Friday, June 5, 2009

Tokpombu Village - Nongowa Chiefdom

Tokpombu was a small Dama roadside village about 1/2 to 1 mile from our house, headed out of Kenema on the road to Dama Chiefdom. I don't know exactly why but the area Bondo society (the women's secret society) was more active here than in Kenema proper. I was also not sure why many of the women made sure that when there was going to be a public event, we would be notified as to where it would be. I was always told to bring my camera. And then there was always a photo op. Sometimes the spirit itself, the Bondo Devil would come out. At other times there would be celebrating and singing, at other times women would celebrate by parading through an area with palm leaves, and then at other times there would be a spirit that I knew of as Kendwi, which seemed to be carried about by the women. Then there would be other times when the women would just sing. All of this was a part of the traditional initiation ceremonies for coming of age young girls. Again my puzzlement was why we would be notified of the events but we were and they knew I appreciated it. To some degree formal religion frowned upon these native traditions. I found these traditions not only beautiful (the music was hypnotizing - the harmony transfixing), but fascinating. Here were cultural activities that had been part of the Mende culture for centuries. There were some parts of this tradition that were considered unsafe but it was my understanding, at least in our area that these unsafe activities were a thing of the past. I think many of the women knew that we looked upon their activities as something to be proud of. Perhaps that was why we were made a peripheral part of it all. Many times I supplied folks with pictures of the activities and I think this was also very positive. This photo taken in Tokpombu in the middle of the dry season in 1969-70 was taken on a hot Sunday at mid-day (why I remember this I don't know). It was mid-day and there was "a sing," there and we went to see and listen to the women singing. This very informal picture was one of a number that I took. You can note that the women are very happy.

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