MSSU African Art Exibit : The MSSU African Art collection features a variety of authentic works of art from various tribes located throughout Central Africa. The objects in the collection range from mundane day to day grooming tools to ritualistic masks and statues.
Chamba, Bush Spirit, Helmet Mask
Object Name:
Helmet, Mask, Chamba
Other Name:
Bush Spirit, Wood
Place of Origin:
Chamba, Nigeria / Cameroon, Africa
Aboriginal Indigenous Art.
H = 21"
W = 10"
D = 10"

The Chamba use a type of mask that symbolizes a bush spirit. The mask has a rounded head with a flattened open mouth and two large backward—sloping horns. From the helmet a muzzle projects forward and horns project backward in a single horizontal plane. The hemispherical dome of the Chamba mask is related to death, for it is said to be like a skull, an ancestral relic taken from the grave of an elder. Other features are related to the wilderness: the open jaws are the jaws of the crocodile, the horns are those of the forest buffalo. The wearer looks through an opening between the two jaws. The mask is linked to dangerous forces. These masks are either female (painted black) or male (painted red). The female mask is often explained as a reminder of their origin. According to the story, a young buffalo/beautiful girl removed its animal skin to take a bath. A passerby saw her, hid the skin, and married the girl. These masks perform at rites of passage: circumcision, chiefs' installations, and diverse funerals. They express the powers and dangers of the bush, where they are stored and from which dancers come, as well as the conjunction of these powers with the spirits of the dead.

Chamba figures are rare and their function uncertain. They are usually covered with an encrusted patina. One type of Chamba figure is thought to be a medium for communication with the spirit world. Small figures were used to cure or protect an individual from snake bites and were attached to iron spikes and inserted into the ground. There is originality in the way the arms are joined to the shoulders: the wide hands separated from the body are sometimes united by a base that cuts through the thighs, the feet reappearing below it. The geometric facial features contribute to an impression of power. Other powerful objects owned by Chamba clan organizations, are linked to their secret knowledge of remedies for illnesses and misfortunes. Among these highly charged works may be ceramics, brass figurines, and musical instruments. All are kept hidden in a bundle or under a large pot. The unseen presence of this sacred material transforms the pot or bundle into an altar, a place of contact between natural and supernatural worlds.

Wooden helmet mask, with rounded head and flat bottom. Elongated U—shaped mouth, flat on top and bottom, but with rounded ridges on all four corners. Rounded interior of mouth is pierced or hallow, allowing visibility for wearer. Protruding half circle—shaped ears/eyes with triangular—shaped centers, directly behind back arch of mouth. Two horn—like objects, eminating from directly behind ears/eyes in center of head, carved away from head and forming a half circle shape in back of head, but not completely connecting. Entire surface covered with dark brown patina or pigment.
Guy Mace Collection, (Turblex Company)
Wood W/Patina
Ritually Used
Carving / Painting
Art Department, Missouri Southern State University
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