Bundu (Helmet Mask), Sande Society

African, Republic of Sierra Leone


Bundu (Helmet Mask), Sande Society, n.d.

  • On View

Wood

Dimensions: 36 7/8 × 23 × 26 in. (93.7 × 58.4 × 66 cm)

Museum purchase, 1979.305

Typically only men are permitted to wear masks and perform in ritualistic occasions in Sub-Saharan African cultures. However, this mask is worn exclusively by women of the Sande society, a women’s organization involved with the establishment and enforcement of social standards. In pre-colonial times women could hold positions of leadership, such as chief of a village cluster. Through the mid to late 1900s, women used the Sande society to support their positions in government. The Bundu helmet mask represents the Mende ideal of feminine beauty. Attention is given to the forehead because it is believed to be the residing place of an individual’s character and personality. A broad forehead indicates poise and success. Scarification on the cheeks mirror the marks traditionally made by a mother to her daughter shortly after birth as a protective blessing. Neck rings indicated beauty, good fortune, health, and fertility. The smooth, gleaming, black surface of the mask, enforced by palm oil before use, is meant to appear as healthy, glowing skin.

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