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Image of Sande Society Sowei Helmet Mask

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Workshop of
Sewa-Mende Primary

Sande Society Sowei Helmet Mask

Likely 1933-1967
Carved, stamped, and appliqued wood, and aluminum

14.5 x 8.5 x 10 in. (36.83 x 21.59 x 25.4 cm)
Gift of Mace Neufeld and Helen Katz Neufeld, Class of 1953

Bryn Mawr College
Accession Number: 99.3.26
Other Number(s): 171 (9) (Neufeld Collection Number)
Geography: Africa, Sierra Leone
Classification: Ceremonial and Performance Artifacts; Masks
Culture/Nationality: Sewa-Mende, Sierra Leonean, West African, African
Collection: Neufeld Collection
When young girls in parts of the West Atlantic region reach a certain age they are initiated into the Sande women’s society, whose purpose is to teach girls the roles of proper women within their communities. Once the training is complete, the girls are then considered women and are brought back into the community to be celebrated. A leader of the women’s society, known as a ndoli jowei, dances in masquerade with this type of helmet mask.

Sande Society helmet masks symbolize an ideal of beauty with their high foreheads, elaborate braided hairstyles, and healthy black complexions. According to oral tradition, the Sande spirit is a water spirit; therefore it is believed that the rings on the neck of the mask symbolize the rippling of water. Among the Temne, the rings of the mask are viewed as the outer shell of a moth undergoing metamorphosis, which represents the girl’s transformation into a mature woman.

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