The Discovery Process

Description of  Cultural Group

Description & Usage of Tadep Figures

Resources and Further Readings

Tadep "Ancestor" Figures

Discovering African Art
Ethan Prosnit

In completing one's discovery we never fail to get an imperfect knowledge of others of which we could have no idea before, so that we cannot solve one doubt without creating several new ones.
                                                                - Joseph Priestley

The Discovery Process: The above Joseph Priestley quote, reflects the main focus of this project. I picked an African art piece from the Worcester African Cultural Center to discover. Through learning about my piece of artwork, I gained knowledge of not only my piece of work but about the entire community that it came from.

The pictures below are the discovery phase of this project. The picture to the left is of the figure that I chose to discover and the picture to the right is of me discovering and interpreting my piece. 


Description of Mambila Cultural Group:

The figure that I have researched above is a Tadep Figure from the Mambila Cultrual Group. The Mambila people live on the border region between Cameroon and Nigeria. (Click for map of region). They live a life dedicated to tilling the soil and harvesting their crops, working as a community, and honoring their spiritual forces and their ancestors. The Mambila have a rather democratic society, with work shared between men and women, and are one of the only communities in West Africa where equality between individuals is stressed.

Description and Usage of Tadep Figures:

The main purposes of tadep figures are to honor ancestors of the Mambila people. When creating the tadep the carver will only use one piece of wood, usually a soft wood like pith from a raffia palm. All tadep forms are of humans because they are created to honor and recognize ancestors.

Tadep figures serve many functions for the Mambila. Tadeps personify a healing spirit, protect the shelter from thieves, and encourage fertility. Tadeps are stored in the entrance way of a shelter for ceremonial objects that the elder in the community watches and maintains. These figures, along with other ceremonial objects, are hung above the entrance. The tadep figures are treated rather casually, if one falls to the ground it is left to decay and be pecked and kicked by chickens and goats. It is not uncommon for tadep figures to be replaced every year.

Pictured Above:  Shelter where tadep figures are stored

Common attributes among all tadep figures are the circular eyes, the almond shape mouth, the elongated nose connected to the eyebrows, the feet apart, and the hands in front of the body Noticeable in most tadep figures are holes, scratches, and a generally beat up appearance.

Pictured Below: Examples of other tadep figures                         

Resources and Further Reading on the Mambila Cultural Group and Tadep Figures:

Africa Direct - Ethnographic Art
African Art website that gives descriptions of many different Mambila art forms

Clark University Discovery African Art Website
Professor Jean Borgatti: Spring 2004

Eyo, Ekpo. Two Thousand Years of Nigerian Art. Lagos, Nigeria: Federal Department of Antiquities, 1977.

Roy, Christopher D. African Sculpture. Iowa City, Iowa: The University of Iowa Museum of Art, 1979.

Schwartz, Nancy Beth A. Mambilla Art and Material Culture. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1976.

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