Or at least leopards and lions do. Widely regarded as the animal counterpart of the ruler, the leopard is valued for its clever hunting skills, its beautiful spotted fur and its dangerous claws and fangs. Leopard skins form part of leader's regalia and dance costumes and may serve as seats at a ruler's installation ceremony. The Krahn mat in the form of a leopard skin probably substituted as a ceremonial seat. Leopard motifs appear on bowls that were given as royal gifts, sold to foreigners (acc. no. 72-33-12) or were placed in Kongo shrines. Depending on the culture, the leopard as the subject of a mask either reinforces the power of the ruler or is an emblem of a protective warriors association.

        Despite Western notions of the lion as the king of beasts, the lion is less common in African art. In East Africa lion skins and manes are associated with warriors and hunting. Before Ghana won independence, British government coats of arms and trading company emblems popularized lion imagery. The lion was the personal symbol of King Glele, ruler of Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) who reigned from 1858 to 1889. It was also used in a variety of objects to link relatives and would-be allies to the royal power.

        A variant of the lion can be seen on the colorful flag that was the emblem of a Fante Asafo company, a military organization that balanced the power of paramount chiefs. A blending of lion and eagle, the gryphon is a European mythical animal common in heraldic images (and more recently on Harry Potter's house flag).

Leopard face mask
Budja peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mid- to late 20th century
Gift of Marc Leo Felix, 84-16-1

Lion face mask
Bamana peoples, Mali
Early to mid-20th century
Wood, plant fiber, pigment, cotton, nails
Museum purchase, 2004-14-1