Mask for Sande Society (Ndoli Jowei)

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Sherbro or Mende
Sierra Leone

Mask for Sande Society (Ndoli Jowei), Early/mid-20th century (before 1940)

Wood
48.3 x 24.8 x 26.7 cm (19 x 9 3/4 x 10 1/2 in.)
Through prior acquisitions of the George F. Harding Collection, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert R. Molner, and the Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment, 1997.361

Among the culturally related peoples of southeastern Sierra Leone, masquerades are performed to mark significant events in society. The powerful, all-female Sande society, an important sponsor of masquerades, provides its members with a lifelong support network. Senior Sande officials perform wearing masks such as this one at funerals, to honor important visitors, or during the initiation of young women into the society. In costume, the women represent the spirit that animates and supports their organization. The masks are made by male sculptors and worn in performance by women with costumes of blackened raffia fibers.

— Descriptive text

The sculptor who made this ndoli jowei mask used its elaborate coiffure to display his virtuosity and inventiveness. The ndoli jowei was one of the few masks danced by women in Africa. Masquerades featuring ndoli jowei were part of the activities of the all-female Sande society, through which many women in Sierra Leone were educated and exercised political, religious, and social power. Worn with costumes of darkly tinted raffia fiber, the masks exemplified the physical and spiritual beauty that was the Sande society’s ideal. In the 1990s, Sierra Leone’s civil war ended these practices.

— Permanent collection label