The Mendé Helmet Mask – Tribal African Art

The Mendé people are one of the most fascinating ethnic groups from Sierra Leone in West Africa. Each of their villages is ruled by a chief – a descendant of the founder of the territory who overseas groups of farmers, hunters and warriors consisting of both men and women.

The Mendé believe that all of their ancestral social norms, sacred knowledge and values are meant to be passed down through their secret societies. As a young member of the society transitions into his/her adolescent years, he or she is initiated to join these “secret societies”.  The Poro society is designated to initiate boys into manhood by teaching them the value of service, community and leadership; furthermore, the Sande society is designated to teach the Mendé women the importance of modesty, child-bearing and the circle (continuum) of life. The greatest sin a Mendé member can commit is to give away the secrets of his/her tribe.

Members of both groups commemorate these coming of age milestones by participating in masquerade ceremonies where they “dance” the mask(s) to embody their guardian spirits.

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Mendé – Sande Society Mask Helmet at MIX Furniture


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Mendé – Sande Society Mask Helmet at MIX Furniture


The wooden Mendé – Sande Society Mask Helmet at MIX Furniture Tribal Mask (product sku AFR019) at MIX Design Furniture is a great example of a Sande mask. It features an exquisite guardian/goddess with an elongated forehead as a sign of good luck, downcast eyes to symbolize a spiritual nature (and it is through these small slits that a woman wearing the mask would look out of) and a small mouth that signifies the ideal woman’s quiet and humble character. The “x” marking on her cheeks are representative of the decorative scars girls receive during the ceremony. The neck rolls are an indication of abundance of health, wealth and the immortal feminine beauty. The holes at the base of the mask are where the rest of the costume is attached. Women often cover their bodies with masses of raffia or black cloth.

Since early 20th century, the appreciation for the African Culture has grown immensely. It was about this time that artists such as Henry Matisse and Pablo Picasso were heavily influenced by African Art and broke away from the naturalism type of art and started to paint in a simpler abstract style that portrayed a deeper emotional state. Art movements such as cubism, fauvism, and expressionism were strongly influenced by the freedom of form present in the art of Africa. Today, more than ever, interior designer are on lookout for great African pieces to be incorporated into their design aesthetic. Both traditional and modern interiors are being adorned with ethic pieces.

Come browse the vast collection of African Art showcased at both of our showrooms! Also check us out on the web:

331 South La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036

442 South La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036


Photo credit: Chad Finer





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