Nowo Helmet Mask
The Mende people are one of the two largest ethnic groups in Serra Leone. They are mostly farmers and hunters.
The “Sande” is a female secret society that initiates young girls into adulthood. The Mende believe that all spiritual and practical powers come through the secret societies. This helmet-like mask is used in young girls initiation rite which is called So-Wo. During the ritual, the young girls are taken from the village and live in seclusion where they are considered to be in a chrysalis stage, girls not yet women. Secluded they are learning how to behave as marriageable adult women. During the ceremony, the young women think of this mask as a guiding spirit.
No-Wo mask is carved of wood and carved by the men of the village. The masks itself typically have very small carved ears, tight mouth and eyes narrowly closed thus instructing the young women about the dangers of gossip and keeping their own countenance. The young women are fed with very rich foods during their isolation represented by the heavy folds about the neck of the carving which indicate health and fertility. During the ceremony, only women are allowed to perform in them. The ritual performer dances under rafia with the wooden mask on top of the head.
Circa: 19th c.
Condition: Good antique condition
Dimensions: 10" X 6" X 6"
Inventory number: DL1013