Beaded Bone Mafa Fetish Figure
Beaded Bone Mafa Fetish Figure
Mafa people, mid. 20th century, Cameroon or Nigeria, Central Africa
Absolutely gorgeous fetish figure. The Cameroon Grasslands is inhabited by a large number of related peoples. These peoples can be divided into three smaller subgroups: Bamum, Bamenda Tikar and Bamileke. Within these complexes there are numerous smaller ethnic groups. The Mafa (also called Mafahay, Matakam) is an ethnic group who live around the settlement of Mokolo, Mandara Mountains of Cameroon’s far north province, Northern Nigeria and also scattered on other countries like Mali, Chad, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone. The traditional Mafa religion is based on ancestor and earth cults. The Mafa cosmos is all over animated with spirits: They inhabit the sky, the earth and the underworld. The name for sky (Zhiglè) is also for beings living there. They form a society with a chief (bi zhiglè) who has his wife and children. The sons and daughters of bi zhieglè have the task to accompany the humans during their lifetimes.
Spirits called zhiglè live also on earth. The most important of them are the spiritual guardian of the homestead (zhiglè gai), spirit of the entrance of the home (zhiglèveslèslè), spirit guardian of the yard of front of the compound (zhiglè var-ma-gai), the spirit who is supervising the outdoor space surrounding a family home (zhiglè wuda) and the spirit who is observing the path leading to a homestead (zhiglè cived). Another type of spirits are the nihèd. They live on earth as well as in the water. There is spirit who guarding the house (nihèd gai), spirit who is responsible for the surroundings of a homestead (nihèd wuda), and the dangerous water spirit (nihèd yam). All the various spirits have their representations in the compund or nearby, or in the fields, either in the form of a sacred clay pot or of stone, or their dwelling is the tree of the house (wof-ma-gai) or in special trees in the bush, in noticeable rock formations or in special places. According to the Mafa belief system, it is not only the ancestors and the spirits who can influence people's wellbeing. There is a consept of a special evil force (wudimidè), which is usually translated as sorcery.
Imposing Mafa fetish figure with a body composed set of bones with leather and fabric stripes. Triangular head covered with leather and hoof with applied seed pots added to eyes. The body, arms and legs wrapped in countless strings of glass beads of red, black, white, yellow, pink, and blue colour. Belt on the waistline composed from leather covered teeth and bones. Good condition. Missing beads. Age-related wear due handling over many years. Signs of libation. Encrusted aged patina. Size approx. 60,5cm x 27,0cm x 11,5cm.
Provenance: Finnish private collection
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