Ki (Smoking Pipe)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Among the many kingdoms (fondom) of the Cameroon Grassfields, the central fon (chief) and a number of secret societies are responsible for the social rule of each kingdom. In close counsel with Kwifor, Ngwerong, Mfu and Takumbeng (the social organisations of village elders, nobles, princes and elites) the fon must maintain spiritual and social order and is responsible for peaceful collaboration between neighbouring villages.

As a sign of social status and rank within the community, men within kingdoms of the Grassfields (including the Bamum, Bamileke, Bangwa and Tikar kingdoms) possess ti pipes which are used to smoke tobacco during social gatherings, royal ceremonies and also whilst working on farms. The design, material and size of the ti pipe is used to highlight the social standing of the individual. More elaborate pipes made of brass or bronze are for the sole use of the fon and his court members; commoners and women make use of smaller, plainer pipes made of wood or terracotta.

Distinguishing Features

  • Fon, royalty and members of court smoking pipe: Made from brass, stone, bone and/or ivory
  • Association members smoking pipe: Made from terracotta or wood; pipe bowl enhanced with society emblem
  • Commoner smoking pipe: Made from terracotta or wood; plain or moderately decorated
  • Pipe bowl:
    • Height = 2- 6 inches
    • Some have animals perched on side of bowl (including birds)
    • Many in the shape of male head
      • Openwork meplet headdress (prestige examples have royal animals attached - leopard, lizard, crocodile)
      • Round eyes
      • Detailed eyelids
      • Incised eye brows
      • Small ears
      • Nose with flaring nostrils
      • Pronounced cheeks
      • Scarification on cheeks and chin
    • Some depict colonial soldiers, judges and hunters
    • Small vent at the base of the bowl
  • Pipe stem:
    • Plain straight wooden tube or highly decorated wooden or ivory stem
    • Stem carved in geometric patterns (for commoners)
    • Animal designs for prestige pipes
      • Spiders (ngame; meaning wisdom / divination)
      • Crocodiles and leopards (all considered royal animals)
      • Frogs (tetuo; meaning prosperity)
      • Bats and lizards also carved into stem
    • Human figures carved in relief for the fon and highest elites
    • Ivory stems carved with human and animal figures (signifying fertility and long life)
    • Some wooden stems enhanced with copper wire formed into lace patterns
    • Examples of Bamileke and Bamum pipes covered in coloured glass beads
  • Pipe mouthpiece:
    • Metal (bronze or brass) tube inserted into stem
    • Pipe sometimes ends in double headed serpent or elephant head (trunk curls back under bowl of pipe)
  • NOTE: Pipe, stem and bowl can all be made of different materials (terracotta bowl and wooden stem joined by beeswax for example)
  • NOTE: Enormous pipies reserved for fon in public ceremonies

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