Mende name for a women's society that is responsible for the preparation and education of girls for their role as adult women. In the past all girls approaching puberty were initiated into Sande and had to spend a lengthy period, perhaps even several years, separated from their families in seclusion in the society 'bush', a clearing in the forest near the village, under the guidance of mature women who acted as their instructors and models. Today the period of initiation is often drastically reduced to a few weeks to fit in with school holidays. The return of the initiates to the village at the close of their initiation is an occasion for public rejoicing and family pride. Clitorodectomy, in at least some modified form, is an essential part of the Sande initiation. Sande is not a centralised institution, but takes the form of numerous more or less independent local lodges with common practices and traditions. Higher-ranking members of Sande are known as sowei. The most striking public manifestation of Sande is the masker called ndoli jowei or 'the dancing sowei', who wears a black-dyed wooden helmet mask above a costume of black-dyed raffia and cloth. The mask is an idealised image of female beauty and dignity. The equivalent society among the Bullom and Temne is known as Bondo (q.v.).
- M.C.Jedrej, 'Medicine, fetish and secret society in a west African culture, Africa, 1976, 46, 247-257.
- C.P.MacCormack, 'Sande: the public face of a secret society', in B.Jules-Rosette, ed., The New Religions of Africa (New Jersey 1979), 27-37.
- S.A.Boone, Radiance from the Waters (New Haven/London 1986)
- R.B.Phillips, Representing Woman (Los Angeles 1995)