By Victoria Rovine
University of Florida (formerly University of Iowa)

CameroonBamileke peoples


Wood, beads

H. 47 cm (18 1/2")

Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, Eleanor Clay Ford Fund for African Art, 79.18

The beads and cowrie shells that cover nearly every surface of this throne are both symbols and literal manifestations of the wealth controlled by the Fon. Cowrie shells were used as currency in many parts of Africa prior to contact with Western monetary systems. In fact, the word for cowrie (mbüm) in local language is the same as that for money, and bead-covered thrones are called mandu yenu, “wealth of large beads” (Geary 1984: 1 and 1983: 87). Venetian, Bohemian, Dutch, and Portuguese glass beads were important trade goods in interactions with neighboring groups and tater with Westerners, coming to serve as an informal currency. The wearing of beads in the Bamum kingdom indicated one's good favor with the court, for the Fon strictly controlled their distribution.