MALE LEOPARD & FEMALE LEOPARD WITH YOUNG
TIKAR KINGDOM OF BANKIM, CAMEROON
In most West African kingdoms the leopard is revered as a sacred animal, the animal of royalty, and was portrayed as the symbol of the kings power. In many cases bronze leopard castings represented the royal family, and this is quite evident here as well, with both statues looking equally like superb animals but also with an air of divine humanity which leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. These bronze leopaeds were given by the Tikar Chief Mvessia (1914-1944) to Njitoyap, a Bamoun teacher who was also Chief Mvessia’s son in law. The gift was in acknowledgement of the contribution Njitovap had made to the Kingdom of Bankim in terms of education for more than 15 years before he returned to his native Foumban in 1942, where he has kept the artefacts as sacred.
Njitoyap started out as a boy servant to one of the great Bamoun king Njoya’s cousins before he became a revered teacher. In those days only commoners were sent to school as royalties were not prepared to have their sons subjected to degrading and disgraceful floggings to which learners were subjected in those days.
Mbankim, one of the main centres of the Tikar kingdom is said to have been founded in 1201, but only became recognised officially in 1653 when the dynasty and monarchy was registered officially. Chief Mvessia who donated the leopard statues took over from his father Gah in 1914. Both statues come to me directly from Njitoyap’s heirs and have never changed hands before.