Liminality / Mourning

By Monica Demott
(formerly University of Iowa)

Cameroon; Cameroon Grasslands Style

Elephant mask

Wood, pigment (white)

L. 103.5 cm (40 ¾”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.337

Among the peoples of the Cameroon Grasslands, funerals of important men are commemorative, celebratory ceremonies called "cry-dies."  Cry-dies are public events held several months or years after the deceased's death to commemorate the deceased and display the social status he attained in life.  The entire village attends the ceremonies, which may last nearly a week if the deceased was a high-ranking member of one of the exclusive societies that assist the Fon (king) in governing the village.  A man's achievements are also conveyed by the number of and kind of masks that are brought out of secret storerooms to be danced at his cry-die.  This elephant mask was worn in funerary and other contexts, and is an obvious metaphor for political power among many peoples around the world.