(double click on image to enlarge)
Mama Hokey, the head of the area Bondo Society (known as Sowei in Mende) is standing in the back in the blue dotted top. This was taken at her village called Foindu in 1969. The girls in the picture are young - I was never really sure as to why they were being "initiated" however my sense was that schools, especially religious schools, looked down on what the Bondo was doing, and as a result the local societies did some ceremonies earlier before the girls became influenced by the schools. I am not sure I am correct in this regard. Some of the elders of the scoiety at Foindu are seen sitting in white on this veranda. On the window shutter there can be seen a political advertisement for the well-known late B.S. Massaquoi who was a minister of parliament (MP) in those days. During the war, he and other "big men" from Kenema were murdered by the rebels. Also in the picture is Susan. Sitting next to the elders and carrying something is our friend Elizabeth Garlough. In the orange headress on the right is Moiyatu. In the back on the right is also Bonya who was a wonderful Mende singer. These were our Kenema neighbors. Foindu was a 3 or 4 mile walk from our house. Being at such events was part of the rhythm of village life in upcountry Sierra Leone in those days. And we were lucky enough to be included. Folks knew of my interest in Mende-life. And folks were proud of their culture. I felt honored to be let in to what little was acceptable for a white man to be part of - to this day I cherish these many events and their allowing me to come by and have a look. I think people wanted to make me a part of the events - they liked that I loved their music and was fascinated by these spirits that were a part of their secret societies. Many times I would be called to go see what was about to take place at a nearby village - and each time I would grab my camera and runoff to see if I could "capture" some portion on film. In my mind today I have such wonderfully vivid memories of how I felt watching a Bondo Devil in action, or listening to the beautiful harmony of a Mende song, or watching women celebrate what it meant to be a woman in upland Mende country. My participation was peripheral, but in some way folks felt a need to let me be a part. The major issue was that they knew how very much I cherished even my peripheral participation. I now look back on these photos of so long ago and with each photo I have wonderful memories of those times in Sierra Leone.