The Mende people are a community that speaks the Mande language, and they inhabit in Sierra Leone and parts of the neighboring Liberia. Like any other community, the Mende people have their distinctive cultural art that defines them with the masking techniques and wooden masks being the most common and the most famous of all the other artistic works they associate with themselves. The Mende people also had other artistic expressions that included visual arts like drama or costumes and dances presented by a group of individuals who are perceived to be specially gifted.Carving of the wooden masks is a task for men in the community, and they undertake the carving activities in deep seclusion from other community members. These men with the ability to make the wooden carvings and sculptures, well known as carvers, are a very popular group, and the community highly admires every person in the Mende community who performs the artistic activities. Their ability often links to extraordinary gifts of the ancestral spirits of the community.
Since the Marxist regime, most of the Mende people’s artistic works that did not relate or incline to Islam were banned. However, even with the community retaining its Islamic religious state, the masquerades that are Islam inclined are used and those that are unused in cultural dances. The carvers employ the artworks together with other artists in the community whom the community highly regards. The artworks are used during special events such as initiation of boys and girls as well as marking other important events such as the Ramadan and Christmas. Other activities where these masks and carvings are symbolic include the funeral and inauguration ceremonies of prominent leaders.
The artworks are symbolic in some ways and represent various things depending on the kind of events that they appear. In most cases, the arts that are used by men and women are symbolic of the levels of corporate power of the men and females. The only mask that is documented and is worn by women is the Sande society mask, and it ranks second to the Poro society mask worn by men. Clearly, women in the Mende community are submissive to their male counterparts, and they represent themselves as a weaker group compared to the Mende men.
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