This mask, called sowo-wui, was made by a Mende woodcarver in
Sierra Leone in around 1909. It would have been
worn with a costume in a masquerade that honours
women's vital role in society.
Sande society masquerades are among the very few performed by women in Africa.
Masks of this type are still worn by the senior masker
of the women's Sande medicine association called Sowei. They
are performed at special times during the female
initiation ceremonies that are still used in some communities to transform
girls into marriageable women.
The leader of the Sande association in a particular community also has the title Sowei. She is the keeper of female
wisdom and teacher of future wives and mothers.