Troh (Night Society Helmet Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

Description

Among the Bangwa kingdoms of the Cameroon Grassfields, the central fwa (chief) and a number of secret societies are responsible for the social rule of each kingdom. One such society is the Night Society (Troh) of nine council members, believed to be the descendants of the original nine companions of the founding Bangwa fwa.

Legend goes that just before his death, the founding fwa told his Troh council members the name of his heir and charged them with his succession, enthronement and education. Thus it is maintained that the Troh society is responsible for the selection and enthronement of the next chief and must pass on secret knowledge to him. The society is also responsible for organising the funeral of the deceased fwa. Beyond royal duties, Troh members must maintain the social and religious well being of the people by dispensing arresting, prosecuting and executing criminals and witches.

Inherited from his predecessor, each member of Troh owns a wooden helmet mask or headdress. These masks are used to incite fear—they possess supernatural powers and ancestral knowledge that only members of the Troh may gain access to. So dangerous are these masks to the uninitiated, the mere sight of them is deemed capable of transferring deadly evil spirits to the individual.

Troh masks are worn on the shoulder or carried during the fwa funerals and enthronement ceremonies. They are also placed in front of society huts during meetings, to ward the uninitiated away from the area. When not in use, Troh masks are kept on the roof of the mask keeper's hut, where they gather layers of soot and dust over time, enhancing their supernatural power.

Distinguishing Features

  • Made of wood
  • Carved in a variety of forms
  • Two key types of masks:
    • Cubistic style, typically Bangwa
    • Naturalistic styles influenced by the Bamileke
  • Some examples feature a bi-lobed headdress
  • Janus head (represents immortality, universal knowledge and the ability to see the worlds of the living and the dead)
    • Some examples have three or four faces
  • Heart shaped form to face
  • Large, deformed and exaggerated facial features
    • Sunken eye sockets
    • Almond shaped, pointed eyes
    • Wide open lozenge-shaped mouth with teeth exposed
    • Some examples have two mouths and four eyes
    • Rounded bulbous cheeks
  • Dark patina
  • Thick, encrusted surface

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