Women's Art and Initiation in Mendeland

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

A "pulling" celebration at Gbangbama, Fakunya, Moyamba, Sierra Leone. Photo by Ruth Phillips.


After nda hiiti Sande initiates come and go between the Sande bush and the village, continuing their instruction with Sande society mentors until they have been fully prepared to take on their roles as adult women. The completion of initiation is marked by a great celebration (ti sande gbua, "they pull Sande"). Mende often refer to the occasion in English as "Pulling," referring to the notion that the protective power of Sande medicine can be removed only after the young women have gained adult self-control and knowledge through Sande ritual and instruction. The ritual stages of Pulling are complex, and they culminate with a great dance where the ndoli joweisia, Sande women, and other Mende maskers again dance and where the Sande graduates are greeted, presented with gifts, and honoured by friends and family. They are dressed for this occasion to show on their newly matured physical beauty, skin with hearth, hair beautifully full and groomed, and parasols wearing new clothing. (RP)