The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Life in the Cameroon Grasslands

by Hans-Joachim Koloss (1938 - 2013)
Formerly Museum für Völkerkunde

A mask society waiting for its dance during a death ceremony in Mboh Oku, Northwest Province of Cameroon. Photo by Hans-Joachim Koloss.


Masks are the most important and also most popular phenomena in the Cameroon Grasslands. Besides “bad” jujus which are activated through dangerous “medicines” and which are directed above all against witches, you have in Oku alone about seventy mask societies, which are the property of the different extended families. Each of these mask groups consists of about ten to twenty individual masks. Two of them are their “leaders.” The first one is usually a mask with a human face; the last one is an elephant or a big bush cow. The other masks are either in human shape (women, people with baskets, warriors, big men, old men, etc.) or in animal shape (sheep, birds, bats, monkeys, etc.). These masks, which only dance during death ceremonies, are not meant as representations of ancestors or spirits. Masks were created by the ancestors for the protection and benefit of men—masks are just masks.