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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Temne Wooden Polychrome Helmet Mask
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Temne Wooden Polychrome Helmet Mask - PF.4780
Origin: Northern Sierra Leone
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 19.25" (48.9cm) high x 9.125" (23.2cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Wood


Location: United States
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Description
As with other tribes of Africa, the Temne are regulated by secret societies who oversee political life and initiation rites. Both men and women are involved in the complex procedures and ceremonies related to the coming of age. Young male initiates are under the guidance of the poro society, whose adult members take them from the village for several months or even years until they have reached a level of maturity. Girls are under the guidance of the Sande society, which helps prepare them for marriage. During initiation, the young girls wear a helmet mask known as a bundu, representing the ancestors presiding over the initiates.

This spectacular mask is of that type, and is certainly monumental in its presence. The four faces around the central portion are similar in appearance, each with eyes closed as if in meditation. Two of them have color only on the lips; while the other two are marked with brilliant rose-red around the chin or down the center of the forehead. These may be ancestral figures, who are often grouped in pairs. The figure on top is riding on the crest, holding onto the elaborate hairdo with supreme confidence as if he is in complete command. He wears a peaked headdress which may indicate a high position in society, or a variety of helmet-masks worn during initiation. The power of this headdress elevates it to a true sculpture, in which we can see an interplay between the human and other worldly forces that is both beautiful and hypnotic.
- (PF.4780)

 

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