Glass beads, cotton threads | 11.5 x 5 x 27 inches with string | Cameroon | 20th century
Among some Cameroon groups, women simply wore pubic aprons also known as 'caches sexes’ in various writings (literally - ‘to hide the sex’) until approximately 1961, when governmental restrictions required women to be fully clothed. However the tradition continues in a number of ornate beaded forms worn today.
Living in the area of the Mandara mountains, Matakam women of northern Cameroon wore pubic aprons made of small iron strips covering the sex and held in place by a belt of fiber.
The Matakam are also known as 'Kirdi' or 'pagans', a name given to them by the Islamized Kanuri or Fulani who came into the area sometime during the 1600s. The Matakam or Kirdi live in small farming communities and are known for their arts of personal adornments, especially those made of iron including the 'cache sexes,' as well as necklaces, bracelets and other attachments worn on the belt supporting their 'aprons'. Composed of small iron strips the pubic aprons were worn by mature married women indicating their elevated status in Kirdi society. Beaded aprons have today replaced those of iron and are worn by women upon special occasions such as marriage or during the presentation of new born children. Geometric patterns found on the brightly colored beaded aprons reflect designs shared by a number of neighboring peoples. It is an example of how traditions are maintained in other forms and materials serving custom and aesthetic expression.
The nomadic Fulani of Cameroon and their neighbors, the Kirdi, both make these beaded aprons. Maidens wear beaded cache sexe, sometimes torn by their husbands as part of wedding night rituals.