The sowei mask is worn by senior Sande officials of the women’s initiation society. The carving with its elaborate hairstyle, reflects the ideals of feminine beauty. Fiona Savage for DDF Africa 2016-18 Sande/Bondo Mask. Mende/Temne, Sierra Leone. On display. Materials: Wood. Coll:? Un-stained carved wood helmet mask (sowei) which shows no sign of use and is too small to have been worn by anyone but a child. The form of this mask, with the elongated neck and head protruding from the head of the main mask is very unusual. A small, sculpted version of the Bondo or Sande mask sometimes appears on staffs and other objects used by officials of the association, reminding observers of the women’s authority. It is possible that this small helmet mask performed a similar emblematic role. The mask’s size, colour and innovative features suggest that it was carved for the market in the mid-20th century.  

Object Summary

Museum Number 37/2000
Simple Name mask
Full Name helmet mask (sowei)
Common Name mask
Production country Sierra Leone
Material wood (gbolei, Ricinodendron africanum)
Collection class Religion and magic
Collection continent Africa
Collection area/region W
Production town Mende
Production continent Africa
Production year high 1995
Cultural group Mende
Function name religion
Function detail appears to be carved in the form of a helmet mask as worn by a female elder for important social ceremonial dances, however, this is an untypical carving and of small size