Bundu Sowei Helmet Mask, Sande Society of Mende People
Sierra Leone, Western African coast
Late 19th-20th Century
Worn by the Sande society of the Mende People as an initiation rite for young women as they approach adulthood. In this rite, the mask is worn as a helmet with the body completely covered in raffia. Each mask is individually carved by the men of the Mende for the female wearer: this is the only known ritual in Africa with the female wearing a mask and dancing.
The helmet mask is carved with symbolic features. Elements include: small closed mouth, small ears, downcast eyes, reserved facial expression to indicate self control, high forehead, elaborate hair style/coiffure, rings of fat on the neck, scarification marks on face for decorative markings.
The wood is finished in a glossy black as opposition to the white paste the girl had worn on their face and body before the ritual. The mask is lightweight for its size since the mask is worn as a helmet - this one is 3 lbs.
The mask has small holes around the base to attach the raffia costume. This mask has a sample of raffia that has been used for displaying purposes. In museum exhibits, the masks are exhibited without the raffia. We have left this on for the new owner's choice on removing.
Photo is on a wood block base that is not included.
Minor damage noted due to excessive age/travel/etc. See photos: specific to note-chip on nose, chips on top of hair, crack on one side
Dimensions: about 18 inches tall, 14 inches of raffia (can be removed), 10 inches wide, 11 inches deep
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