Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bockarie Su Gande - Master Mende Carver

Master Carver, Bockarie Su Gande, carves a game board called warri for me. A Bondo helmet mask that he is also
in the process of carving sits behind the pole. The picture was taken on Su Gande's back veranda in Kenema in
1969-70.  -  photo © by Chad Finer
From the village town near Panguma in Lower Bambara Chiefdom, Bockarie Su Gande settled on the east side of Kenema where he lived quietly and spent a good deal of his time either hunting for wood to use (he was a carver), or in carving. It was on his back veranda that he spent his hours carving Bondo Masks for area Bondo Society leaders. Self taught, his neighbors gave him space as he was thought to posses magical level powers. Somehow I learned about him - I do not remember from whom. Someone told me about his carvings and I paid him a visit to see if he would be willing to carve me - on commission - 3 Bondo masks. At first I remember him being a bit standoffish and distant. I am sure he was puzzled by my presence and my request. However, he agreed to carve me the 3 helmet masks and also to carve me (seen in this picture) a game called Warri - a game that was played with cowrie shells. Later on he carved me a sculpture of a man's spirit. I do not remember the costs for his work but I do remember that it was reasonable. A quiet man - whose Krio was limited (his language was Mende; he did not speak English), he and I did develop a limited friendship such that he allowed me to travel with him to his village to see the raw wood cut up into sections for the mask. I also traveled with him to his village to obtain a Nomoli or soapstone carving that had been found in his village and that he was willing to sell. Our conversations were limited yet his concern for my safety when we traveled to Panguma area was great. There was one time when a soldier, in hopes of intimidating me, put me in a bush cell jail with other men and Su Gande was in tears of concern that I was going to be harmed. After a few hours - I was released and his relief was almost palpable. So in the end Su Gande made me the 3 different Bondo masks, the game of Warri, and a statue of a men's devil. It was also with his help that I was able to obtain the Nomoli

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