A totem pole of portraits
This monumental pipe bowl, shaped from earthenware, shows a magnificent stack of animal portraits. The potter who made this object possessed the art of shaping a continuum of masks on the front of the high pipe bowl, with buffalo heads alternating. The upper buffalo head stands on a naked human torso with breasts and a navel, the arms run along the sides of the bowl. Such striking pieces were made in the Grasslands of Cameroon by potters who worked in a strong tradition. Large, prestigious pipe bowls were intended for the tribal oldest or other important people. They were kept as a sort of collection to be displayed as a showpiece from time to time. They were not smoked, they were only carried around. On that occasion the pipe bowls were filled with tobacco, which after the ceremony was donated to the servants. Due to the strong tradition of pipe makers in the Grasslands, robust heads have been made for generations in more or less the same way, making it extremely difficult to date them. A second copy in the Amsterdam Pipe Museum shows the same stacking of portraits, but then no buffalo are shown but people. For the residents of the Grasslands, a change in the subject is, as to be expected, a reason to assign a different symbolic value to the pipe.
Amsterdam Pipe Museum APM 17.521Permalink