Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bockarie "Su" Gande - artisan

double click on any photos to enlarge them

sawing wood for Su Gande's Bondo masks

Bondo Devil with attendants - at Dama Road

Bondo Devil from the back - Dama Road in Kenema

Su Gande on his back porch carving a Bondo mask - Kenema 1969

Su Gande carving at his home in Kenema - 1969

Su Gande - carving a Bondo mask - at his Kenema home - 1969

The wooden Mende helmet mask, the mask along with its body of black raffia was known as the Bondo Mask. In the Kenema area the man best known for carving these masks was in those days Bockarie Su Gande. He was from a small village to our east, near Panguma but when I knew him he lived on the east side of Kenema. I do not remember how I got to know about him - or who it was who might have told me about him, but sometime during the beginning of our 2nd year in Kenema I got to know him. He was a very well-respected carver, very well-known, and it was his work that resulted in many of the masks seen and used throughout our area. Although I am not sure - I suspect that Su Gande was a carver from a long line of carvers in his family. When I knew him he was about in his mid to late 40's. He was Mende. He and I conversed in Krio. He was a bit remote and at first challenging to get to know. However, I began visiting him at his home, and after commissioning him to make me 3 masks, a carved game of warri (see below), and a carved devil (spirit) he and I slowly became friends. It was Su Gande who (see posting below) took me to his village some 26 miles by foot off the road to Panguma to find a Nomoli (soap stone carved figure). Bargaining with him was hard - yet fair. From the back of his house, he would work making these beautifully carved objects. I would come by periodically to see how they were progressing. It was always slow and on his time. I could never hurry him with any of the projects. He would try to please me by telling me that he would be done much earlier than when he would finally complete the carving. Our trip to Panguma area to obtain the Nomoli was filled with adventure (see also my earlier posting in this regard entitled "In Jail Briefly."), and included stopping in a small village along the way for Su Gande to get some men in this village to saw him some wood for his carvings (see photo above). After he had the wood sawed, eventually to be used for the masks, he put them in the lorry we were traveling in, and on we went.

About Su Gande -

a man who occasionally follows my blog (he is originally from near the Bo area of Sierra Leone - a village called Nikiibu) says - " Su Gande (could it be Sowo Gande, So' Gande, in rapid spoken Mende?) is a very interesting name, and it makes perfect sense given his trade. So, as you may know, refers to a Sande 'devil' or an elder of the Sande Society. Gande is the mystifier (from the verb kande - to baffle or mystify). In that case, your friend was just bragging about his abilities to mystify even those who dealt in mysteries."

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