Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our Immediate Area

Most of our day was spent teaching at the Holy Rosary Secondary School and at the Kenema Teacher's Training College. In our free time we visited our neighbors both where we lived and in villages that were nearby.

Kenema: the town where we lived; located in Nongowa Chiefdom of the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone, it was the capitol of the Eastern Province and also the name of the district within the Eastern Province where Kenema Town was located. Kenema sat on the narrow railroad line that stretched from Freetown, about 220 miles to the west, to the village of Pendembu about 25 miles to our east.

Mende Ethnic Group: The Mende were one of about 15 ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. Located in the Eastern and Southern Province of Sierra Leone. We lived among the Mende, although Kenema itself tended to be a bit more diverse. In our neighborhood the Fula (Fulani) section chief Pa Maju Bah also lived. There were also folks from the Lokko group, but Mende was the dominant group.

Dama Road:  A road heading from Kenema Town to the Dama Chiefdom (about 20 miles). The southern route out of Kenema – it was on this road that we lived.

Nongowa Chiefdom: the chiefdom in the Kenema District or section of the Eastern Province where we lived.

Tokpombu Nongowa: the next village to us on Dama Road – it was here that I had the local blacksmith make two machetes for me (they were made from old car springs and handles from old car tires), and it was here that much Bondo activity took place.  A Mende village.

Bitema Nongowa: this quiet Mende village was about 3 or 4 miles south of Kenema on Dama Road. A small village of less than 10 huts, from time to time we would stop here to watch Bondo activity. It was here that some of my favorite photographs of Bondo  girls were taken. In Bitema Pa Koroma lived. The headman or chief of the village, he was a weaver of country cloth. He also amusingly teased me when I visited by mimicking English speech (he only spoke Mende). With me, he would pretend to be speaking English, and in fact it did sound like what English small talk despite the fact that it was all nonsense. All the elders had a great laugh (at my expense) the very first time we tried to talk to each other.

Gbenderoo Nongowa:  Another Mende village on Dama Road, Gbenderoo was located about 10 to 15 miles from our house. It was here that I knew a man who was thought to have religious (Muslim) training and magic abilities.  It was also here (also in Bitema) that I collected spools of country cotton thread.

Foindu Nongowa: a Mende village of about 20 huts, this was where Mama Hokey Kemoh came from, where she had a 2nd home, and probably where most her her Bondo activity hailed from. Mama Hokey was head of the women’s Bondo Society in our area, and our mentor. She had another home in Kenema across from ours. From time to time we would visit Foindu, a quiet village about 1 or 2 miles off of Dama Road and about 4-6 miles from our house.

Limba Corner:  a very small village about 3 miles from our house along a bush road (trail) that passed from Tokpombu towards the Moa River to our west. This village was isolated and here members of the Limba ethnic group lived. The men tended to be either laborers (a very common area profession) or more likely tended to be palm wine dealers. They would climb palm trees, tap the trees for the sap, then allow it to ferment to palm wine, before carrying it to Kenema town to peddle. The wine had a strong yeasty taste.

Vaama Nongowa: a Mende farming village of about 10 huts near the Moa River and about 4 miles from our house. It was here that Pa Sam and his wife Massa lived. It was nearby here that they made a farm (rice, cassava) and from time to time I would visit. Deep in the bush – this remote village had everything including the farming, dugout canoe making, fishing (with nets), and a very small goat herd. 

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