Showcasing the art and ritual of the African and African-diaspora religions

Bundu/Sande Sowo-Wui Mask #1

Catalog Number: J017


9.25" x 7.5" x 15" 
234.95 mm x 190.5 mm x 190.5 mm

Country of Origin: Guinea-Conakry
Ethnographic Origin: Mende (West Africa)
Materials: pigment
Usage: Ritual (used)
Detailed Description of Significance:

This mask is used by the Sande, or Bundu, society in its initiation rites. The Sande society is the only African masquerade institution in which women conventionally wear masks. The features it portrays are indicative of ideal womanhood among the Mende and the neighboring ethnic groups that practice Sande. The head women of Sande, called Sowei, are expected to personify the calm, collected, elegant female ideal for most of the year. During the yearly initiation rites, they teach young women how to embody these traits in their own lives.

There are two spirits of womanhood. This mask represents Sowo, or ideal womanhood, while other masks represent Gonde. Gonde is all the spirit of frivolity and silliness that must be left behind as a girl becomes a good Sande woman. Both masks are used in the dances during initiation.

The fatty subcutaneous neck rings depicted on this mask is part of Sande beauty standards. In this population, food is sometimes scarce, but a woman is expected to be fertile and give birth to children. Stores of fat on the neck are a sign that a woman is well fed, healthy, and able to have children. Part of the Sande initiation rite is providing the girls with enough food that they gain these stores of body fat.