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Bundu helmet mask of the Sande female society

19th cent.
Polished and blackened hardwood
Sierra Leone
Population: Mende
cat. 100965

This type of mask is used by the sande female society on the occasion of the most solemn anniversaries, while exercising justice, during funeral ceremonies and in the initiation that makes it possible to become a sande. On the latter occasion, the masks are worn by women who have a certain standing within the society, to receive the younger women at the end of their three month's reclusion in the forest. The long costume, that completes the mask, serves to disguise the whole body. This mask represents the spirit of fecundity and is considered the incarnation of the female waters. The masks always have female characteristics, even when they incarnate the male ancestral spirit. The different elements that compose the masks of this type, the half-closed and lengthened eyes, the delicate contours of the lips, the slim nose, the serenity of the forehead, the complexity of the headdress and the presence of neck and nape refer not only to aesthetic values, but also to philosophical and religious concepts.