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    Description

    BASSA, Liberia
    Helmet Mask

    Wood, dark stain

    Among the Bassa, Mende, Temne, Vai, Sherbro, Gola and other Mande-speaking peoples of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the men's Poro society has a women's counterpart: the Sande. Elder women of this society instruct young girls in their duties as wives and as responsible adult members of the community. This period of instruction concludes with their Initiation into Sande, at which time the leader, an elder woman past childbearing, wears a wood helmet mask, Sowei, representing the first female ancestor and the first leader of the Sande society. This is the only known case where a woman wears a mask in Africa. However, the mask must always be carved by a man, who lives away from his village as he carves the mask to the dictates of Sande elder women and must never reveal any secrets he may learn while he is employed in this work. Sande functions as the domestic equivalent of the men's Poro society, and Sande leaders, along with those of Poro, are involved in governing the village, with particular attention to the problems of domestic life.

    Sowei helmet masks fit right down over the wearer's head and neck; the costume is secured through holes made with a hot iron rod pushed through the soft wood from which the mask is carved. The face is usually shaped like a diamond, with the ears at the widest points and features confined to the bottom half of the facial plane. Rings of fat around the neck are signs of beauty, health and success. Masks are usually blackened with vegetable dyes and mud.

    Bassa masks typically have hairdos represented as a series of plate-like ridges set at right angles to the face, as seen on this mask, and the features tend to be larger, taking up more room on the face and represented more realistically, as is the case here. A fine and old example, helmet masks from the Bassa are many times rarer than familiar Mende examples.

    Provenance:
    The Robert V. Berg Collection

    Read more about the Robert V. Berg Collection here.



    Height: 14 inches


    Estimate: $1,500 - $2,500.

    Condition Report*: Condition report available upon request.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    July, 2016
    8th Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 0
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 275

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