Helmet Mask (Bondo)
Helmet Mask (Bondo)
early 19th Century
West Africa, Liberia
16 3/8 x 7 15/16 x 10 in. (41.6 x 20.2 x 25.4 cm)
The Sowei mask is used by the women's fellowship called Sande, in Sierra Leone and Bondo in Liberia. Sowo is one of the few African mask types performed by women. Worn by the highest members of Sande/Bondo, the masks are paraded as part of a young girl's initiation when she is instructed in responsible womanhood. The mask is the idealized Sande/Bondo woman realized: the forehead is broad, indicating a poised woman ready to face any challenge. The facial features are small, with a closed mouth and downcast eyes to denote modesty and respect. The ringed necklines are a sign of health and fecundity. Neat, ridged, and lobed coiffures embellished with intricate patterns of hair braiding are a mark of discipline, order, and beauty. Though the mask represents feminine beauty, during the coming-of-age ceremony Sande/Bondo initiates are referred to as the brides of a male water spirit who is spiritually present in the mask, hence the mask's dark, shiny (wet) color. The incised X marks on the cheeks refer to the Poro society, the male counterpart to Sande.
Ex coll. William S. Arnett
Divine Intervention: African Art and Religion, Michael C. Carlos Museum, February 5 - December 4, 2011
© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White 2010.
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“Helmet Mask (Bondo),” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed March 18, 2018, http://carlos.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/items/show/7415.
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