I Am Of The Mende People

June 27th, 200911:58 am @ A.D. Odom


africa04LMy brother recently had a MatriClan analysis done — swab test inside of mouth — which determined his (and our) mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) shares the same ancestry of the Mende people of Sierra Leone.  Of course, being a cynic, my first thoughts were “well, who isn’t from Sierra Leone?”

Actually, many who have taken the test offered by African Ancestry discovered they are from many parts of Africa.  Some of have been surprised to learn they are from parts of Europe as well.  My brother did not take the test to discover our ancestry on our father’s side but I’m sure he too will be from somewhere in West Africa.

After receiving the news, I did some research on the Mende people and was fascinated by one fact, the Mende Masks.  Accordingly, Wikipedia — if we can trust it — says:

Masks are the collective Mind of Mende community; viewed as one body, they are the Spirit of the Mende people. The Mende masked figures are a reminder that human beings have a dual existence; they live in the concrete world of flesh and material things and the spirit world of dreams, faith, aspirations and imagination.

The features of a Mende mask convey Mende ideals of female morality and physical beauty. The bird on top of the head represents a woman’s natural intuition that lets her see and know things that others can’t. The high or broad forehead represents good luck or the sharp, contemplative mind of the ideal Sande woman. Downcast eyes symbolize a spiritual nature and it is through these small slits that a woman wearing the mask would look out of. The small mouth signifies the ideal woman’s quiet and humble character. The markings on the cheeks are representative of the decorative scars girls receive as they step into womanhood. The scars are a symbol of her new, harder life. The neck rolls are an indication of the health of an ideal women. In the Mende culture full-figured women are beautiful. The intricate hairstyles reveal the close ties within a community of women. The holes at the base of the mask are where the rest of the costume is attached. A woman who wears these masks must not expose any part of her body or a vengeful spirit may take possession of her. Women often cover their bodies with masses of raffia or black cloth.

When a girl becomes initiated into the Sande society, the village’s master woodcarver creates a special mask just for her. The woodcarver must wait until he has a dream that guides him to make the mask a certain way for the recipient. A mask must be kept hidden in a secret place when no one is wearing it.

I believe what fascinated me was the “dual existence” of living “in the concrete world of flesh and material things and the spirit world of dreams, faith, aspirations and imagination.”  Something to ponder later.  There also appears to be a strong leaning toward women here as well.

Another interesting little fact, again from Wikipedia, has to do with dancing:

Learning dance is a harsh discipline that every Mende girl must tackle. Girls practice for hours at a time until they drop from exhaustion. Ndoli jowei, the expert in dancing, is in charge of teaching young Mende girls to dance. When girls make a mistake in the steps, they are whipped with a switch until they get it right. Often girls are awoken in the middle of the night to practice the dance; sometimes they are forced to stay awake for nearly 48 hours dancing almost the entire time. By the end of their brutal training, the girls have transformed into young woman who are tough and confident even in the harshest of conditions. They are in great physical shape and have endurance and stamina.

Hmm, think I heard something about MJ being whipped for missing steps too.  If we considered how children are raised around the world or how many African American children were raised in this country, many parents would be carted off for child abuse.

Anywho, I found this all very interesting but again, as a cynic, I’m not so sure because I don’t know enough about the science.  I’ll accept it as it is on face value but in terms of adding anything of real value to it, the jury is still out. In the meantime, I’ll be doing some research on the Mende people of Sierra Leonne.