Kingdom and Benue–Congo-speaking people, numbering c. 100,000, living in the south-eastern part of Cameroon’s North-West Province. Foumban, the capital of the kingdom, in particular, is famous for its rich artistic traditions, especially in architecture and associated sculpture and furniture. Collections of Bamum art are held by many museums in Europe and the USA (e.g. Berlin, Mus. Vlkerknd.; Paris, Mus. Homme; Chicago, IL, Field Mus. Nat. Hist.), and there is an important collection in the Musée des Arts et Traditions Bamoun, Foumban, Cameroon. Bamum art has been widely illustrated (see bibliography), and a number of photographs of material in situ in the early 1900s have been published (see especially 1988 exh. cat.).
Having emigrated from the Tikar region in present-day Cameroon, the Bamum established a tiny kingdom on the plateau between the Mbam and Noun Rivers during the 17th century. They brought with them ancient techniques and art forms, including wood-carving, the engraving of ivory and buffalo horns, ceramics, and probably also the lost-wax casting of copper alloys, leather-tanning, and weaving of cotton cloth. These traditions were enriched in their new location and again at the beginning of the 19th century, when they expanded their territory twenty-fold through the subjugation of dozens of other peoples. The Bamum took over the institutions of the conquered peoples, adopted their architectural forms, elaborated their sculptural forms, improved their lost-wax casting technique, and adopted the use of glass beads to decorate cloth. Already practising various forms of graphic art on wood and horn, they began to apply these to textiles and other media, and even to a pictographic system of writing developed during the reign of ...