Object Name: Sande Association helmet mask (sowei)
Culture: Mende peoples
Place of Origin: Sierra Leone
Date/Era: 19th century
Medium/Materials: Wood, pigment, plant fiber
Dimensions: H: 31.0 cm, W: 7.5 cm, D: 8.0 cm (H: 12.2 in, W: 2.9 in, D: 3.1 in)
Credit Line: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust.
Accession Number: X65.4779
Called sowei, masks such as this one were designed, owned, and worn in performances by women of the Sande association to represent the knowledge gained during initiation. Masked association members danced to the accompaniment of drums, wearing a distinctive black raffia ensemble, and burst into public spaces with sudden and erratic movements to inspire a sense of awe. The appearance of the masks signaled the successful completion of particular phases in the initiation process as women were instructed in the knowledge to prepare them for the rigors and responsibilities of adulthood.
Source: Gallery text, Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives, 2006.
See also: Marla C. Berns, World Arts, Local Lives: The Collections of the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, 2014.