The largest ethno-linguistic group in southern Sierra Leone and the most culturally dominant in the area. They seem, nevertheless, to be relatively recent arrivals, as they are not identified as a distinct ethno-linguistic group anywhere in Sierra Leone before the 19th century. It is generally assumed that they migrated westwards from the interior of Liberia. But it is possible that in many instances what happened was not that Mende immigrants displaced the indigenous inhabitants over most of southern Sierra Leone, but that the numbers of those using Mende as their everyday language increased generation on generation at the expense of the indigenous languages Krim and Bullom (a process we can observe at the present day); and that many who think of themselves as Mende today could be descended from Krim, Bullom or Temne speakers. Three groups of Mende are commonly distinguished corresponding to different Mende dialects: the Kpa Mende, west of the Jong or Teye river; the Sewa Mende, between the Jong and the Waanje rivers; and the Ko Mende, east of the Waanje. (There are certain cultural differences between them. The Wunde society (q.v.) is found only among the Kpa Mende; elsewhere in Mendeland its place is taken by the Poro society.) Mende cultural institutions such as the Sande society have been widely studied and the artworks associated with them, notably Sande helmet masks, are the best known objects to have come out of Sierra Leone. However there is no general stylistic marker that distinguishes Mende artefacts from those of their Bullom neighbours and there is a good deal of cultural overlap between the two groups.
- K.Little, The Mende of Sierra Leone (London 1967)
- W.T.Harris & H.Sawyerr, The Springs of Mende Belief and Conduct (Freetown 1968)
- A.Abraham, Mende Government and Politics under Colonial Rule (Oxford 1978)
- A.J.Gittins, Mende Religion (Nettetal 1987)