In Gallery 101 acquisition number 1999.76 at the Dayton Art Institute, you will find the Kuosi (Elephant Mask) Society Costume of the Bamileke people in Cameroon, Africa. Standing almost six feet tall (67 inches), the elephant mask costume was worn during Tso (elephant dance) by a secret society of warriors dedicated to protecting their king. Today the costume maintains order in the Bamileke society and reminds the king that he is not above the gods. The elephant mask costume is worn to display the king’s wealth at the Kuosi celebration. The costume is made of hair, fur, beads, ivory, feathers and twine which are rare, expressing the kings wealth and power (Dallas Museum of Art). The Elephant Mask Costume has both artistic and ritualistic value; symbolizing the wealth, privilege and power the Bamileke people have against their enemies.
In Nigeria, the Yoruba ruler Airowayoye 1 of Orangun-ila wears a similar costume to the Elephant Mask Costume seen in Cameroon. Airowayoye 1 wears a beaded veil that covers his face, a beaded scepter, and sits on a footstool. Much like art in Africa, each piece of Airowayoye 1’s costume holds significant meaning. The beaded veil is said to protect the ruler’s viewers from the power of his eyes. The beaded staff is a symbol of the ruler’s connection with heaven and earth and the height of the crown represents the significant class difference between rulers and common people and (Werbel). Medicines and other ritualistic materials are also placed inside crown to add to the ruler’s superiority and power. He must share this power with the ‘mothers’ or witches which are represented by the birds (O’Riley 246).
There are many similarities seen between the Elephant Mask Costume and the costume worn by the ruler Airowayoye 1 of Orangun-ila. Both costumes assert a high ranking status in their community. The Elephant itself is a symbol of royalty, wealth and power. The rare materials used to create the costume also represent the significance, wealth and privilege of the person wearing it (Dallas Museum of Art; Rand). The geometric shapes used on the Elephant Mask Costume depict the Leopard which is also a symbol of power and royalty. The costume worn by Airowayoye 1 presents the rulers high ranking status by the physical traits of the costume. The height of the crown represents the significant class difference between rulers and common people (Werbel). The beaded veil is said to protect the ruler’s viewers from the power of his eyes and the crown is said to emphasize his head; “The central place of his power, character and beauty” (O’Riley 246). Both costumes depict it’s wearer as a higher class, royalty and very powerful. The costumes help assert dominance over the common people.
In both costumes, there is a high influence of animal style. The animal masks made were actually created to give its wearer the positive attributes of the animal itself. In Cameroon, it is said that the king is able to transform into either an...