Women's Art and Initiation in Mendeland

by Ruth Phillips, Henrietta Cosentino and Rebecca Busselle
(R.P.) Carleton University

Gone, Jebe, and Nyimi, the Mattru soweis, on their first appearance a week after initiation, Sierra Leone, February 1974. Photo by Henrietta Cosentino.

The soweis and their attendants pause to mug for the camera as they weave their way dancing through Mattru town. They've brought news that the girls are well initiated. I need no longer worry about my young neighbor, Manjia. Five nights earlier, when Manjia was taken to the Sande lodge, I had joined her female friends and relatives nearby. Braced with local gin, the women stormed the paths of Mattru, belting out bawdy songs, hooting laughter, circling back to sing encouragement to Manjia, then off again through town. I staggered home at 2 a.m. but others carried on until dawn. This merrymaking defied the anxiety I sensed not just over the girl's ordeal, but over the illness borne on harmattan winds. Children coughed, and elders were dying—two already that week. Life and death were knocking up hard against each other. (HC)