Women's Art and Initiation in Mendeland

by Ruth Phillips, Henrietta Cosentino and Rebecca Busselle
(R.P.) Carleton University

Sierra Leone; Mende peoples

Sowo mask


H. 40.2 cm (15 13/16")

Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, New Endowment Fund, 1990.268

At the start of initiation, clitoridectomy or female circumcision is performed, a ritual act that parallels the circumcision of young boys upon their initiation into the Poro society. Mende have explained that these acts are necessary to transform children, regarded as asexual beings, into gendered adult males and females. The first public appearance of the ndoli jowei during the initiation cycle occurs about a week after the girls have been taken to the bush and circumcised, when the maskers and society leaders enter the village without the initiates, who are still recovering in the Sande bush, to bring news of them to concerned family members. (RP)