April 16, 2016

2077, 2464 CAMEROON - Bamileke people

2077 A Bamileke dancer with
an elephant mask

Posted on28.11.2015, 16.04.2016
Dominant in Cameroon's West and Northwest Regions, the Bamileke are part of the Semi-Bantu (or Grassfields Bantu) ethnic group. Although are regrouped under several groups, each under the guidance of a chief or fon, they have the same ancestors and share the same history, culture, and languages (from the Bantoid branch of the Niger-Congo language family). They are very dynamic and have a great sense of entrepreneurship.

2464 A Bamileke hut.

The Bamileke, whose origins trace to Egypt, migrated to what is now northern Cameroon between the 11th and 14th centuries. In the 17th century they migrated further south and west to avoid being forced to convert to Islam, but also to resist enslavement. Today, a majority of peoples within this people cluster are Christians. Their settlements follow a well-organized and structured pattern. Houses of family members are often grouped together, often surrounded by small fields.

At the head of the highly structured Bamileke chiefdoms is a fon. He is assisted by a council composed of eight men (kam), patrilineal descendents of the founders of the kingdom, organised into a number of secret societies (mkem), each with a specialized function. One such society is the Kuosi association of warriors and wealthy chiefs, who protect the Fon, but also remind the king of his duties to his people. Another society, the Kemdje association of priests, is tasked with guarding the social traditions and customs of the Bamileke.

These two societies make use of the beaded cloth elephant mask, mdap mteng (meaning "animal with huge ears"), during tso elephant ritual dances, bi-annual cultural festivals and at funerals of kings and dignitaries. The Bamileke believe that the elephant represents qualities associated with kingship and leadership; strength and intelligence. The glass beads used on earlier masks were 19th-century trade beads, used as well in exchange for slaves, so these masks were both objects and symbols of wealth.

The masks comprise cloth panels and hoods woven from plantain fiber over raffia. On this background multicolored beads are stitched in geometric patterns. The basic form depicts salient features of the elephant - a long trunk and large ears. Such masks are often worn with robes of dark woven fiber covered with small fiber knobs or indigo and white tie-dyed "royal" cloth. The robes contrast greatly with the maskers' bright red legs, dyed with camwood. Costumes also include beaded vests with broad belts and leopard pelts attached at the back.

Maskers dance barefoot in these colorful costumes to a drum and gong, moving slowly as they wave poles with blue and white beaded tips trimmed with horsehair. They whistle "mysteriously and tunelessly," brandishing spears and horsetails. Maskers are later joined by chiefs and princesses, parading by an elaborate tent in which high-ranking men sit to observe. A masker hurls his horsetail to the chief, the crowd cheers, and the celebration continues with various feats performed primarily by younger maskers. When the festivities end, the favorites are rewarded with kola nuts and wine.

About the stamp
On the postcard 2077
The stamp is one of the two issued in 2014 under the name Project E-Post. 

On the postcard 2464
The stamp is one o the two issued in 2014 for Express Mail Service.

Bamileke people - Wikipedia
Bamileke Elephant masks - Rand African Art
Bamileke Tribe - For African Art
Cameroon | Bamileke | Mbap Mteng (Elephant Mask) - Imo Dara

Sender 2077, 2464: Alsam
2077: Sent from ??? (Cameroon), on 02.03.2015
2464: Sent from ??? (Cameroon), on 24.05.2015

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