Women's Art and Initiation in Mendeland

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

The Sande masks of Mattru, Tikonko, and Bo on their first appearance around town about a week after initiation. Sierra Leone. 1974. Photo by Henrietta Cosentino.


All girls are initiated into Sande at the time of puberty and remain members for life. Membership in Sande and the bonds formed during initiation with other girls of the same age and with older female mentors complement ties to birth families and to the families of future husbands with whom they will live. In former years, girls went directly from the protection of Sande into marriage, and the initiation period could last up to four years. Today it generally takes place in short sessions timed to coincide with school holidays. During initiation, the Sande masqueraders remain with the initiates in their private encampment outside the village, entering the town at three specific times to signify that the separate phases of initiation have been successfully completed. (RP)