Sande is a society (a kind of organization) found among several cultures who live in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia - the Mende, Gola, Temme, and Kpelle. In Sande societies women are educated in farming, medicine, and child-rearing. Sande is similar to female initiation in other regions of Africa, yet it is unique because it is the only society where women completely cover their bodies in a black costume and wear a mask in performance. Usually wooden masks in Africa are only allowed to be worn by men.

The Sande mask is called Sowei and is worn and danced in the village by an older woman while the young female initiates are in seclusion outside the village in the forest.

The mask represents the ideal beauty of a Sande woman:

  • a high, broad forehead,

  • small facial features,

  • a hairstyle composed of tufts and braids,

  • neck creases, and a shiny black finish.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University,
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester and Dallas Museum of Art
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