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helmet mask

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    Af1943,02.14

  • Description

    Sowei mask. Carved wooden helmet mask in form of human face, stained black. Small facial features, tiny ears and four parallel scarfication marks beneath each eye. Hairstyle with carved geometric panels. Surmounted by European-style crown and a state umbrella. Two neck rings, compressed under the chin. Mask stands on slightly flaring base, there are no holes for the attachment of a raffia fringe.

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  • Ethnic name

  • Date

    • 20thC (early) (?)
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 43.5 centimetres
    • Width: 23.5 centimetres
    • Depth: 26 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    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.

    Masks carved with crowns are associated with chiefly authority. This example is wearing a European-style crown and a state umbrella. European-style crowns are thought to have been inspired by the crowns given to paramount chiefs by Queen Victoria at the time of the establishment of the Protectorate in 1896. The umbrella on this mask is similar to that used by the Asante King Prempeh I, when he was exiled to Sierra Leone in the late 19th century.

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  • Exhibition history

    Exhibited:

    2012 9 Jan-24 Feb, London, UCL

  • Condition

    Good.

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1943

  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number

    Af1943,02.14

Sowei mask carved of wood. Stained black. Surmounted by a European-style crown and a state umbrella. Section of fibre hair for tying round the neck and overhanging.

Sowei mask carved of wood. Stained black. Surmounted by a European-style crown and a state umbrella. Section of fibre hair for tying round the neck and overhanging.

Image description

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Object reference number: EAF4488

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