We know this figure to represent Metang, the tenth king (or fon) of Batufam.
Harter (1986, p.54) informs us that the function of such Grasslands commemorative royal figures was not to serve as reliquaries but rather as a sort of royal memorial portrait to be present at ceremonies relating to both the personal ancestor cults of the fon and those involving the whole tribe.
It was the practice at Batufam for a statue of the fon and his principal wife to be carved within two years of his enthronement. Metang, succeeded his father, Tchatchuang, in 1912, so the present carving and that of his queen, Nana, would have been carved between 1912 and 1914. According to Harter (op.cit., p.298) both sculptures were commissioned from Mbeudjang, a native of the neighboring chiefdom of Bangwa.
The sculptures at Batufam were on permanent display under the verandah of a richly decorated palace residence, the fons arranged on one side of the entrance and the queens on the other, until their dispersal in the 1960s. They were photographed in situ on a number of occasions. When Father Christol photographed them in 1925 (Harter, op.cit., p.54, fig.42) there were six generations of royal couples on display. All were covered with painted spots of kaolin and camwood, a customary practice following a royal death, in this instance in honor of Metang who had died the previous year. Already, in accordance with tradition, the statues of his successor, the usurper, Njike, and his queen, had been placed on each side of the palace entrance (Njike's reign was short-lived as he was deposed two years later for his active role in the slave trade). Later visitors who recorded the carvings include Raymond Lecoq in 1947 (Lecoq, 1953, figs.92-95), Pierre Harter in 1957 (op.cit., p.54, fig.44) and Paul Gebauer in 1961 (Gebauer, 1979, p.45). They were dispersed shortly after this but five of the statues were brought together in 1988 in Brussels for the exhibition Utotombo (Brussels, 1988, pp.193-195, figs.139-143).
The statue of Metang's principal wife, often referred to as Queen Nana, is now in the Frum collection and has been widely published and exhibited (Sieber and Walker, 1987, p.40, fig.9; Fagg, 1981, pp.72-77, no.26; Robbins and Nooter, 1989, p.315, no.804) . Both figures embody the same vigorous sense of movement with bold treatment of the angles and planes. In both carvings the spherical head is thrust forward on a long neck, the upper torso continuing on the same plane until it narrows dramatically below the chest and the swelling abdomen juts forward below. The buttocks of both figures project sharply from the lower back. The legs in our figure are wide apart, a conventional pose in Grasslands male royal statues, emphasizing the figure's sexual potency. The penis is missing from our figure but it is clear that it had been depicted erect. The statue of queen Nana has been cited as one of the great masterpieces of African art and the present figure, with its extraordinary dynamic power and expressionistic treatment of the human form, seems no less deserving of such a designation.