The Mende Tribe of Liberia


Because of territorial wars, subjugations, and enslavement in the eighteenth century, the Mende made their way from the Mali Empire to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Today the Mende make up one-third of Sierra Leone’s population. The Mende tribe is an ethnic group found primarily in Sierra Leone; however, a small group can be found in Lofa County, Liberia. The Mende people speak the Mende language, which is part of the Niger-Congo family of languages. The Mende is made of three major dialect groups: the Kpa-Mende, Sewa-Mende, and Ko-Mende.

The Mende are agricultural people who like farming and engaging in gardening around their homes. Rice is the staple crop, with other supplementary crops that include cassava, yams, sesame, and millet. Palm nuts are also harvested for palm oil, and raffia palms are tapped for wine. The crops that the Mende people tend to garden include chili peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes. The Mende are also known fishermen and hunters whose families raise some poultry while keeping domestic animals for meat.

Some of the craft products that the Mende produce include various forms of earthenware, clothes, mats, twine, and brooms. Blacksmiths produce hoes, machetes, and other iron implements associated with fishing such as nets, hooks, and canoes. They also sculpt a variety of objects such as masks used for initiation ceremonies, ritual objects such as icons of spiritual entities, and "medicine" objects. There are various musical instruments that the Mende create and play, including drums, wooden xylophones, and others.

Most Mende are traditionalist; they believe that “Ngewo,” the Supreme Being, is the creator of the universe and everything in it. According to their beliefs, after creating the world, Ngewo went up to heaven and rarely intervened directly in human affairs. Instead, ancestral spirits are venerated, and prayers to Ngewo are channeled through them.

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