Enok Ateng (Ancestral Figure)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

The Kaka is a name given to a cluster of peoples living in settlements south of the Donga River in Cameroon. Among them are the Mbaw (Ntem), Mbem, Mfumte, and Yamba. The Kaka are known to venerate their ancestors, celebrating them with intricate sculptings and effigies.

To commemorate deceased family members, the Kaka create statues and masks, similar to those crafted by the Bangwa, which are covered in a thick crust of soot. There is little known about the functional use of these creations outside of ancestral veneration.

That said, in his 1980s fieldwork, Hans Joachim Koloss found that local healers used 'medicine' figures known as enok ateng which means "fighting alone". He notes that these figures were often created to aid this process by helping to defend against evil forces. The healer would commission a local carver to create an effigy that can stand unaided. The figure would then be used in a ritual during which herbs and sacrificial blood were smeared onto its body while the healer chanted, imploring the gods to instil power in the sculpture.

There is also some debate around the origins of the soot commonly found on the figures. Some believe it is the accumulation of blood and ashes from generations of sacrifices, others say it is smoke damage from being hung in houses above the always-burning fire.

Distinguishing Features

  • Pear-shaped heads
  • Head surmounted by sagittal crest
  • Diamond-shaped face
  • Projecting forehead
  • Face carved in low relief
  • Open mouth
  • Sometimes, only vertical lines for the teeth
  • Angular, flat chin
  • Some examples have long, pointed beard
  • Geometrical strip arms
  • Bent arms
  • Arms held away from body
  • Some are taller (elongated) while others are stocky
  • Sturdy bent legs
  • Large, firmly planted feet
  • Covered in thick, crusty patina
  • Rare paternity examples

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