1997.33.1

Headpiece or helmet mask of the type associated with the Sande women's society of West Africa. [ZM 24/04/2013]

Place details: AFRICA. Sierra Leone. Cultural Group: Mende Local Name: sowei Materials: Wood Plant / Pigment / ?. Processes: Carved / Painted / Stained / ?. Colour: Black Dimensions: H = 410 mm Diam. (base) = 230 mm Field Collector: Mr and Mrs Henon When Collected: By 1997 PRM Source: Arsene Henon Acquired: Donated 6th October 1997 Documentation: Correspondence etc. in RDF PRM Image: A25.F8.15-16; Collections Digital Reference Photo 02/05/2013

KEYWORD: Mask / CLASS: Mask / ?.

Object description: Wooden helmet mask designed to be worn over the head. Carved with the face of a female with a prominent forehead, downcast eyes and a closed mouth. Features a carved naturalistic intricately plaited hairstyle, with parallel hair partings. Carved below the face are neck rings, which encircle the base of the mask. The mask is stained or painted black. [ZM 24/04/2013]



Day book entry - AFRICA, SIERRA LEONE MENDE. Collection of objects

Pitt Rivers Museum label - AFRICA, SIERRA LEONE; MENDE. Mask Don. M. Arsene Henon, 1997 [ZM 01/05/2013]

Related Documents File - Email correspondence dated 2 January 1997 between Jeremy Coote and Amanda Hill, Archivist at Rhodes House, notes A.F.T. Henon, the donor's father, along with his mother, worked for the British colonial service in Sierra Leone prior to 1967. [ZM 24/04/2013]

Related Documents File - Described as a Mende mask from Sierra Leone in a letter dated 10 January 1997 from Jeremy Coote to the donor, Arsene Henon. [ZM 24/04/2013]

Research notes: This object has typical features of the helmet masks associated with the Sande society of West Africa, a women's society that traditionally, plus continues to be, involved with preparing and educating girls into womanhood. The website of the 2009 to 2012 UK funded project Reanimating Cultural Heritage of Sierra Leone includes examples of helmet masks from the collections of the Sierra Leone National Museum and UK museums. In each case they are referred to as a sowei mask with a description that includes the following: Carved wooden helmet mask used by the exclusively female Sande (Mende) or Bondo/Bundu (Temne) societies. The mask is traditionally worn by a high-ranking member of the society, the dancing sowei, known as the ndoli jowei among the Mende or a-Nowo among the Temne. Worn with a raffia costume, the masks typically have a polished black finish with neck rings, elaborate coiffure and dignified facial expression. The mask is thought to represent conceptions of idealised womanhood.' (see sowei masks under search the collections at http://www.sierraleoneheritage.org). In addition, there is a film showing a dancer wearing a helmet mask (see Sowei on the video clip gallery). For further information about Sande masquerades and examples of these masks see G.H. Imperato and P.J. Imperato: Bundu Sowei Headpieces of the Sande Society of West Africa (New York, 2012) or R.B. Phillips: Representing Woman Sande Masquerades of the Mende of Sierra Leone (California, 1995) (copies of both in the Balfour Library) [ZM 24/04/2013]