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VALLEY 19th and 20th Century African Art: Bundu Mask

Analysis of the Bundu Mask

#175 Bundu mask. Sande Society, Mende peoples

(West African forests of Sierra Leone and Liberia) 19th to 20th century C.E.




Plant fibres



A shiny silver, conical helmet with a shape at its base of a small human face, below which a large amount of dark brown, hair-like substance sprouts from. The helmet is ribbed at the sides/neck area and has a very large forehead that squishes down the human face.


The Bundu Mask is meant to serve as, believe it or not, a piece of headgear. The item would be worn on top of one’s head, and the hairy stuff would drape over the rest of the user’s body, as seen in the bottom contextual image. Masks like these were used in the Mende peoples of the Sande Society, a majority female population. Male carvers were commissioned to create these masks for ceremonial events of importance to their society, most often related to the right-of-way into womanhood for young Mende girls.


The features of the Bundu Mask indicates that it represents the ideal adult woman to the Mende peoples. The small face, eye, and ear-holes provide a concealment of identity and limits exposure to outside influences, representing the virtuous trait of solitude, seriousness and patience. The flow of the hairy substance coming from below the mask may mean that the Mende people may have preferred the ideal woman’s hair to be long, representative of the organic flow of life.The slight bit of chubbiness, in this time period especially, indicates fertility and a life of relative luxury. Finally, the exaggerated forehead is dedicated to the wisdom that is expected from adult Mende girls.


Predominantly a female society, the Mende people revered womanhood and the passage into it as sacred. It and few other societies are distinguishable by how the women are the ones that dress up and participate in masquerade ceremonies. The masks were worn for weddings, funerals, and harvest festivals as well.

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