Sowei masks – unique to the region around Sierra Leone – are worn by senior members of the all-female Sande Society during rite-of-passage ceremonies that signify a girl’s transition to adulthood. They are carved expressions of local ideals of feminine beauty, health and serenity that vary widely in their detail.
Masquerade performances play an important symbolic role in the Sande Society. The mask is worn by the ndoli jowei (‘the sowei who dances’) along with a black raffia and textile costume which completely conceals her identity. Traditionally, the ndoli jowei appears at specific stages of the period of transition at events that are accompanied by music, dancing and singing. She is regarded as both a physical manifestation of the spirit of the Sande Society and an embodiment of its powerful medicines. (British Museum)
- Claude Bouyssou, France
- d’Azevedo, W. L., 1973, Mask, Makers and Myth in Western Liberia, Oxford: Oxford University Press
- Boone, S. A., 1986, Radiance from the Waters: Ideals of Feminine Beauty in Mende Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press
- Phillips, R. B., 1995, Representing Woman: Sande Masquerades of the Mende of Sierra Leone. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History