Collection online

helmet mask

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Sowei mask. Carved wooden helmet mask in the form of a human face, stained black. Small facial features, protruding ears, pronounced forehead and four parallel scarification marks beneath each eye. Elaborate five-ridged hairstyle and side panels carved with geometric patterns. On left proper side of head eight-pronged comb carved in low relief. At back representation of two spherical gourds ? connected at top with small bone-like object. Three deep neck rings with small holes around base of mask for attachment of black-dyed raffia fringe.


  • Ethnic name

  • Date

    • 20thC (early)
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 38 centimetres (mask only)
    • Width: 24 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.

    Stylistically this mask is related to others known from the eastern Mende region which show innovative variations in the representation of the facial features.


  • Location

    Not on display

  • Condition

    Fair; major splits through mask.

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number



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Object reference number: EAF5579

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