West African (Bamileke) Spider Stool or Side Table

   West African Spider Stool, Bamileke People
  West African spider stool, Bamileke people

Ancestor worship seems to be alive and well just about everywhere in the world except the West. Yet, how many times have you seen a table set up with family photos including those of departed relatives, or maybe even important, admirable historical figures? Isn’t the contemplation of these photos a form of ancestor worship? Isn’t the table an ancestor altar? 

Featured is a stool created by the Bamileke People in Cameroon, West Africa. Although the form may be familiar, the quality of this particular piece is rarely seen. It is known as a “Spider Stool” and considered by many to be a classic in African art; but why the name? The answer is simple. The Bamileke believe their ancestors return to the earth when they depart, and because spiders burrow into the earth they are revered as the link between us and our ancestors.  Arachnophobia is not part of the Bamileke vocabulary!

West African Spider Stool (detail)   
West African spider stool (detail)

Look closely at this stool. The body of the piece is composed of stylized spiders. Like so many other types of African furniture, it can be read. It literally and figuratively says “we are linked to our ancestors.” In the West, these types of stools are used as tables rather than seats. So, we might read this example a little differently. You might say it’s a place for our ancestors to land above ground rather than below.

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