The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Women's Art and Initiation in Mendeland

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

Mende mask performance, Sierra Leone. Photo by Rebecca Busselle.


Still, they urged me to sit with them for hours at "Pullings," or led me down alleyways between close-set houses to follow a sowei, or took me into the bush to see ceremonies. I always felt this undercurrent of the inexplicable, something that belonged to them, something I couldn't even define. Finally, I gave up seeking answers. Who could explain, after all, how a mask carved of wood, polished black and hung with raffia, could assume a complex and distinct life-force, in public and in private, in village after village, instilling awe in all who saw her? (RB)