Headdress (Bird)


Artist of the Western Grasslands, Cameroon


Twentieth Century




8 x 23 x 9 inches


Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Michael Schlossberg

Accession #


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This headdress would have been worn on the top of the head, with the dancer’s face covered in netting and his body covered with a feathered tunic. In the Western Grasslands of Cameroon, bird masqueraders appear as an advance guard to announce the arrival of other masks. As messengers of regional chiefs, they clear the path and rid the area of unwanted onlookers and an entourage of dozens of other maskers follows in their path. When the bird masquerade whirls, its costume becomes a spray of feathers. Its abundant plumage symbolizes chiefly wealth, virility, and the force of political office. Elaborate masquerade performances take place over a nine-week period once every two years, staged to celebrate and renew a chief’s identity as a source of life and communal well-being. Music underscores the religious and political dimension of the masquerade performance—so spectacular that it takes the breath away—with the power to heal social ills.

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