Bamileke/Bangwa People, Cameroon : Lefem memorial portrait figure of an important man. Carved wood, worn patina and pigment, circa 1900.
The animated expression and intent gaze of the sitter depict a person of strong and outgoing character. The hair above is carved in a coiled coiffure. His neck is encircled by multiple rings of beads, and the uplifted forearm is adorned with bracelets which, in life, may have been carved from a single elephant's tusk. The stool upon which he sits has a single leg, but its seat is decorated with geometric designs.
The piece is an excellent example of the large figures of the Bangwa people. Such sculpture are generally referred to as Leffem, after the society which is tasked with their keeping and use during ceremonies and celebrations. The figures are simply carved to show the symbols of rank (Jewelry, pipes, etc.) of the person represented, but the faces are highly individualized and often carved from life to resemble the sitter. Ref: BANGWA FUNERARY SCULPTURE Robert Brain and Adam Pollock.