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The Staircase of a Patron: Sierra Leone and the United Brethren in Christ



The cover photograph comes from the collection of J. R. King, a United Brethren missionary to Sierra Leone from 1894 to 1912. Two Western women—probably missionaries— stand on either side of a masked African figure. The purpose of the photograph does not seem to be disrespectful—yet the juxtaposition is startling and strange. The mask is immediately recognizable as that of the spirit of either the Bondo or the Sande society. The Bondo (for the Temne) and the Sande (for the Mende) societies included all adult women, and along with the Poro society for males, represent the heart and soul of traditional African society and religion in Sierra Leone. The Bondo or Sande mask is only worn by women. The cultures of Sierra Leone are, for Africa, relatively unusual in assigning women such an important role—or indeed any role—as masked, dancing, representatives of the spirit world. (It is unusual for the masquerader to be wearing a dress, in this case a typical African “wrapper” beneath the raffia, but the black stockings she is wearing, as well as the whip she is carrying, identify her as a genuine masquerader). It has not proved possible to positively identify the two missionaries. (The figure on the left is probably J. R. King’s wife, Zella King). But the photograph suggests in a striking way the theme of this book: a confrontation of radically different cultural worlds which resulted in a kind of peaceful coexistence imbued with underlying tension.

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Weight .738 lbs


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