Public Art

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

CameroonWum peoples

Mabu (mask)


H. 37 cm (14 9/16")

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.699

As a group, the masks represent the dialectics of public and secret displays of power. For, while the lineage groups use masks in secular public dance festivities to bring attention to themselves and to enhance the prestige and political authority of their named lineage, Kwifoyn is highly secretive and uses masks specifically to maintain anonymity. Kwifoyn is paradoxically both the hidden side of power and the "eyes" of the kingdom that nothing can escape. Its faceless authority is omnipotent, and it is said that Kwifoyn is the "father of the nation," as well as the owner of all the land and the medicines that protect the kingship.

A “running" juju at a burial in Ngashie Oku, Northwest Province of Cameroon. Photo by Hans-Joachim Koloss.