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Carvers for their Kings

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Carvers for their Kings

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Carvers for their Kings

Repost: Written by me, originally published on peoplink.org

Among the many misperceptions about African art is the thought that the traditions of African art survive only in antiquities. Cameroonian artists Edwin Fotachwi and Nchinda Wanjel Frances are just two examples of how the traditions of African sculpture are thriving without compromise.

Edwin and Wanjel
Edwin Fotachwi (L) and Nchinda Frances Wanjel (R) outside of Wanjel’s workshop in Oku, Cameroon

Wanjel lives in the remote mountain community of Oku, surrounded by the mystical Kilum Mountain Forest. His gift for carving life into traditional Oku masks has earned him a place as the favored carver of the king of Oku, known as the Fon.

The not-so-remote town of Bali-Nyonga is full of woodcarvers and other artisans owing to the presence of a production center for Prescraft, an established exporter of Fair Trade crafts. Edwin Fotachwi distinguished himself early on as a talented carver — literally becoming Prescraft’s “poster boy” after he was photographed as he carved a particularly intricate ceremonial bowl. Like Wanjel, Edwin is the favored carver of his own king, the Fon of Bali-Nyonga.

Until recently Edwin and Wanjel knew each other only by reputation.

In November 1999, Ted Johnson, PEOPLink’s Chief of Web Operations arranged the first-ever meeting between Wanjel and Edwin. Their rapport was instant, and soon they were whispering trade-secrets behind one of the mud-brick buildings in Wanjel’s compound. This is the way healthy traditions grow and remain vital.

African Celebration Drum
This drum intricately carved by Edwin shows musicians, dancers, and even a “juju” engaged in a celebration typical of Cameroon’s Grasslands region.
Kam Wall Mask
This wall mask by Wanjel is a depiction of a “Kam”: a traditional title in the kingdom of Oku, Cameroon.
Traditional Savannah Stool
This Traditional Savannah Stool was carved by Babila Veronica Ndungmbowo, Edwin’s first apprentice. Now she is said to be Cameroon’s first woman to achieve the status of “Master Carver.”

Both of these artists have a deep sense of the thread the connects them to the history of their people, and to the traditions of their ancestors. They are carvers for their kings not because they copy what other carvers have done in the past, but because they have the creativity to grab that thread and pull it into the future.


Sidenote: This article was plagiarized in Entrepreneurship in Africa: A Study of Successes (9781567205367): David S. Fick (p. 224)

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