Mende Helmet Mask of the Sande Female Society, Sierre Leone
bundu or sowei
height 14 1/2in (36.9cm)
Private Collection, New York
According to Robbins and Nooter (2004: p. 150), "Sande, a women's association, functions among several peoples in Sierra Leone and Liberia--especially the Mende, Temne, Vai, Gola, and Bassa. Senior members wear helmet masks that embody Sande's guardian spirit, Sowo. The masks usually include and elaborate symbolic hairstyle connoting beauty, health, and wealth that may incorporate images of birds, snakes, animal horns, and other objects as well as details of coiffure. Other mask characteristics are high, clear foreheads and small, compressed facial features representing serene feminine beauty. Voluminous neck-rings refer to physical well-being."
This very old and intricately sculpted mask has a finely incised coiffure braided into four parts, each ending in ovoid tufts with a central ovoid tuft surmounted on the top; fine linear scarification on the forehead below an exquisitely sculpted face; the fine, black, glossy patina accentuates the overall refined feminine beauty of the work.