contrast the lively mood and excited ambiance that pervades the celebration with the empty streets and quiet atmosphere following. Their work could take the form of a “Now/Then” poem. Or they could develop a poem as a group effort, deciding together what they will cite and then contributing lines to describe the event. Some suggested elements:
Colorful umbrellas twirling
Curved sticks finding rhythms on drums
Horns sounding out their calls
Rifles shooting their announcements to the sky
Motorcycles caravanning through the town
Gongs ringing proclamations to the people
Encourage students to recall an event with elements of pageantry (parades, fairs, holiday celebrations, performances, weddings). What kinds of memories do these events evoke and how did students feel being a part of these events?
Blackmun Visona, Monica, Robin Poynor, Herbert M. Cole, and Michael D. Harris, eds.
2001 A History of Art in Africa. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Blier, Suzanne Preston
1998 Royal Arts of Africa. London: Laurence King Publishing.
Geary, Christraud M.
1992 “Elephants, Ivory, and Chiefs: The Elephant and the Arts of the Cameroon Grassfields.”
In Elephant: The Animal and Its Ivory in African Culture, edited by Doran H. Ross, 229–257. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History.
2001 “Cameroon Grasslands.” In A History of Art in Africa, edited by Monica Blackmun Visona, Robin Poynor, Herbert M. Cole, and Michael D. Harris, 338–352. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Ross, Doran H., ed.
1992 Elephant: The Animal and Its Ivory in African Culture. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History.
Handout ARTS OF THE FON
A. Beaded headdress for elephant mask, Bamileke peoples, Cameroon. Before 1880. Fiber, textile, beads, wood. H: 47 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Mr. William Lloyd Davis. X64.86
B. Drinking horn, Bamum peoples, Cameroon. 19th century. Horn, pigment. H: 29.5 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Peter J. Kuhn. X91.410
C. Chief’s stool, Western Grassfields, Cameroon. Late 19th–early 20th century. Wood, plant fiber.
H: 42 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.1617
D. Pipe bowl, Bamum peoples, Cameroon. 19th–20th century. Terra-cotta. H: 25 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Mary Hastings Bradley. X63.405
E. Ceremonial Chair, Central Western Grassfields, Cameroon. Early 20th century. Wood. H: 81.3 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.1621
F. Beaded Gourd, Bamileke peoples, Cameroon. 19th century. Gourd, glass beads, textile, felt, thread, cowries. H: 62.5 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.5813a,b
G. Elephant mask, Bamileke peoples, Cameroon. 20th century. Beads, cotton, wood. H: 150 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Anonymous gift. X82.569
H. Beaded gourd, Grassfields, Cameroon. 19th–20th century. Gourd, glass beads, textile, felt, thread, wood, cowrie shells. H: 50.8 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.5815a,b
I. Fly whisk, Bamum peoples, Cameroon. 19th century. Raffia cloth, glass beads, horsehair, iron, nails, raffia thread. H: 121 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of George G. Frelinghuysen. X67.2052
J. Prestige collar with buffalo heads, Bamum peoples, Cameroon. Late 19th–early 20th century. Brass, copper. Diam: 26 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.8228
K. Mask (tsesah), Bamileke peoples, Bamendjo, Cameroon. Late 19th century. Wood, paint, iron dowel, plant fiber, plant gum. H: 53.34 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.5820
L. Crest mask, buffalo, Oku peoples, Western Grassfields, Cameroon. 19th–20th century. Wood.
H: 31.7 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Anonymous Gift. X77.935