Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Mama Mabinty makes wax prints. Aminata Lahai helps out.
Kenema Town  c. 1970
photo © by Chad Finer

Pa Foday Koroma, village chief and weaver of country cloth - Bitema Nongowa   c. 1969
                                                              photo © by Chad Finer

From my earliest days in Sierra Leone I was moved by the many talented people that I came in contact with. In our Freetown training in July 1968 we, as volunteers were treated to The Sierra Leone Dance Troupe on a special night when we all had finished our summer school there and were headed on to Njala for more language training and for training in agriculture. The Dance Troupe performance was spectacular - it was always so. That night at a Freetown hotel all the Sierra Leone tribes represented themselves well with inspiring song and dance, and with marvelous costumes. I was so very moved by what I saw. Upcountry was no less inspiring. In our neighborhood were wonderful singers, wonderful musicians, and wonderful craftspeople. Traditional singing dominated the area in those days, although certainly High Life was popular and could be heard at local bars (Jattu's Bar was a short distance away from our house we could hear High Life coming from their speakers). I loved all the music - but there were other talents. In our area Country Cloth was still being made. This labor intensive cotton textile, grown with the rice, harvested also with the rice harvest, and then cotton thread was made by the women, who dyed the thread various colors (blue, brown, and white or natural), before the weavers (always men in those days) would line their tripod looms and make the cotton cloth. Country Cloth was very valuable, but time and 'progress' was making it a rare commodity.   I found the Country Cloth unique.   In our area there were carvers who made everything from wooden carved fertility figures to helmet masks used by the iconic spirits of the secret women's society. The carvings were  incredibly artistic, abstract, and beautiful. There were also women in our area who made garrah cloth, wonderfully dyed tie-dyed material, or wax prints. These were sized as Lappas - roughly 3 feet by 6 feet in size. Talented tailors would them make this material into beautiful dresses and shirts. These were very popular with the Peace Corps Volunteers. 

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