Enquiry about object: 6647

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    Fine, Bamum Terracotta Pipe Bowl

    Bamum or Bamileke People, Cameroon
    early 20th century

    height (without stand): 17.5cm



    UK art market

    – scroll down to see further images –

    Tobacco was smoked by both men and women in Cameroon. Pipes were used that had hardened clay bowls that were attached to stems of wood, brass or ivory. Larger, more ostentatious pipe bowls tended to be used by high-ranking men. Some pipes functioned purely as prestige items that were carried in processions. Others were both utilitarian and for prestige.

    This terracotta pipe bowl here depicts a face with a prominent forehead; incised eye brows; bulging round eyes; a strong nose with flared nostrils; a protruding mouth with clenched teeth; and puffed out cheeks. It has an elongated and raised coiffure with repetitive motifs, which serves as the bowl.

    Such a depiction is common among pipes that were owned by high-ranking Bamum or Bamileke men (probably the pipe bowl here is from the Bamum). Pipes like this were used to smoke tobacco during important ceremonies to make contact with the divine supreme beings.

    For the Bamum and Bamileke peoples, the shape of the pipes varies according to the status of the owner. Pipes with zoomorphic designs were considered prestige objects for important men. Anthropomorphic designs, on the other hand, were reserved for the royalties and political dignitaries.

    A similar example is illustrated in Robbins & Nooter (1989, p. 325).

    The pipe is in fine condition and has an excellent patina. Traces of soot can be detected in the interior suggesting that it was used, as well as being a prestige item.

    It comes with a fine, custom-made display stand, which allows it to stand upright.


    Bacquart, J. B., The Tribal Arts of Africa, Thames & Hudson, 1998.

    Morin, F., & B. Wastiau (eds.), African Terra Cottas: A Millenary Heritage in the Barbier-Mueller Museum Collection, Somogy Editions D’Art, 2008.

    Notué, J. P., Batcham: Sculptures du Cameroun, Musée de Marseille, 1993.

    Robbins, W. M. & N. I. Nooter, African Art in American Collections, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989.

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