In the kingdom of Bamum located in the grass fields region of Cameroon, the rulers were known to own and adorn themselves with lavishly beaded objects of art. These included beaded clothing, sculptures, regalia and adornments.
The oldest beaded sculptures from the Bamum date back as far as the beginning of the nineteenth century. This includes a royal figure which was crafted during the second half of the nineteenth century and which has now found a permanent home in the collection of the National Museum of African Art.
Bamum has a fascinating and rich history in beadwork. It is worth noting that beads were a rarity during the beginning of the nineteenth century when the Bamum kingdom was expanding from a smaller state into the largest kingdom in this grass fields region.
Small seed beads known as memmi had to be imported via middlemen from Nigeria as well as the Cameroonian coast. The rulers of Bamum retained control of both the distribution and use of beads in the kingdom during this time. However, the supply of beads increased towards the turn of the century, thus leading to a proliferation of bead crafts.
The kings of Bamum were also in control of the bead workers who originated from the small kingdom of Mamegnam which the Bamum had conquered at the beginning of the 19th century. These bead makers were therefore relocated to the palace at Bamum where they were to work exclusively for the king and the palace court in creating large beaded sculptures, intricate headdresses and beaded embroidered clothing items, necklaces, bracelets and belts.