Prestige pipe bowl

20th century

Dallas Museum of Art

Dallas Museum of Art

The introduction of tobacco to sub-Saharan Africa in the seventeenth century inspired the creation of new prestige objects and leadership rituals. There are numerous depictions of tobacco usage in Africa, from a seventeenth-century Yoruba divination tray (49) to nineteenth-century statues of Chokwe kings holding tobacco mortars that were used on ceremonial occasions.(50)

In the highly stratified Bamum society, both men and women smoked tobacco in pipes befitting their social status. The largest and most elaborately decorated pipes were made by male court potters for the king (fon) and smoked on important ceremonial occasions "as a visual attribute of royal might."(51) Other potters, who included women, were brought to the Bamum court to make pipes and vessels for the palace. A pipe bowl from the Dallas Museum of Art collection exemplifies their work. The pipe bowl is modeled in the form of the head of a man with puffed cheeks and wearing an openwork headdress. Although the puffed cheeks can be found on Bamum masks, they probably serve to give the heavy pipe bowls stability. The headdress is inspired by a woven cotton cap over a netlike support fashioned from cane. The opening at the bottom of the pipe regulated the air supply. Pipe stems made of brass or carved wood were also decorated, often with colorful beadwork. An early nineteenth-century photograph of the queen mother and her attendants shows a complete pipe that was decorated with a flag (fig. 32).

Since antiquity and throughout the vast continent, the visual arts have glorified and supported leadership. Whether authority was invested in a king, chief, or the elders in an association or council, those in supreme leadership positions were distinguished by a range of aesthetic emblems whose form, material, and ornamentation were the exclusive prerogatives of their rank.

The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art, cat. 24, pp. 94-95.


49. Sieber, Roy, and Roslyn Adele Walker. African Art in the Cycle of Life. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of African Art, 1987. p. 73

50. Wastiau, Boris. Chokwe. Milan: 5 Continents Editions, 2006. pp. 18, 120.

51. Geary, Christraud M. Things of the Palace: A Catalogue of the Bamum Palace Museum in Foumban (Cameroon). Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1983. p. 108.

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  • Title: Prestige pipe bowl
  • Date Created: 20th century
  • Physical Dimensions: Overall: 15 1/2 x 9 x 9 in. (39.37 x 22.86 x 22.86 cm)
  • Type: Tools and Equipment
  • External Link: https://www.dma.org/object/artwork/5320580/
  • Medium: Terracotta
  • culture: Bamum peoples
  • Credit Line: Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Cecil and Ida Green Foundation