Bundu / Sowei Helmet Mask (Mende peoples)

Helmet Mask  for Sande Society (Ndoli Jowei), Mende peoples, Nguabu Master (Moyamba district, Sierra Leone), late 19th-early 20th century, wood and pigment, 39.4 x 23.5 x 26 cm (Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York)

The Mende initiation rite for young women is the only known masquerade tradition where the mask-wearers are female.

Sowei refers most specifically to medicine—the kind of medicine that female healers/herbalists utilize. Embodied in this idea of medicine is a spiritual force. The mask, when danced, is a visual expression of this spirit. The term also refers to the custodian of the medicine — a Sande official.

Additional resources

About the Bundu (QCC Art Gallery)

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

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Cite this page as: Dr. Peri Klemm and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Bundu / Sowei Helmet Mask (Mende peoples)," in Smarthistory, November 12, 2015, accessed May 29, 2022, https://smarthistory.org/bundu-sowei-helmet-mask/.