Mende People

Sande Society



color symbolism


body mutations


Poro Society



      Learning dance is a harsh discipline that every girl must tackle.  Girls practice for hours at a time until they drop from exhaustion.  Ndoli jowei (expert in dancing) is in charge of teaching 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; 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.  (Boone)

    Gonde is also a Ndoli jowei, but rather than the harsh enforcer she is the comic relief.  Gonde becomes a friend to the initiates, amusing them to help them forget the hard ordeals they are going through.  She coaches the girls that are slow in dancing encouraging the girls to work hard.  "Gonde is a funny, lovable character who lightens the gloom and reminds everyone that Sande is not always so deadly serious." (Boone p.30)

Ndoli jowei is the principle spirit for celebration, although she also appears on other occasions besides celebrations.  In Sande initiation there are three major events in which the ndoli jowei appear publicly.  The first occurs 1-3 days after the initiates have been taken into the bush to be circumcised.  This event is known as yaya gbegbi.  At this time the ndoli jowei comes into town with a group of Sande women while the initiates stay in the bush recovering from their operations.  The women come into town to tell men they have initiated people into Sande; they go through the town waving leaves and gathering food and other supplies that they need.  Ndoli jowei does not dance on this occasion because it is not yet time for celebration.  She is there only as a reminder of the powerful medicine that has been summoned by the Sande session, which validates the unruly behavior of the Sande women. The next time ndoli jowei appears is at a minor feast called Kpete gbula yombo le or Sowo mba yili gbi.  At this occasion an announcement is made to inform people of the date for the gani celebration; which is the last event of the Sande initiation that ndoli jowei appears at.  At this time the new initiates are brought into town for the first time since the initiation process began; accompanied by ndoli jowei.  This is a happy occasion where dances are performed by both the maskers and the initiates.   (Phillips)


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Representing Women Sande Masquerades of the Mende of Sierra Leone;  Ruth B. Phillips; page 104
a performing ndoli jowei