Helmet Mask, Mende, Sierra Leone.

This black helmet mask is worn exclusively by women. The mask presents an ideal of feminine beauty admired by the Mende: elaborate hairstyle, full forehead and small facial features. The gleaming surface signifies healthy, glowing skin. The swelling fleshy rolls alternating with deep incised lines at the neck or back of the head are considered marks of beauty and a promise of fecundity. The neck is broad to fit over the head of the woman who will wear it.

The masks are made by male carvers in secret. The surface is smoothed with the rough leaves of the ficus tree, then dyed black with a concoction made of leaves. Before use, it is anointed with palm oil to make it shine.

The Sande society is exclusively a woman's society responsible for the initiation of young girls into womanhood and instructing them on the duties they will be responsible for as wives and members of the adult tribal Community. The authority of the Sande society gets it power and influence from hale, the magic the women control and resides in the Sowei / Bundu mask.

Wood, blackish brown, glossy patina, obvious use and wear, pierced around the rim, because of the thinness of the mask there are thin cracks and damage at the eye.

Height 39 cm - 15.4 inch. Diameter 20/22 cm - 7.9/8.7 inch.