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Helmet Mask, Bundu, Mende, Sierra Leone.

Wood. 14” x 9”.

Gift of Arvin Klein

Cat. 2003 AK 1

The women of the Sande Society create beautiful masks that embody the ideals of feminine beauty, morality, and behavior. The Sande, the female initiation society of the Mende group, is comprised of elder women who are responsible for teaching, mentoring and initiating young women to prepare them to enter Mende society.  The leader of the Sande Society, Ndolie Jowei “the one who dances” is responsible for overseeing the construction of the mask and performs the masquerade. The masquerade serves as a form of communication to reassure the parents of the young girls that they are progressing through the initiation process successfully.


The mask represents the ideals of society, community proper decorum with down-cast eyes, and appropriate hairstyle with the elaborately carved coiffures. Other masks would also incorporate symbolic elements mounted atop the headdress that speak to social behavior, historical concepts, etc. The rippling in the neck highlights the source of female power, the water spirit ngafa. Upon completion of a stage in the initiation process the girls will cleanse their body in water to signify the transformation that is taking place within their bodies. The ripples in the neck can also signify healthiness and propensity. The Sande society plays a crucial role in Mende society in overseeing the growth and development of the young girls.



Phillips, Ruth B. Representing Women: Sande Masquerades of the Mende of Sierra Leone. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum, 1995.

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