The Mende People


The Mende people are one of the two most prominent tribes in Sierra Leone’s state; their close neighbors. The Temne people have roughly a similar population. The Temne and the Mende each account for over 30% of the total population. The Mende are mainly in the Eastern Province and the Southern Province, while the Temne are majorly in the Western region and the Northern Province, including the city of Freetown. Some of the principal towns or areas with significant Mende people include Kenema, Bo, Moyamba, and Kailahun. The Mende people belong to a bigger group of Mande peoples who reside throughout the African continent’s Western region. The Mende people are primarily hunters and farmers.

During the civil war, Dr. Alpha Lavalie founded the Civil Defense Force (CDF), a militia group to combat rebels along with the government’s soldiers or troops. The forces comprised more than three groups from all major tribes in the state: Hunters, Tamaboros, Donso, Kapras, and the Kamajors. Kamajor is a Mende name or term for a hunter. They were the main warring groups and the most fearful among the CDF mercenaries that Chief Hinga Norman, the late Deputy Minister of Defense, led. People honor and respect the Kamajors among the high-ranking groups of women and men who fought to revive democracy in present-day Sierra Leone.

The Mendes are divided into Kpa-Mende, who are mainly in the South in Moyamba District. The Golah-Mende, from the Gola forest between Kenema district and Pujehun district into Liberia. The Sewa-Mende resided or settled along River Sewa. The Vai-Mende also in Pujehun district and Liberia. The Koh-Mende are the main ethnic group in Kailahun District with the Ngessi and Gbandi, both in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinean.

The Mende have a strong belief that all scientific and humanistic power goes down via the secret societies. The secret Poro society is for the male gender while the Sande society is for the women or the female gender, both of whom circumcise the young into manhood or adulthood.

The Mende names are common in Liberia, including regions that share names on both parts or sides of the border. For example, the Guma-Mende is a popular part of Loffa, Liberia, and those residing along the borders claim double citizenship. Teachers in the Sierra Leone learning institutions teach the Mende language, and the Alphabet is near indistinguishable from the English Alphabet.

The History of the Mende People

Throughout the 19th century, the regional war resulted in the sale and capture of many Mende speaking people into slavery. Most remarkable or notable were those aboard the Amistad in 1839. They eventually won their liberation and repatriation. This event involved fifty-two free Mende people that the Portuguese slavers had stolen in 1839, whom slave handlers shipped through the Middle Passage to Havana, where the slave traders sold them to Cuban sugar plantation possessors (Pedro Montes and Jose Ruiz). After working the plantation, people placed them on Amistad and shipped them to another Cuban farm.

On the way, they ran away from their bondage, and Sengbe Pieh led them in a revolt. They told the crew to return them to the African region. The ship’s remaining crew frustrated their efforts to return home. A United States Coastal brig intercepted the vessel off Long Island, New York. The Cuban traders, Montes and Ruiz, condemned the Mende and claimed that they were their goods or property. In New Haven and Hartford, the resultant case confirmed that the men were free and resulted in the return of the more than thirty remaining Mende to their places.

In the New World or the Americas, especially the United States, researchers have found that African culture constituents had long perseverance. In some regions where there were big groups of African slaves, they kept much of their tradition. In the 1930s, Lorenzo Dow Turner, a black American linguist, found a Gullah family in coastal Georgia that had held an old song in the Mende language, passing it down for two centuries. In the 1990s, three present-day researchers, Cynthia Schmidt, Joseph Opala, and Taziedd Koroma, found a Mende village in Sierra Leone where people still sing the same song in modern-day. The story of this old Mende song, and its survival in Africa and the United States, is in the documentary movie ‘The Language You Cry In.’

The Tradition and Culture of the Mende People

The Mende people customarily reside in villages of 70-250 occupants, located from one point five to five kilometers apart. There is no mechanization over the larger part of the rural Mende state. Mende farmers employ machetes and hoes. The Mende are famous for growing rice and other crops, practicing crop rotation to protect soil fertility. They grow cocoa, coffee, and ginger as cash crops and rice, pepper, benniseed, groundnuts, and palm oil for domestic consumption. There is a presence of rice cooperatives in some rural parts. Customarily, labor groups organized on a native basis have been carrying out Mende farming. People divide work according to gender. The males do heavy tasks of clearing the land for growing or planting rice. The women pound and clean rice, fish, and weed the crops in the ground. The Mende people are patrilocal, patrilineal, and polygamous, the act of marrying many wives.

The Secret Societies of the Mende People (The Poro and the Sande Societies)

The greatest sin or mistake a Mende man can make is to give away their ethnic group’s secrets. The Poro society is the male equal to the female Sande society. When in this society, people initiate Mende boys in total manhood. Many of their rituals are parallel to those of the female Sande society. During their training, the young initiates learn about everything essential for the survival of the society or the community. People describe the process as being reborn, changed, and, during a masquerade, as regurgitated into fully adult males. The Poro prepares the males for leadership in society to get wisdom, accept accountability, and gain might or power. It commences with the child’s grade of discovery, followed by general service and training. During the seven-year initiation era, the young males talk to each other using a secret password and language, known only to the other Poro members. The member always knows and comprehends what other members are saying. This is part of the strangeness or mystery of this secret society.

All the Mende women, when they attain puberty, they commence the initiation procedure into the Sande secret society.  This secret society’s main targets or goals are to teach young Mende females the accountabilities of adulthood. The teachers teach the girls how to be diligent and humble in their behavior, especially towards their elders. The Sande society affects or influences every part of a Mende woman’s life. It is there before birth and still present after it. Sande is the keeper of women. Their defender, protector, and guide throughout life. It is the Sande that accords a woman with a character and an identity.  The Sande secret society deals with defining what it is to be a human and finding ways of bringing and promoting justice, love, and peace. It is moral thinking that concentrates on the continuous refinement of the individual.

Sande heads or leaders act as role models to the women in the community. They demonstrate the highest of Mende principles or ideals. They have the task of applying good social associations and removing any danger or harm that might come to the women in their society. The Sande groups have masked events or performances that symbolize the Sande keeper spirit, who is associated with rivers and water. Visitors have made descriptions of the society and its masquerade functions since the 17th century.

Notable Mende People

Several remarkable Mende people are politicians, entertainers, football stars, and among other people. Some of them are Albert Joe Demby, Albert Margai, Allieu Kondewa, Ansu Lansana, Augustine Bockarie, Banja Tejan-Sie, Bernadette Lahai, Bindi Hindowa Samba, Charles Francis Margai, and Cory Booker.

Albert Joe Demby was a former Vice President of Sierra leone. Albert Margai was the 2nd Prime Minister of Sierra Leone from 1964 to 1967. Allieu Kondewa was the former commander of the Civil Defense Forces. Ansu – the National Secretary-General of the PMDC party. Augustine Bockarie – an MP of Sierra Leone representing Kono District. Banja was the former Sierra Leone AG and one of the founding members of the SLPP. Bernadette Lahai is a Sierra Leonean politician and currently a Member of Parliament (MP) representing the Kenema District. Bindi Samba – a prominent chief of Bo district. Charles Francis is a Sierra Leonean politician.

Other notable Mende people are Amie Kallon, Andy Lumeh, Black Thought, David Vandy, Emmerson Bockarie, Patrick Bantamoi, Kei Kamara, Sahr Lahai, Alpha Lansana, and Lamin Massaquoi. Amie is a Folk Musician, Andy- a singer. Black Thought is a rapper of The Roots, David – actor, and Emmerson – a Sierra Leonean musician. Patrick Bantamoi, Kei Kamara, Sahr Lahai, Alpha, and Lamin are all Sierra Leonean football players.



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