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

Bo by-pass, Mende artist, Sierra Leone. Photo by Rebecca Busselle.


Song and dance are constant in Sande life, a vital expression of the spirit and cohesion among women. Accompanied by drums and a calabash that strikes against shells or buttons—called a "shake-shake" in Krio, the lingua franca of Sierra Leone—Sande women make compelling, exciting music, usually with a lead singer. The young women perform elaborate, artful traditional dances, while the masked soweis dance with intricate footwork and startling energy. And always, for all Sande women, the merest note of song causes the knees to bend, hips to lower and sway, feet to pull up rhythmically one to the other in the shuffling dance they can do for hours.  Sometimes women crowd together, bodies unafraid of touching as they dance, and sometimes a mother alone will sway, her feet moving slightly to comfort a baby tied to her back. (RB)