Unsung Shero ~ Mamie Batu Swaray

When you know where you come from, you will know where you are going, Mamie Batu always cautioned her children and grandchildren.

Mamie Habibatu Swaray

Mamie is the title a woman earns in Sierra Leone, especially in Mende society based on her leadership, community service and social standing.

Sande Sowei Mask

Better known as Mamie Batu, was a wholesome Mende woman. Born and raised in a small village called Majihun, in Tikonko Chiefdom, Southern Sierra Leone. Her actual birth date is not known, as birth registering in rural Sierra Leone was nonexistence in her days, but her family believes she was born in the early 1920s.

She did not receive formal western schooling but was well educated and trained in the traditional method. Like most Mende women in her era, she was trained in the Sande women’s society and also received religious education in the Muslim tradition. With all this and her upbringing, she matured into womanhood with knowledge of herbal medicine, childbirth and other skills that made her an invaluable and well-respected member of her community.

Mamie Batu married into the Mansaray family and settled in Sembehun 17 (Tuba). She was the pillar of not only her marital home, where she raised five biological children and many others, she was also the pillar of her parental home as well as the community. Her parental village being a couple of hours walk from her marital village, Mamie Batu maintained a constant presence in Majihun to resolve any issues that required her attention as the elder daughter to her parents and also to attend to childbirths and other women-related issues. She maintained her parent’s cacao and coffee farms as cash crops, the proceeds of which she used to help others in her extended family and the community for tuition, etc.

Mamie Batu served the role of a respected elder and was trusted in dispute and conflict resolutions; was also the point person when babies fell ill and for prenatal consulting. There was always a pot of herbs brewing in her kitchen. Women were sometimes brought to her home when they went into labor but Mamie Batu frequently helped deliver babies in the women’s homes or the Sande camps in her village and surrounding villages.

Mamie Batu was a selfless person who served her family and community with passion, she was well known by her family not to ever finish her dinner because of her concern that a guest might arrive late at night and find nothing to eat. Her kitchen had storage rooms where she kept her livestock – always a couple of goats or sheep – and an attic that was always stocked with rice and other grains. She maintained a garden near her kitchen where she grew many of the vegetables she needed for cooking.

Most evenings, you would find Mamie Batu and all the children in her care and others gathered around the fire in her courtyard sharing stories and parables; the children could always count on her comforting and protective watch.

When Mamie Batu passed away in March 1986, it was not only the loss of the  matriarch of the Mansaray household, it was also a big loss of a community pillar for Sembehun 17 and the surrounding communities where she is still missed.


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