Kaka – the only cultural group using rare paternity figures?

Keaka or Kaka ?

The Kaka people live near the Donga River, partly in Cameroon and partly in Nigeria. The Keaka, an Ejagham subgroup also known as the Eastern Ejagham, live near the Cross River in Cameroon close to the Nigerian border. We know little about their traditions. The Keaka neighbour the Banyang and live to the West of the Bangwa.
The Keaka statuary is rare and poorly documented. Otherwise, there are similarities with their neighbours, Chamba and Mumuye, and of course with Ejagham.


Since the 1960’s, Nigerian art has arrived in Europe and in the United States following Biafra civil war (1967-1970). Little known before that time, Nigerian art – and especially that from the Cross River (Igbo, Mumuye) – started to appear in French collections and was displayed in museums and galleries.

Rare Kaka figure representing paternity


Kaka – the only cultural group using rare paternity figures?

Generally, we find maternity symbols in African Art, but some specific pieces represent paternity.
The male figures carrying a child on the back [1] are attributed to the Kaka/Keaka people.

According to Pierre Harter, these figures are used in an ancestral ritual. But, in contrast, Viviane Baeke suggests that these sculptures belong to the so medicinal ritual. But according to F. Hermann, the Keaka people could be the only cultural group with this kind of figure, the paternity sculpture.

Field studies made by Hans-Joachim Koloss present the male figures as « power figures », named enoke ateng – « fighting alone ».

What we understand about paternity figures is associated with so association, known in this border region. Laburthe-Tolra suggested that old initiated men became like women, with the ability to give birth. Then, new initiation candidates know a « social birth ». This particularity is symbolized by the child in the back of male figures.

Morphological characteristics of these male standing figures are bent legs and arms, an elongated body, ending with a head, schematically shaped, with a « beard » or a « V » hair style. The face is often carved with a cavity for the mouth and, sometimes, only vertical lines for the teeth. The patina is another important element that gives strength and mystery to these male figures. Looking at all paternity figures, some of them are taller (elongated) than others (stocky).

(1)This sculpture is displayed in Marie-Louise Bastin’s book published in 1984 (p. 228, n° 229).
(2) In past auctions, rare Keaka « paternity » figures were sold; one, from the Gaud collection, in 1993 in Sotheby’s London (lot 95)


[1] See figures: 229 (Keaka denomination, carrying a turtle, not a child) in Bastin (1984, 228); 184 (Kaka denomination) in Lebas (2012, 254); Keaka figure in Claes (2015, 44).


Galerie Robert Duperrier, Paris


Coryse Mwape Dolin
Art Historian, African Arts


Arts premiers d’Afrique noire. Bruxelles, 1977.
Viviane Baeke.- Le système de pensée Wuli : les morts, les esprits de l’eau et la sorcellerie. in L. de Heusch (dir.), Objets signes d’Afrique. Tervuren, Musée royal de l’Afrique centrale, Les Annales des Sciences humaines n° 145, 1995. p. 58-92.
A. Bamert.- Afrika Stammeskunst in Urwald und Savanne. Olten, 1980. p. 153, n° 152.
Marie-Louise Bastin.- Introduction aux Arts d’Afrique noire. Arnouville, Arts d’Afrique Noire, 1984. p. 228, n° 229.
Didier Claes (dir.)Uzuri wa Dunia. Belgian treasures. Bruxelles, Bruneaf, 2015. p. 44-45.
Pierre Harter.- Tribal Arts Magazine 3 (sept) 1994, 45-48.
Luc de Heusch et al.Utotombo. L’art d’Afrique noire dans les collections privées belges. Bruxelles, Palais des Beaux-Arts,1988. p. 184, 288.
Hélène Joubert.- Making the market for Benue Arts : Notes on the French Connection in M.C. Berns, R. Fardon and S. L. Kasfier (eds.), Central Nigerian unmasked : arts of the Benue River valley. Los Angeles, Fowler Museum at UCLA, 2011. p. 560-567.
Philippe Laburte-Tholra.- Initiations et sociétés secrètes au Cameroun : les mystères de la nuit.
Alain Lebas.- Arts du Nigeria dans les collections privées françaises. Milan, 5 Continents, 2012. n° 183
T. Northern.- Expressions of Cameroon Art : the Franklin collection. Los Angeles, 1986 (Jill Salmons, p. 72-75).
M. Nooter and A. Roberts.- A sens of Wonder : African Art from the Faletti Family collection. 1997. p. 110, cat. 52.
Jill Slamons.- Keaka, in H. Joubert et al., Les Arts du Nigeria : collections du Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie. Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1997. p. 164.
Roy Sieber and Barry Hecht.- Eastern Nigerian Art from the Toby and Barry Hecht collection, African Arts 35 (1), spring 2002 : 56-77.
Sotheby’s.- Important African Art : The Michel Gaud Collection. London, 1993.
Zemanek-Münster.- Auktion. Germany, Würzburg, November 15th, 2008. Lot 388.