Tu Mola (Military Installation Headdress)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The commander-in-chief of the Bamum military is known as the tu panka (tu meaning 'head', pa meaning 'persons' and nka meaning 'barrier'). The role of the tu panka is to led his army to war against any forces threatening the fon (chief) of the kingdom. It is said that the name tu panka came from a war between the Bamum fon Mbuembue and the Pu people. The story goes that during the battle, the fon was cornered into a ditch by the Pu army. To protect their fon, the Bamum army formed a protective barrier around him; they became known as the panka. The fon, thus saved, elected a tu panka to lead his army in future battles.

The tradition of selecting a tu panka remains. During installation ceremonies, the elected tu panka walks out of the fon's palace carrying a tu mola headdress on his head as his soldiers follow him, beating sticks, out in celebration. An important emblem of the tu panka's position, the tu mola (meaning 'head of the child of the land') headdress is a sculptural representation of the commander-in-chief. It, along with a stiff beaded neck ring (katandu), a leopard skin bag, a buffalo drinking horn (ndu nyiet), a bronze gong (nsüre), spears and a sword (nyi) are presented to the tu panka by the ruling fon.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of heavy wood
  • Human figure crouching on leopard
  • Figure wears mpelet headdress
  • Slightly oval, elongated face
  • Bronze neck ring on figure
  • Small brass bells decorate ends of neck ring
  • Two long strings of small glass beads wrapped around brass neck ring
  • Four bands of padded red fabric with little bells at the ends attached to shoulders of figure
  • Bracelets on figure's arms
  • Spears in both hands
  • Slightly forward stance to figure
  • Lower part of rider compressed (as if crouching over leopard)
  • Figure larger than leopard
  • Patterns and rich designs embroidered on figure and leopard with glass beads
  • Checkerboard design of beadwork associated with leopard pelt

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