Elephant masks were part of elaborate costumes used by powerful groups in the kingdoms of western Cameroon. Members of these societies, whose rituals were often secret, would wear masks while dancing and singing at important events, such as the funerals of kings, queen-mothers, and society members. The power and authority of the king were expressed in images of elephants and leopards, and the mask’s beadwork reinforces this royal association, since beads were primarily reserved for those of noble lineage. The white seed beads arranged into repeating triangles—the sign of the leopard—create a dazzling positive-negative effect. The restricted color palette of the beads on this mask suggests that it may have been made before the official German occupation of the area in 1902, when the range of available beads increased.
Susan Bloom, Masked rituals, (New York, The Queens Museum, 1977).