D3M9M065.jpg (38396 bytes)Mende (Mendi), Sierra Leone

Sowei (Bundu) helmet mask. The 2,000,000 Mende comprise numerous kinds of social structure, such as firmly marked kin groups, political hierarchies and societies for diverse purposes: training boys and girls in appropriate behavior, protection against enemies or curing illnesses. The Mende are farmers who grow rice, yams, peanuts, and cocoa and who collect palm oil. Most bodily ills are believed to result from transgressions against the rules of conduct laid down by one sodality to another. The Mende are best known for black, helmet-shaped masks, named sowei or bundu used by the sande society, in particular, during the initiating girls. The initiates learn wisdom, beauty, grace, and self-control, all of which they will need within the multigenerational, polygamous households of their future husbands. All Mende girls join the sande society at puberty. Representing female water spirits, the masks have an idealized female face whose aesthetic reflects religious and philosophical ideals. The design of the facial features conforms to strict conventions and has symbolic content. The masks are carved by men, but danced by women. This is unusual in Africa, since men usually wear masks that conceal the face. The masks were worn over the head.

Material: wood

Size:   H. 15”, W. 7”, D. 9”

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