Q: I recently became interested in a collection of African masks and have brought a few books on the subject. Unfortunately, I’m still pretty lost on dating and evaluating them. I saw few masks at an estate sale and am wondering if you can give me some guidance. The mask I like most is this one. I’m wondering if I should bid on it? Name withheld, 1486
A: Bundu masks, created in the 19th and 20th centuries in Sierra Leone, were crafted by men, but worn by women during Sande Society initiation masquerades. These masks represent the importance of women in Mende society, as well as the emphasis on adhering to the ideal of a young woman. They portray the culture’s concept of aesthetic beauty and spiritual identity by partaking in ceremonies that bring girls into womanhood.
This mask is worn during rituals of initiation the Sande society. Interestingly, this tribe is one of the few African cultures that allow women to wear the masks. They wear these masks on top of their heads and then cover their faces with raffia. When not used during a ceremony, they are kept in the house of an elder woman of the Sande Society.
This particular Bundu is a very well made reproduction. Unlike most of them, it is not stained black. If it was an authentic mask of this quality (in black) it would cost thousands of dollars. I’m glad you sent these pictures to me before you bid on this over-priced item.
Notice: I will not be blogging for one week. See you on the 28th.