Lefem (Royal Ancestor Figure)

Njuindem (Priestess)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Bangwa of Cameroon are spread across nine independent kingdoms run by a central chief (fwa) and a number of secret societies responsible for the social rule of each kingdom. Fontem is the largest of these Bangwa chiefdoms run by the Lefem secret society of royalty, chiefs and the fwa.

Also held in high esteem are Bangwa women. They are responsible for the continued growth, expansion and ultimate power of the kingdom through childbirth. Even more highly regarded are women that give birth to twins; twin mothers are elevated to the position of earth priestesses upon the birth of their children. Priestesses can be called upon to perform specific rituals and dances to ensure the fertility of the land.

Believed to be a sub-type of Lefem ancestor figures, njuindem (meaning 'woman of god'; also called ngwindem or anyi) maternity figures are carved to represent mothers of twins and royal wives of the fwa.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of wood
  • Carved nude
  • Freestanding figure with active stance
  • Crown/cap shaped headdress
  • Head slightly turned to one side
  • Open mouth
  • Triangular teeth exposed
  • Ears are pronounced
  • Large almond shaped eyes (protruding & fringed with eyelids)
  • Necklace carved on figure
  • Figure wears ivory bracelets, anklets and waistband
  • Bent knees and arms
  • When not holding a child, figures are carved holding a calabash / bamboo lute (used for dance of the earth)
  • Thick encrustation (from sacrificial libations that have been poured over the figure)

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