About this object

History of use

Beaded calabashes are palm wine containers intended originally for the exclusive use of the Bamum kings and closely associated with ceremonial display. Palm wine was an indispensable token of hospitality throughout the Cameroon grasslands. The calabash was considered a prestige object and displayed close to the king. Its symbolic associations suggest it was used in divination to aid in the control of natural and supernatural forces. Today, the use of beaded calabashes has moved beyond the royal court, and they can be found throughout Cameroon. The glass beads covering the calabash are 19th century Venetian and Czechoslovakian trade beads, used as a medium of exchange.

Cultural context

Ceremonial calabash for palm wine.

Iconographic meaning

Frogs and serpents are associated with fertility. The frog, spider and leopard symbols were reserved for feudal leaders and institutions. The use of beads symbolized wealth and represented actual holdings.

Physical description

Calabash gourd container (part a) on a coiled fibre base with all-over bead design and stopper (part b) in the form of a bird head. Design repeats complex red, orange, blue, black, and white geometric forms on the body, the base, the neck, and the bird-like features on the head which include eyes. Hollow base is outlined with shell while the interior of the base is lined with burlap stitched to finer burlap covering the calabash. Wood stopper (part b) is covered at the joint with striped cotton and is secured to the outer bead layer with a nail.