Left Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Commemorative Portrait of a Chief (Lefem)
Right Image: Bernard de Grunne: Commemorative Figure, BANGWA, Cameroon
MORE ‘LEFEM’ IMAGES
The Bangwa of Cameroon are spread across nine independent kingdoms run by a central chief (fon) and a number of secret societies responsible for the social rule of each kingdom. Fontem is the largest of these Bangwa chiefdoms run by the Lefem secret society of royalty and chiefs.
Tradition dictates that two years after inauguration, the new fon must commission the creation of a large scale lefem figure in his likeness, to display his full power and authority to the community. These royal figures were also used to commemorate past leaders during funerary ceremonies and during annual community blessings. Each figure is addressed by the name of the ruler depicted to not only bring the figure to life but also to ensure that the deceased ruler remains part of the Bangwa community even after his passing.
When not in use, the legem figures are kept in royal shrines, paired with other royal relics (including skulls and possessions of the deceased fon).
- Made of wood
- Freestanding figure with active stance (sometimes depicted seated)
- Open mouth
- Back of the head is rounded
- Ears are pronounced
- Large almond shaped eyes (protruding & fringed with eyelids)
- Shoulders are rounded and powerful
- Figure wears ceremonial dress
- Armbands and anklets of ivory carved
- Neck covered with collar (glass beads & teeth or claws of leopard)
- Holding attributes of leadership (e.g. pipe, ceremonial calabash, drinking horn, long tobacco pipe)
- Wears prestige cap
- Some depicted wearing leopard pelt garment (extending between legs)
- Thick encrustation (from sacrificial libations that have been poured over the figure)
1Christie’s Art Africain: Collection D’Un Amateur Paris Auction, 4 December 2009: Tres Importante Figure D’Ancetre Royal Masculin Bangwa
2Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures (Metropolitan Museum of Art): Alisa Lagamma