BUNDU: Sowei Headpieces of the Sande Society of West Africa
Gavin H. Imperato and Pascal James Imperato
The Bundu or Sande Society is a pan-African Association of women found among several West African groups in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. It educates and initiates young girls so as to enable them to assume their place in an adult society as wives and mothers and as social and political leaders. Entry into this society confers not only political power, but also introduces members to the association's role in promoting wellness and treating disease. As a result, it is also a medicine society that employs both spiritual and physical therapies to help those in need, especially women and children. The publication that accompanies the exhibition is an outstanding ethnographic contribution to our understanding of this society and its sculptural expressions. In it are illustrated a total of ninety-five sculptures associated with the society. Eighty-four of these are Bundu helmet masks. This represents the largest collection of Bundu society helmet masks ever illustrated in one volume. This volume is authored by two Africanist scholars, Gavin H. Imperato and Pascal James Imperato, both with extensive field research experience in Africa. They are also physicians who were initially drawn to the Bundu society because of its vital role as a medicine society. Its leaders serve as midwives and also treat the medical problems of women and children. The Imperato's realized early on that the success of modern public health and medical programs depended to an important degree on the support of Bundu society members and leaders. The authors have enriched their 110 page text with 47 field photographs and detailed discussions of the organization, functions, and belief system of the society. They also describe the complex symbolism of the various stylized forms present on masks. A unique element of their scholarship is their detailed analysis of descriptions of the society from the seventeenth century to the present day.
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