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Helmet Mask (ndoli jowei) for Sande Society

Arts of Africa

On View: African Storage Annex, East Gallery, 1st Floor

The ceremonies of the Sande society are the only occasions in Africa in which women customarily wear wooden masks. Masks like this one represent the society's guardian spirit at public events such as funerals or the installations of chiefs.

The features of the mask illustrate the group's ideal of feminine beauty, with a broad, high forehead, small narrow eyes, and an elaborate coiffure. The elegant hairstyles also symbolize the importance of social cooperation, since a woman needs the help of her friends to dress her hair.

In Sierra Leone and western Liberia, each town has a Sande society that includes all of the women in the community. It represents them and binds them together as a powerful social and political force. The Sande society is one of the most influential patrons of the visual arts in West Africa.

MEDIUM Wood, pigment
  • Place Made: Sierra Leone
  • DATES 20th century
    DIMENSIONS 16 x 7 3/4 x 10 1/4 in. (40.6 x 19.7 x 26 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in African Storage Annex, East Gallery, 1st Floor
    CREDIT LINE Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund and Gift of Arturo and Paul Peralta-Ramos, by exchange
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Vani Sona (ca. 1885-1951). Helmet Mask (ndoli jowei) for Sande Society, 20th century. Wood, pigment, 16 x 7 3/4 x 10 1/4 in. (40.6 x 19.7 x 26 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund and Gift of Arturo and Paul Peralta-Ramos, by exchange, 69.39.2. Creative Commons-BY
    IMAGE 3/4, CUR.69.39.2_print_threequarter_bw.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Female with European style crown as headdress. Bulging forehead with features clustered in bottom half of face. Large coffee bean eyes with slits, small nose and mouth. Plump ringed neck, small flat ears. Hair is indicated by relief diamond pattern. Crown has flower and leaf pattern surmounted by four bridges joined to a central knob. Holes around bottom of mask for attachment of costume. Crown headress supposedly taken from coins of Queen Victoria. Condition: Excellent; scattered small nicks all over, rim crack above right ear and at back left of crown.
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