17-424 Mende Sande Society Helmet Mask (sowei)
The coiffure of this mask is surmounted and dominated by a seated female figure with an infant on her back. This figure, depicted with neck rolls, has stylized European military epaulets on the shoulders, representing a cross-cultural borrowing of a symbol of power and authority. The presence of the infant symbolizes a central value of the Sande Society, namely motherhood. The figures hairstyle is especially sophisticated; to the Mende, a tousled woman is synonymous with a mad or immoral woman. Cowrie (kypoyo) designs are present on either side of the base of the main coiffure and three vertical striations (ngaya maki) are present beneath each eye.
Donated by Dr. Pascal J. Imperato