Friday, June 19, 2015

In this photo are Juliana Bio, Cecilia Jah, Angela Lemor, Anna Lewis, Josephine Jones, Dolly Peters. If there is anyone out there who can name the others please let me know.

photo © by Chad Finer

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sister Kathleen Toland

It is with sadness that I post the news of Sister Kathleen Toland's death. Her great-niece notified me of her passing on April 4th. When Susan and I were in Sierra Leone we taught at the Holy Rosary Secondary School and Teacher's Training College in Kenema, and Sister Kathleen (we knew her then as Sister Adrian) was a teacher there as well. From the very beginning we found Sister Kathleen open, friendly, helpful, and enjoyable. She had wonderful stories of her lifelong commitment to the education of young women of Africa first in Nigeria, and then due to the Biafran War, in Sierra Leone. During my years in upcountry Sierra Leone I listened closely to her stories of her experiences in Africa. I was impressed by her profound commitment to seeing that young women in Africa received the very best education possible. I was also impressed by her spirit of egalitarianism and her ability to adjust to pan-African independence. She was proud to be an education leader in our school. Many of her students have her to thank for their later success. For many years after we left Sierra Leone we looked forward to her yearly letter update at Christmas time. She was the very best of teachers, and a wonderfullly holy person in the very best sense of that term. May she rest in Peace.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Infrastructure Update of 2014

From Gary Schulze, who is a RPCV from the early Peace Corps years in Sierra Leone. Gary has had the honor of being made an honorary Paramount Chief in Shenge
( ) near where he served. This video shows a bridge on the way to Kaboro Chiefdom that exists today and how tenuous it was to cross The video was sent to me by Gary Schulze. The picture below is taken from c. 1969 of a similar bridge condition on a trip to the Loma Mountains. Sadly the infrastructure needs as a result of the war, and aggravated by the rains remain.
Bridge Repair on the Kabala-Kurobonla Road - March 1969

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sad News about my friend Siaka David Kpaka

Siaka David Kpaka - on Mt. Bintumani - March 1969
© by Chad Finer

Siaka David Kpaka, Sr.

It is very sad news that I report today - the death of Siaka David Kpaka (on May 30, 2014 in New York). I first met Siaka in March 1969 while on a hiking trek to the remote mountain known as Bintumani in the northeastern section of Sierra Leone. At that time he was working for the Forest Industries as a staff entomologist. I remember it being late in the day - we were setting up camp for the night, and he and a colleague of his were heading down the mountain. A very friendly person, Siaka introduced himself, asked about who we were and what we were doing, and in conversation learned that I was stationed in Kenema where he also lived. Siaka was later to make contact with me in Kenema and was to begin a friendship of guidance that included introducing me to his friends (Bancole Porter comes to mind) and to his family (I met his wife Catherine and his daughter Jeneba), and from time to time Siaka helped me understand Mende ways and traditions. Siaka was very proud of his Mende heritage and of his upbringing in Pujehun in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. Well-educated and ambitious - he was gregarious and well liked by everyone he came in contact with. In July of 1970 I returned to the States, and in 1972 I received a phone call from Siaka ("Hello Chad, Do you know who this is?") informing me that somehow he had managed to come to the United States, and at that time was living in quite marginal quarters somewhere in New York City. We marveled at how, with minimal money, he had managed to come to the States. And somehow, while working as a night-watchman for a local company (he told me that many nights he sheltered in a wooden crate while at work) and during the day went to CUNY to further his education. I think there was one visit to us in Vermont (where we had settled).  Our lives were to part ways while he worked hard to make it in New York (eventually an airconditioning engineer for the Hotel Pennsylvania) and I went on with my education and with raising a family.  Many times we thought of his success and his resilience. Of how, while coming with limited means, he had made a life in America. He was later to see to it that his wife Catherine, and that his family came over to be with him. He settled in Brooklyn, New York. With the wonders of the Internet I was able to reconnect, first with his wife who worked at that time (2006) for the City of New York, and eventually with him. My disappointment is that I had been such a marginal host to my Sierra Leone friend. Here he had been in the States since 1972, had become a US Citizen in the 1980's, and now had made a successful life for him and for his family. I had not been a supportive friend, mainly since I was busy with my own life remote from New York. However, when my own daughter had chosen to move and work in New York, I did seek him out and we had a moving, although brief visit together. My daughter met the man I had talked about often.
Siaka David Kpaka was a brave, proud, gregarious, friendly man. He came from humble origins in Pujehun to make a life for himself and for his family in Brooklyn, New York. He became a United States citizen yet never forgot or gave up on his roots. He once told me that he visited "home' almost yearly, and that he maintained an agricultural plantation near Kenema and also other properties there. I have wonderful memories of him - may he now rest in peace.

"Ngewo i mu yi panda"

Siaka David Kpaka returns home in a traditional Mende ceremony
Pay Wahun's video

Friday, May 16, 2014

On Garra Making

I came across this wonderful Masters Thesis by Kathryn Elvira Catalano-Knaack, BFA at the Kansas City Art Institute. It was done in 2006. It is entitled: THE TRADITIONS AND HISTORY OF INDIGO DYED TEXTILES IN SIERRA LEONE AS THEY RELATE TO THE ART AND LIFE OF HAJA KADIATU KAMARA - A THESIS IN Art History

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Bondo Initiate in White Kaolin at Bitema in Nongowa Chiefdom - 1969

In the center is a young Bondo initiate covered in a white clay during one of the stages of her initiation. To her right is the Bondo Masquerade which was known locally as the Bondo Devil.
Location: Bitema Nongowa - Kenema District - Eastern Province
Date: c. 1969
photo © by Chad Finer

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Garra Cloth

Selling Garra Cloth in Kenema - December 1968: taken on what was known as Kingsway Street this picture shows garra sellers walking along trying to hawk their wares. In the background are a number of shops owned by local Lebanese traders. Garra was a popular native tie-dyed cloth and by the late 60's most of the raw cloth was imported from Europe. It came in white and then local craftspersons (usually women) would dye the material using indigo dye to create variable blue colors, or dye it with kola nut which would give the material a variable brown color. Garra was very popular with Peace Corps volunteers. Frequently we would have the sections we bought (called Lappas) made into dresses or shirts by local tailors. Most of the sales work in Kenema was by Fula, Susu, or Mandingo traders.
This photo © by Chad Finer

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Rice Farm on the road to Panguma (from Kenema)

Taken in 1969-70 when we traveled from Kenema to Panguma for the dedication of the refurbished Catholic Mission hospital there. Here upland rice grows in a typical Mende rice farm. In the middle portion is a young man (in red) who most probably attended the family rice. His farm house - more a shed than a house - is seen to the right. 

photo © by Chad Finer

Kenema Boy Scouts


Kenema Boy Scouts get ready for visit of dignitary (Prime Minister Siaka Stevens). This picture was taken off Dama Road in Kenema in front of the Priest's house (in this case where Father Ganda lived). Led by an enthusiastic teacher from the St. Paul's primary school these boys celebrated the visits of important visitors. This picture was taken in 1969
photos © by Chad Finer

Prime Minister Siaka Stevens visits Kenema   c. 1969-70

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Summit

Sitting at the summit of Mt. Bintumani in March 1969

photo © by Chad Finer

Climbing Bintumani was a goal of mine after I had heard about the mountain from Peace Corps volunteers from an earlier program. It must have been  in July or August of 1968 that a volunteer in community development told me about the mountain and about the area surrounding it. My first trip there was in 1969. In March 1969 fellow Peace Corps volunteer Skip Smith  (primary education in Matotaka) and I set  off on a very arduous ride to reach the mountain, followed by obtaining a guide from the local Paramount Chief, and then heading off to hike up the trail to the summit. However I had not anticipated the transport difficulties (noted in other postings) of getting to the base of the mountain and by the time we arrived at the end of the road, I was pretty beat up, apparently somewhat dehydrated, and far from wanting to head up the mountain without a rest. Skip had weathered the ride better than I and he headed out. I waited over night and followed him up the next morning in the company of 3 VSO's who I met while taking the break. The VSO's were an amusing crew of folks. One (named Bill) was Northern Irish. He had an accent that I found challenging to understand and I think, as a result he found me often puzzled by what he was saying - but with difficulty I found him to be an amusing fellow with lots of banter and jokes. He kept us going. The other two were proper Londoners (at least this was my thinking). The woman was my age, she walked in sandals, and her hiking clothes included a skirt - her gear was more proper for a party rather than a tedious hike in savanna country. The heat in the area was oppressive as we meandered up the trail. I was surprised at how agile she was with the somewhat marginal footwear. The other, a man, was very proper fellow with a somewhat dry sense of humor. In fact they all had wonderful senses of humor. To my surprise at about 4:30 pm as we all hiked through the low forest of the lower part of the mountain - the Brits stopped, pulled out their white gas stove and a very portable table from their packs, and made tea. Here we were in the very middle of no-where, during the heat of the day, somewhat protected by the shade of the surrounding trees which made the air temperature perhaps 10º cooler - having tea. Although not my habit (i.e. drinking tea) I joined them all as Bill continued to entertain us with some of his incessant jokes and banter. They were a fun group to hike with. I have often wondered what happened to these fellow hikers. I was to return again and climb this mountain a second time in March 1970 - this time with Lloyd Ziegler, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer who taught secondary education at Holy Trinity Secondary School in Kenema. The transport for my second trip was easier. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Kuranko Boy in Blue

photo © by Chad Finer
Taken in March 1970 in the  Kuranko village of Sokurella which was a small and remote village in the north at the base of Mt. Bintumani in the Loma Mountains. The village consisted of about 15 houses. When my fellow hiker and Peace Corps volunteer, Lloyd Ziegler was not feeling well we elected to stay an extra day or so in this remote village. As noted in previous postings the area was quite hot during the day, and although the humidity was also oppressive it did not rain since this was at the end of the dry season. Most of the men of the village spent their days either hunting or at their rice and cassava farms. The women, older adults, and children kept us company and although we did not speak the Kuranko language we could get by well enough so that communication was adequate. Very few spoke Krio and none spoke English. The children were somewhat intrigued by our presence in the village and thus paid a lot of attention to our activities. The adults remaining in the village were cordial and I am sure somewhat amused by our being in the village for several days. They allowed us to set up our tent next to one of the houses, and shared their rice with us. On one of the nights in the village there was a Bondo Society celebration in which there was fine singing and dancing. People came from all over the area to celebrate and we did the best we could to see the festivities.  During the day three Bondo girls paraded about the village showing off their finery. They allowed me to take their portraits.
Bondo Initiates at the village of Sokurella - March 1970
photo © by Chad Finer

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Loma Mountains

Due to bad road conditions and due to the heat, trips to the far north and east of Sierra Leone were not for the faint of heart. Transport there from where we lived in Kenema took a minimum of three full days and the roadways were gullied and rough, and some bridges were in horrible disrepair and needed immediate repair (cutting down trees and placing them where there were open spaces) before crossing them. In March 1969 and again in March 1970 I made  journeys to this mountainous area to hike to the summit (known as Bintumani). Bintumani was in Kuranko country and very different from where we lived in Kenema.  I was accompanied on each trip by a fellow Peace Corps volunteer - in March 1969 by Skip Smith (involved in primary education in Matotaka - near Magburaka in Temne country) and in March 1970 by Kenema stationed volunteer Lloyd Ziegler (secondary education at Holy Trinity Secondary School).  I have posted a number of descriptions about trips into these remote Sierra Leone mountains. Suffice it to say that travel there was arduous and at times as difficult if not more so than the actual hiking. My interest was in the remoteness of this area, and of the people (the Kuranko) who lived in it. The area bordered on Guinea, a country that we had, in those days, been forbidden to enter. As I have posted before, despite the nature of relationships in those days between Sekou Touré - president of Guinea and the United States - this was our first trip to the area - when much to Skip Smith's and my surprise - we both were transported (actually smuggled) into Guinea illegally (no visas, no passports, and the U.S. would not allow us to enter a socialist country such as Guinea was in those days).  We had seen verandas along the northern Sierra Leone tier bordering with Guinea to our north were decorated with Chairman Mao posters (the locals thought he was 'beautiful' - the posters had apparently been passed out by several Chinese rice growing project members).  And, as I have previously noted we slept a night in a small and remote Guinean village (the name escapes me) with our lorry driver finding us a hut in the village to stay in - and this while he and his helpers unloaded illegal French clothing (the Guinean government insisted on commerce only with Iron Curtain countries) and contraband. I think Skip and I were both amused - unknowingly (at least until our transport turned north and toward Guinea on a very marginal road) we had become part of a smuggling ring of contraband - and to some degree anxious being in Guinea illegally and realizing that if we came upon authorities we would or could be jailed. We lucked out and the next morning our driver kept his promise and we reentered the northern border of Sierra Leone and headed on to Kurobonla, a village at the base of the Loma Mountains and at the end of the washboard they called a road. As a result of the trip I was badly banged-up and wiped out by the lorry ride which was on very rough roads. Like cattle we were housed in the back of this big lorry, and like cattle we were banged around while the lorry traveled over huge ruts, on very hot and dusty roads, and with each rut I got banged about on the railings. By arrival in Kurobonla at the end of the line - I was pretty whipped and beaten. I was also probably somewhat under hydrated from the 24 hrs of  roller coasting from Kabala - a distance of 75 or so miles and of course complicated by our side excursion to the north and Guinea. The heat in the back of our transport and in the north was brutal, and the dust from the roads left us caked in red laterite dust. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Camp Site on Bintumani - March 1970

photo © by Chad Finer
Fellow Peace Corps volunteer Lloyd Ziegler (secondary education at Holy Trinity in Kenema) and I hiked in the Loma Mountains in March of 1970. This photo shows us (Lloyd on the left) at our camp site just below the summit of Mt. Bintumani. It was in Kurubonla some 20 or so miles below that we hired a guide from the Paramount Chief there - I remember his last name as Marrah (Chief Marrah).  I remember our guide as a quiet man. He led us first to the village of Sokurella where we stayed for several days, and then on up the trail to this location. I had been up the previous year and convinced Lloyd to hike in 1970 on our March break from teaching. As previously noted the ride to the area was arduous. Situated along the border with Guinea the area was savanna country, and during this season hiking down below was very hot, with mid-day temperatures above 100ºF, However, up on the mountain it was quite comfortable with temps in the 70's and the humidity, which was fierce down below, was quite tolerable. The tent behind us had been a wedding gift for Susan and I (in 1968 June) - and proved useful.

Location: Just below the summit of Mt. Bintumani in the Loma Mountains of Sierra Leone

in this picture I had set my camera on a solid surface in order to take the picture - it was put on automatic timer

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In The Loma Mountains March 1970

 photo © by Chad Finer  

On a March 1970 trek into the Loma Mountains to climb Mt. Bintumani I stayed in this Kuranko village [Sokurella] for several days since my fellow Peace Corps volunteer who I was hiking with got ill. The villagers were friendly and generous and went about their daily tasks despite our presence. In this photo an elderly couple avoids the mid-day heat on their veranda. Here the woman is making cotton thread later to be dyed and made into country cloth - the local woven cloth. The man sits on his palm leaf hammock. He has the typical hat worn by the Kuranko. Sokurella in those days was a quiet  Kuranko village of about a dozen houses situated at the base of our destination - the summit known as Mt. Bintumani. Hiking from the end of the road - Kurobonla - to Sokurella took a day and was best started early in the morning when it was foggy and the air was cool. After negotiating with Paramount Chief Marrah for a guide (usually the night before) we'd set off at sunrise to head off on the bush trail. Fog would burn off by mid-morning and by this time the tremendous heat and humidity would be building. This being the end of the dry season, it rarely rained in March. By mid-day the trail would be incredibly hot with the Savannah sun beating down and the humidity being oppressive. On the trail we carried enough water for 3 or 4 days and little else except for a change of clothes and other necessities. I also carried a Primus white gas stove for cooking and for boiling any additional water that we might need. On the trail we could not rely or for that matter drink any of the local water if it was unboiled. The heat of mid - day to mid afternoon could get well over 100ºF and by the time of arrival at Sokurella we would change our sweat soaked clothes - that is is you were not headed on up the mountain. The trail from Kurobonla to Sokurella was up and down but there was no major steepness. Out of Sokurella the trail became more steep but high trees gave us shade and probably less heat by as much as 10º.  On the trail from Sokurella it was not uncommon to meet villagers heading with their goods in the opposite direction. Since we were an oddity in the area - it was not uncommon for folks to want to know what we were up to. Frequently little kids would run away for us and want to hide. The hike out of Sokurella and the increasing altitude made for improving and more tolerable temperature and lessening of the intense humidity. As we exited the rain forest the plateau area below the summit came into view and the noticeable difference was the wind which was not present below, and this cool breeze was wonderfully refreshing - almost cold.  The plateau area below the summit was a large area of wide open country with wonderfully romantic views in every direction as we headed further up the trail. This plateau ran somewhat diagonally up towards the summit and it was on it that we made our camp, about 1/2 hour by hike from the top. It was late in the day that we put up the tent and then headed up the last section which was quite steep, to reach the top. What I remember most upon reaching the top was how very cool it was, how very quiet it was, how spectacular the views were in every direction, and the thoughts that all of this created. Here I was - a foreigner (and Peace Corps Volunteer), so very far from my origins - looking out over this vast wilderness area in this very remote section of Africa - looking at some of the most spectacular views I have ever experienced - and feeling inside me so very far away from anything that I had ever experienced in my life. The eery silence of it all, the most spectacular beauty, and sense of accomplishment stick with me even after all those years.  After nearly an hour on the summit we headed back down to our camp and our tent, to ready dinner (on my Primus Stove) and get to sleep in the tent. Our guide headed down to Sokurella to re meet us the next morning back at our base camp.  The night air was quite cool (maybe as low as 60ºF) and I remember waking up that next morning to the fog of mountain clouds. I made a simple breakfast - and we headed back up for a second summit visit - this all before heading back down to Sokurella.

Each March while I was in Sierra Leone I hiked for a week in the remote Loma Mountains of Sierra Leone, a chain of mountains in the northeastern section of the country. This area was the most remote in the country - hard to get to and the harsh climate made hiking there exhausting.

Location: Village of Sokurella in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone

Monday, June 24, 2013

Market Day in Kenema

Susan buying rice in Kenema Market off Kingsway Street
circa 1969
photo © by Chad Finer
During our years in Kenema we ate African 'chop' that we bought in the local market. There you could also get vegetables to make into sauces and you could also get 'dry bunga' which was an very odd looking dried fish. You could also get the hot pepper - that we slowly became used to. In season pineapple was sold more often on the street - it was skinned and left on its stalk - you ate it like a lollipop. You could also get shaved oranges (the skin was shaved off). In this case you squeezed the orange and got the juice.  For a while we also got beef in the market from a butcher who would hang the beef from a tree and hack off the portion that you wanted. Later on, a neighbor of ours and a Fula beef dealer (Pa Maju Bah), saw to it that his son (Amadu Bah) delivered beef to us once a week. I remember rice being  inexpensive at times but as the rains came and rice got scarce the price would escalate. Once a week we would head to town [Kenema] and the market to buy our goods.

Friday, June 21, 2013

It was a quiet Sunday

Bondo Women head by Mrs. Porter's home on Dama Road in Kenema
on a quiet Sunday  [circa early 1970]
photo © by Chad Finer
It was a quiet Sunday in the early part of 1970. The day, as I remember it was cloudy and relatively cool - comfortable by Kenema standards. Our Sundays tended to be quiet with little to do except the occasional treks to visit friends, or many times to prepare for our teaching. This picture was taken in the early afternoon across from where we lived. I may have heard the singing, or may have been warned that there would be this gathering - I do not remember. However I am sure I grabbed my camera and headed out to the road to take this picture of Kenema women heading by, singing and dancing as they passed in celebration of a Bondo activity.  As I looked up Dama Rd. in the direction of Kenema, they paraded by for the most part ignoring my presence. In this picture their joyous celebration is located just beyond Mrs. Elizabeth Porter's house. Mrs. Porter lived across from us on Dama Rd.  She had two sons who I knew - Gashan, who for a while worked in a local bank in Kenema, and Bankole. She was outspoken - she had lived in Freetown. Her house was big, somewhat untidy and rambling. I believe she rented out rooms. She liked us and reminded me of folks I knew from home. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Favorite Images

Over the next few weeks I plan to post the images that I took during my Peace Corps days that I like the best. Many of these images will have been posted before - but I think it will be worthwhile to post these again. Some are just quality pictures or portraits that I like because of the subjects in them, and for how they came out.  Others either remind me of wonderous events or of wonderful people who I met while living and working in Sierra Leone.  As I have said before - I did extensive travel throughout the area where we lived [Nongowa Chiefdom - Kenema District - Eastern Province] and I was always carrying two cameras with me on these treks.  One camera contained color slide film. The second camera contained black & white film.  When I took portraits of people - I usually ended up returning and giving each person a black & white print. I suspect that many of these pictures still exist and are in the posession of the people who were willing to have their picture taken.  So if you follow this site - stay tuned. During the next few weeks I will post those images that I consider my best. I hope you will enjoy them. They will be posted at random and in no special order of preference.  I would appreciate any comments.  Please note that all images are copyrighted by me and can not be used for any purpose without my permission. Thanks

photo © by Chad Finer
This photo is of the local area Bondo at the village of Bitema in Nongowa Chiefdom. The young girl in white was the initiate from this village in 1970. Taken in early 1970 many of the women in this picture were neighbors. Among them is Moiyatu (purple headdress with hands on hips) who was a Bondo initiate in 1969 in Kenema. To Moiyatu's left (in green docket and next to the Bondo Devil) is Bonya.  She was a wonderful singer who lived across from us on Dama Rd in Kenema. The older woman (with yellow headdress) is Mama Hawa, one of the leaders of the Bondo Society in our area. Standing next to her (to her right) is her daughter. Bitema was a small Mende village on the road from Kenema to the town of Dama and to Dama Chiefdom.  Consisting of perhaps a dozen huts, the village was remote in the sense that it had no electricity and no modern conveniences. It sat about 3 to 5 miles outside of Kenema proper. 
[posted April 18, 2013]
Pa Sam at his farm house
near Vaama Nongowa
circa 1969

photo © by Chad Finer

Taken in the mid afternoon after I had gone to visit Pa Sam at his farm house and to see his upland rice farm. His upland farm of several acres was cared for by him and his wife Massa. On this afternoon he sat on a log taking a break from the day's work and allowed me to take his picture. The farm house, more of a lean-to than an actual house, was made of a wood frame and a roof of palm leaves. During the rain season this could provide shelter. In this photo are many of the accessories that Pa Sam might need. By his right leg is his sling shot which with stones was used to keep birds away from the ripening rice. His trusty umbrella is to his left, and behind him is a heavy coat that he might use during the coldest of evenings during the dry season. To the far right of the picture is full grown rice nearing ready for harvesting. 
Circa December 1969
[posted April 19, 2013]

                                              photo © by Chad Finer
Dancing with the Devil:  taken at the Mende village named Tokpombu in Nongowa Chiefdom in Kenema District. This village sat less than one mile from our house on the road to Dama Chiefdom to our south. It was the seat of a lot of Bondo activity in our area and as a result I was frequently there as an observer and visitor.  It was here that I had a village blacksmith make me two machetes. From this village was a bush trail that went to other local villages such as Vaama, and to the River Moa about 6 miles from our house.  For many a Bondo event I was notified by our neighbors, and Susan and I would head off to watch at Tokpombu. On this weekend we watched as the Bondo Devil or spirit came and proceeded to dance with a number of the women who were celebrating.I am told that Tokpombu, once a seperate village is now totally incorporated into Kenema.  circa. 1969 [posted April 21, 2013]

photo © by Chad Finer
Bondo gathering at the village of Tokpombu Nongowa
in this photo the Bondo Devil dances with a group of women villagers as others, including Susan, look on. Circa 1969
[posted April 22, 2013]


photo © by Chad Finer
Bondo at Tokpombu Nongowa
taken on the same day as the previous photo - these two photos (this one and the one previous) are two of my very favorite photos that I took during our years in Sierra Leone. Another favorite is also above - the portrait of Pa Sam that I took as he was sitting in his farm house. More to follow [posted April 26, 2013]


                                                    photo © by Chad Finer
This photo was taken in the remote Kuranko village of Sokurella, a village situated at the base of the Loma Mountains (and the summit Mt. Bintimani) in the northeastern section of Sierra Leone. It was taken in March 1970. It was in this village that I stayed on my yearly trek of Bintimani. I remember the people here were incredibly welcoming and hospitable, although I suspect that they were also somewhat amused at our interest in climbing. In March 1970 we got delayed in the village since my fellow traveller (fellow Peace Corps volunteer) was briefly not feeling well. In this photo the villager has picked the cotton and is carding it in preparation for making cotton thread for clothing. The heat in March could get well above 100ºF during the day, and sitting on the veranda was quite comfortable even with the heat. Up in Kuranko country the village houses tended to be round and with a rich palm-leafed roof.  [posted April 27, 2013]

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Best Website about Salia Koroma (still)

If you remember Salia Koroma - the poet and Mende troubadour of the 20th century then have a look at this wonderful site - and make sure that you listen to the wonderful posted music.

The analysis of Mr. Koroma (by Nikiibu) is fabulous.

I met Salia Koroma in late 1969 at his Kenema home. Revered all over Mendeline and especially in his Kenema home area, a Kenema friend had introduced me to him at his home. I knew of his singing in those days and had purchased several of his songs on 45 rpms. I had also expressed interest in a Mende masquerade (devil) known a Falwi after seeing it at the Kenema Agricultural Fair.  From time to time I would come across Falwi during holiday time and even once near the Kenema movie theater. Apparently Mr Koroma had some connection with this spirit and when we talked he suggested to me that he could find one for me.  He lived on the other side of Kenema from us a distance of several miles. I remember visiting him on a weekend at his house. He was outside when we arrived and we made mostly small talk during the visit. By then he was in his late sixties - traveled with a group of his followers and was highly respected. I think he was flattered that I knew of and liked his music, but wondered how much I understood of what he sang given that his songs were for the most part in deep Mende - a form of Mende that was complicated and at times even difficult to understand by native speakers. He did sing a few songs during the visit mainly to please the crowd that came to see him. 

taken on the day I visited Salia Koroma at his Kenema home (1969) he played a few of his songs for everyone who was around and let me take his picture
photo © by Chad Finer

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pa Joseph Simbo - cook for the Holy Rosary Sisters

Pa Joseph was probably in his late 50's when we met. Very loyal to the Catholic Mission sisters, he had  been in Burma with the West African Forces organized by the British during WW II. There he had been a staff cook and had learned how to cook for Europeans. On his return after the War he had been hired by the Holy Rosary sisters to cook for them - and this he did quite well. A soft spoken man - he did his work professionally and his meals were met with approval by the convent sisters who lived and worked on our school compound. In those days there were perhaps a half dozen sisters living in the convent. From time to time visiting sisters from elsewhere in the country would visit. Then of course there were the holidays in which special meals were prepared, and from time to time Susan and I would be invited. Pa Joseph and the sisters even helped us to celebrate our own (US) holidays such as Thanksgiving - at which time we would break bread with the sisters in the convent as they helped us to feel at home. 

photo © by Chad Finer
Here Pa Joseph Simbo (left in photo) - cook for the Catholic Mission convent in Kenema - buys some local fruit for a convent meal. In this picture is Susan talking to some young children and also Esther Kajue one of our TTC students. Location: #55 Dama Road in Kenema - taken in 1969. The man on the right was a visitor to the area probably from the north or from Guinea. The small "market" next to him on the veranda was owned by Pa Karankey - a man (Mandingo) originally from Guinea who had come to Kenema to live. I suspect that this man was visiting him. [click on picture to enlarge it]

Pa Joseph's meals were uncomplicated and usually consisted of meat (frequently lamb chops obtained at the 'cold storage' in Kenema Town), and fruit and vegetables - some of which might be purchased locally. He prepared 3 meals daily for them working from early morning to after sunset daily. A Mende man - I remember little about his family (he did have a wife and I think a young child). He lived off the convent grounds. He was generally a pleasant man of few words. My attempts from time to time to engage him in controversy were always met with deaf ears. His life was essentially serving the sisters and although other issues may have from time to time bothered him - he would never let on to me when issues effected him or bothered him. He was somewhat vain in that he saw to it that his greying hair never showed (he dyed it weekly). He dressed impeccably usually in an ironed white shirt and black trousers. For the most part the sisters treated him well and with respect. Several times they would chastise him for lapses in his performance but this rarely riled him. When I made a somewhat feeble attempt to organize school compound workers/laborers - he was unwilling to take part. Known as Pa Joseph Cook - Joseph Simbo was an integral part of the successful running of the Convent. A very pleasant man. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our Immediate Area

Most of our day was spent teaching at the Holy Rosary Secondary School and at the Kenema Teacher's Training College. In our free time we visited our neighbors both where we lived and in villages that were nearby.

Kenema: the town where we lived; located in Nongowa Chiefdom of the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone, it was the capitol of the Eastern Province and also the name of the district within the Eastern Province where Kenema Town was located. Kenema sat on the narrow railroad line that stretched from Freetown, about 220 miles to the west, to the village of Pendembu about 25 miles to our east.

Mende Ethnic Group: The Mende were one of about 15 ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. Located in the Eastern and Southern Province of Sierra Leone. We lived among the Mende, although Kenema itself tended to be a bit more diverse. In our neighborhood the Fula (Fulani) section chief Pa Maju Bah also lived. There were also folks from the Lokko group, but Mende was the dominant group.

Dama Road:  A road heading from Kenema Town to the Dama Chiefdom (about 20 miles). The southern route out of Kenema – it was on this road that we lived.

Nongowa Chiefdom: the chiefdom in the Kenema District or section of the Eastern Province where we lived.

Tokpombu Nongowa: the next village to us on Dama Road – it was here that I had the local blacksmith make two machetes for me (they were made from old car springs and handles from old car tires), and it was here that much Bondo activity took place.  A Mende village.

Bitema Nongowa: this quiet Mende village was about 3 or 4 miles south of Kenema on Dama Road. A small village of less than 10 huts, from time to time we would stop here to watch Bondo activity. It was here that some of my favorite photographs of Bondo  girls were taken. In Bitema Pa Koroma lived. The headman or chief of the village, he was a weaver of country cloth. He also amusingly teased me when I visited by mimicking English speech (he only spoke Mende). With me, he would pretend to be speaking English, and in fact it did sound like what English small talk despite the fact that it was all nonsense. All the elders had a great laugh (at my expense) the very first time we tried to talk to each other.

Gbenderoo Nongowa:  Another Mende village on Dama Road, Gbenderoo was located about 10 to 15 miles from our house. It was here that I knew a man who was thought to have religious (Muslim) training and magic abilities.  It was also here (also in Bitema) that I collected spools of country cotton thread.

Foindu Nongowa: a Mende village of about 20 huts, this was where Mama Hokey Kemoh came from, where she had a 2nd home, and probably where most her her Bondo activity hailed from. Mama Hokey was head of the women’s Bondo Society in our area, and our mentor. She had another home in Kenema across from ours. From time to time we would visit Foindu, a quiet village about 1 or 2 miles off of Dama Road and about 4-6 miles from our house.

Limba Corner:  a very small village about 3 miles from our house along a bush road (trail) that passed from Tokpombu towards the Moa River to our west. This village was isolated and here members of the Limba ethnic group lived. The men tended to be either laborers (a very common area profession) or more likely tended to be palm wine dealers. They would climb palm trees, tap the trees for the sap, then allow it to ferment to palm wine, before carrying it to Kenema town to peddle. The wine had a strong yeasty taste.

Vaama Nongowa: a Mende farming village of about 10 huts near the Moa River and about 4 miles from our house. It was here that Pa Sam and his wife Massa lived. It was nearby here that they made a farm (rice, cassava) and from time to time I would visit. Deep in the bush – this remote village had everything including the farming, dugout canoe making, fishing (with nets), and a very small goat herd. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Upcountry Holiday Season

Being upcountry in the 60's during holiday season was unique for us. Having grown up in a community where friends had Christmas lights, Christmas trees, and where even then we were all pounded by the commercial aspects of the holiday season - being in Kenema was worlds away in more ways then one. Sure, our Peace Corps assignment was with the missionary Holy Rosary Sisters and the Catholic Mission. In those days the sisters were mainly from Ireland and their overt Christmas festivities were muted in comparison to our American experience. Their Christmas was appropriately holy and religious. The few outward manifestations - their decorations were tasteful and appropriate. What I best remember was the lack of frenzy that my American Christian friends went through each holiday season.  In Kenema - Christians were certainly in the minority in those days. But the impact of the holiday season did not pass the Muslims and the animists by.  Just as in America Christmas (and New Years) were work holidays as well as religious holidays. The Christians went to their churches.  After church services a very intermittent and somewhat haphazard celebration would take place as we walked about either to visit our friends or to just get out.  Stores were closed. There was no mail. We might head to visit Peace Corps friends in Town and along the way we'd be met by various 'devils' out and about to celebrate the festivities. Routinely - these devils and their group of attendants, many with musical instruments and singing - would stop as we walked near them - sing some songs or aid the devil in its dance - and these short interludes in our walk would result in our 'dashing' the folks for their entertainment.  This might happen 3 or 4 times in our 2 mile walk.  The holiday season was at the height of the dry season. The air at this time was less humid, sometimes discolored by the Saharan wind known as the Harmattan - a wind from the north that was mixed at high levels with sand off the Sahara.    
Except for wearing their Sunday best for those who went to Church there was no holiday decorations and little outward signs of the holiday. There was certainly no snow and no cold.  So for us and for all our Peace Corps buddies - the holiday celebration was muted and quiet.  Mostly a day to perhaps go to church and to contemplate - all groups appreciated the chance to participate in their own way - even if they were not Christians.  I also remember New Years being a very similar muted experience. Another non-work day (the schools were out for the two week holidays) - I remember little in the way of outward celebrations. Yes perhaps a few 'devils' and their attendants might be out for the day, and there might be some singing - but for the most part the holiday season in Kenema was quiet. 

Friday, November 23, 2012


The 1960's in Sierra Leone was a period of intermittent political conflict between the two major political parties - The SLPP seemingly supported by the Mende and with strong support by the Kenema area where we lived - and the APC* which was mainly supported by the Temne of the north and by other groups. We arrived in 1968 when Prime Minister Siaka Stevens and his APC was in power, and the SLPP** in our area seemed to grumble about their plight.  For the most part the grumbling remained and undercurrent of trouble with only rare overt activity directed against the APC. I remember Siaka Stevens having Limba roots (I will leave it to Sierra Leone readers to correct me in this regard).  In Kenema there was one period of trouble when fighting erupted throughout Kenema and houses were burned, cars were also tippped over and set on fire, and government soldiers were met and attacked at a bridge on the western edge of the Kenema District. It was rumored that many soldiers disappeared. I had been downtown (in Kenema) at the Post Office just before all the 'palaba'  broke out in Kenema. It was at the post office that I was confronted by the Kenema postmaster who was horrified that I was in town, and without spilling the beans as to what was about to happen, advised me in no uncertain terms that I better get out of town and head home. I remember that this man who liked us and frequently made efforts to talk to us when we picked up our post, wanted me to get out of the area before the fighting started. I heeded his advice, although I remember being mystified by all his puzzling intensity. He would not tell me what was about to happen - but given his obvious worry - I headed back home, a distance of almost two miles. I told Susan about the postmaster. I think it was about a half hour after getting to our house that all hell broke loose downtown.  Soon there were people from Kenema heading by our Dama Road house and into the bush to get away from the fighting.  Fires broke out in town and from our plateau overlooking Kenema we could hear the fighting and see multiple areas of smoke and fire. Peace Corps Eastern Province director Jim Alrutz arrived in his Peace Corps jeep to let us know that we better stay in until further notice.  That night the fighting spread and at one time very late in the night the men's Poro Society passed by on Dama Road headed to town for heavens knows what.  We took Jim's advice and stayed indoors. We personally were never threatened, but our neighbors scattered to bush villages, and downtown the sounds of conflict echoed up the hill to where we lived. It was a week before things quieted down in town and the uprising by the SLPP in our area was over. 

*APC = All People's Congress      ** SLPP = Sierra Leone People's Party

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Wonderful Site about Sierra Leone

This site is very worthwhile looking through. The photos are excellent and the videos are fantastic and very educational.   Check out the site and see about life and culture in Sierra Leone

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mama Mabinty

photo © by Chad Finer
Mama Mabinty makes a wax print in her backyard on Dama Road in Kenema. Her helper is Holy Rosary secondary school student Aminata Lahai. Kenema TTC student Cecilia Jah is in the background.  Circa 1970

Mama Mabinty lived in our Dama Road neighborhood. It was in her backyard that she made tie-dyed cloth known as garrah cloth and she also made wax prints. A very cultured women who to my discomfort showed me undue respect - she toiled away making beautiful dyed and wax printed material that she mostly sold to Fula salesmen. About once a week I would pay her a visit as I returned from Kenema Town - and many times I would buy a few items that she had made.I never did ask her where she learned her trade, but given that she was part Mandingo (and part Mende) I suspect that she had learned this from her Mandingo roots since in those days the Mende were less likely to be involved in this tie-dye industry.Certainly in those days so called European materials were making great inroads but Sierra Leoneans were also proud of their garrah cloth - and would purchase what was called Lappas and then have them tailored into wonderful shirts for men, or what was called Lappas and dockets for women. Many times the tailors would additionally decorate these pieces with intricate embroidery patterns. These tie-died materials became very popular with the Peace Corps volunteers and many of us would regularly buy lappas and have them made into shirts and dresses. The dye used was traditionally indigo (blue) and kola (brown)and these made for wonderfully decorative patterns when the material was tied. The tightest areas would take up the dye less and become more light (or even white), while the loosely tied areas would absorb the dye most and become a rich dark blue color. The process took a couple of days and then after drying the material was sometimes beaten to bring out a wonderful satin-like sheen to it. The lappas themselves came from Europe and before being worked on were pure white. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Cotton Tree

The Cotton Tree at the Freetown round-about with the State House in the background
circa July 1968
photo © by Chad Finer

During the early years of its founding, Freetown, Sierra Leone became the haven for liberated slaves and the Cotton Tree became  their gathering place for meetings and prayer.  In the background - the Sierra Leone State House is where the president of Sierra Leone resides. [Freetown, Sierra Leone] For one month we lived in Freetown on Pademba Road (#77) with our host family with Mrs. Lottie Nelson-Williams our host 'mother'

High We Exalt Thee

photo © by Chad Finer
Holy Rosary primary school students smile for the camera - that's Susan on the right. Photo was taken on the school compound where in those days there was a Teacher's Training College, the new Holy Rosary Secondary School, and a primary school
c. 1968

Every morning, during the school week, I listened to the primary school kids on our school compound sing their national anthem. Although it certainly was not a requirement, both Susan and I learned the words to the first verse and sometimes I’d sing along as I walked toward class. We both enjoyed the wonderful accented Sierra Leone English and sometimes, in a very positive imitation, I would try to mimic this in my own singing. It got so habit forming that eventually whenever I eventually sang this, the accent of these very young Kenema school children became imprinted in my mind – and I sang along with their accent. Here I am writing this brief piece some 44 years later – and I can sing the anthem and can hear these young kids in my mind – with their precious and wonderful accents. This was but one of the many songs that I heard them chant during my days at school. There were also many nursery rhymes that they recited - I remember the way they did these as well. On the HRSS school compound there were actually 3 schools – the Holy Rosary primary school, the new HRSS secondary school, and the Kenema Teacher’s Training College which was due to be fazed out in 1970 with its last class. We were involved at each level in some way.   

National Anthem

High we exalt thee, realm of the free;
Great is the love we have for thee;
Firmly united ever we stand,
Singing thy praise, O native land.
We raise up our hearts and our voices on high,
The hills and the valleys re-echo our cry;
Blessing and peace be ever thine own,
Land that we love, our Sierra Leone.

One with a faith that wisdom inspires,
One with a zeal that never tires;
Ever we seek to honour thy name
Ours is the labour, thine the fame.
We pray that no harm on thy children may fall,
That blessing and peace may descend on us all;
So may we serve thee ever alone,
Land that we love our Sierra Leone.

Knowledge and truth our forefathers spread,
Mighty the nations whom they led;
Mighty they made thee, so too may we
Show forth the good that is ever in thee.
We pledge our devotion, our strength and our might,
Thy cause to defend and to stand for thy right;
All that we have be ever thine own,

Land that we love our Sierra Leone.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


photo © by Chad Finer
Jobai was also a Mende men's spirit or masquerader and although its appearance was totally unlike Goboi (see earlier post) and its behavior was less animated and to some degree slow and I guess serene, its purpose was again probably group control at gatherings and important visits by dignitaries. By virtue of its collapse as demonstrated in this triptych, Jobai was amusing and made people laugh. As it passed along at events, it would begin to collapse eventually reaching a nearly flat stage. It was made of raffia and headed by a very fancy headdress of brightly colored yarn. It would show up from time to time in our area when important events were going on. Here I found it in Kenema during the Kenema Cacao Festival in December 1968. 

photo © by Chad Finer

photo © by Chad Finer

Friday, July 27, 2012


photo © by Chad Finer
This men's spirit or masquerader [ sometimes characterized as a Devil ] was known in Mende country as Goboi. It seemed to come out and perform during celebrations such as during independence day or when dignitaries came to the area for visits. It was mainly a wild performer with somewhat frenzied dancing interspersed with a period of rest. Goboi had a number of attendants with it who both directed the dancing as well as danced with it.  Made of palm raffia and decorative headpiece of combined material including felt, the Goboi would perform for paramount chiefs and for politicians from Freetown, and also for anyone who might pass it by as it headed to celebrations. For a dance, you were expected to "dash" the Goboi with a shilling in order to both see it dance or after it had danced for you.  It seemed that this spirit's purpose was to amuse and entertain and in this way control large gatherings and keep them happy. I enjoyed how wild it seemed as it danced about and as its attendants guided it about. The attendants seemed to have fun and certainly those of us who watched it prance about were entertained. These photos were taken in Kenema Town in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone in December 1968.
photo © by Chad Finer

photo © by Chad Finer

Friday, July 20, 2012

Memories 42 Years Later

Taken in 1968 in Kenema at the HRSS Kenema school compound
photo by Susan Finer 
My Peace Corps memories are strange. The photographs that I took bring back so many thoughts about the at times intense years that we spent living and working in upcountry Sierra Leone. There were the weekday rituals involved with teaching at a new girl’s school in Kenema, this interspersed with the daily and usual interpersonal interactions that we had as we walked about our neighborhood and our town. Now, here it is some nearly 45 years from those days and many of the memories are still vivid. I can look at most of the pictures that I have posted and remember the very day that they were taken. I can almost remember the day of the week. I can definitely remember what the day was like when the picture was taken, what I was doing, how the picture came to be taken, and I can also remember specifics such as conversations, sayings, and many interactions that I had daily.  My neighborhood was what was known as the Dama Road section of Kenema. In those days this section of Kenema was “out of Town.”  I am told that it now has been enveloped in Kenema and that even the next village – Tokpombu – is now really part of Kenema. Kenema has expanded as pressures to urbanize have become great and as more and more people have moved in. Once a busy Town, Kenema’s population has easily doubled since we lived there. Certainly the War had something to do with this influx. But my memories are most vivid of the people I knew there – of our interactions. From travels with my friend Patrick, to wonderful advice and friendship from my friend Siaka (David) – the conversations are vivid and the memories everlasting. The Garlough family was perhaps our closest ties to local folks. Mama Sabina and her husband Pa Garlough took us on early in our days in Kenema, Mama Sabina providing us with ‘African chop’ and with friendship. Pa Garlough with advice. Then there was Elizabeth Garlough who came daily to get lessons in sewing and cooking from Susan, bringing her daughter Isetta with her. Occasionally Elizabeth’s sister Princess and her daughter Angela would also come along. Then there was Alfred – the teenager raised part-time in Freetown, and who , like young kids of his age anywhere was restless and a bit of a cowboy. Alfred was fun-loving, daring, and sometimes his behavior got him into hot water. He finished primary school while we were in Kenema and then went on to become a lorry boy for a while. I suspect that he went on to more important things after we left.  Patrick Garlough was about my age. Of all the Garlough family he was our closest friend. When I had questions about Mende society he would provide answers. When we walked in the bush, Patrick went along both to keep us from getting into trouble and to guide us. A portion of every day in Kenema was spent visiting. Patrick had finished primary school somewhere to our east (? Kailahun area) but when there was no money for secondary school, he moved to Kenema to live with his aunt and uncle (Mama Sabina and Pa Garlough). And when work was hard to come by I managed to get him work on our school compound as a laborer. He was a hard worker and a good friend.  As we traveled throughout the Kenema area he showed me objects of interest, introduced me to folks he knew on our road, showed me how local folks made items and taught me Mende. He had a secret quality to him – and this made for appropriate boundaries between us. He knew when to answer my questions, and he knew when to be evasive. Siaka David Kpaka came from the Pujehun area, had finished secondary school, and by the time I got to know him, he was a staff entomologist for The Forest Industries. I first met him in the mountains of the Northern Province where he was collecting insects and I was hiking. Our conversation led to the realization that we both lived in Kenema. On return to Kenema he got in touch with us and became a good friend. Friendly, Siaka possessed keen observations about his own life, about up-country life in general, about the Mende people, and to some degree about politics. Siaka introduced me to a number of Kenema folks including his wife Catherine Coker, and his friends Bankole Porter and teacher Andrew Zoker.  Traveling about on foot with Siaka was always a joy – he got along so well with people, he included me in his conversations, and made me feel at ease when we traveled about. Siaka somehow was able to come to the United States in the early 1970’s. Living in Brooklyn, and at first working as a night watchman while getting an education at CUNY, he eventually became an air condition engineer at a Manhattan hotel. In the 1980’s he became a U.S. citizen, this after seeing to it that his family was here in the States. His children all have been successful, all maintain their roots and connections. Siaka goes back periodically to Sierra Leone for holiday times. There was also Mama Hokey Kemoh who was a local Bundu leader and a very powerful woman in our area. Tall, to some degree regal in her being, she took us under her wing and when she was reassured that I was genuinely interested in Mende traditions she saw to it that when public Bundu activities were around us, that I was called to see them. Many a night was spent on her veranda listening to her and her Bundu women sing hauntingly beautiful traditional songs. A woman named Bonya lived in Mama Hokey’s home and some said she had the most beautiful singing voice in the area. Those nights – sitting on Mama Hokey’s veranda, listening to the beautiful Mende songs sung by women – the harmony was incredibly beautiful – the songs always led by Bonya with group responses by women who came by at night to sing – these nights stick with me as special and vivid. Here we were – far from our home – listening to song that was incredibly soothing. I will never forget these wonderful nights.