Women’s Empowerment: Spotlight on Sande/Bondo of Sierra Leone


In our last post, we suggested that women in Africa, particularly in Sierra Leone, take this year’s International Women’s Day as a day of consciousness-raising for a look back at our social institutions that have historically empowered women – Sande/Bondo. This institution has been passed down to us from generation to generation; but over the years, the overwhelming nature of our socio-economic malaise has caused us to be what we perceive as being “unconsciously complacent” about our plight as women of this naturally endowed nation in which we have been totally left behind.

What we mean by this is that we have slowly grown into a society of women who are focused on our individual problems and achievements. In this unconscious complacent state of mind, we are satisfied with our individual achievements and almost never take collective measures to deal with our common issues. This has left us open to outsiders’ exploitation of our situation for their own glory.


On this international women’s day, we must do some deep self-reflection about how we perceive and approach our common problems as women of Sierra Leone; where we are the silent majority that is not only left behind in education and socio-economic and political achievements, but has been subject to the worst adverse effects of all the ills in our nation. We must seek a deeper understanding of the structure that is already in place, and which presents us with a wonderful possibility for our empowerment.

What is Sande/Bondo?

Sande/Bondo, in the simplest term, is a Social Institution. A social institution, as defined by sociologist Jonathan Turner (1997),

Is a complex of positions, roles, norms and values lodged in particular types of social structures and organizing relatively stable patterns of human activity with respect to fundamental problems in producing life-sustaining resources, in reproducing individuals, and in sustaining viable societal structures within a given environment.

By its principles and practices, Sande/Bondo fits this definition and then more; but Sande/Bondo should not be viewed only on face value, it must be explored for its deeper meaning and essence. The majority of the indigenous ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, as well as in other West African countries, partake in the Sande/Bondo institution.


In more complex terms, Sande/Bondo cannot be easily described, as there are many aspects to it, including its practical, mystical and the public aspect. Sande/Bondo has been in Sierra Leone for ages and its basic function as an institution that trains and molds young women for womanhood has been it cornerstone.

Looking at this institution through the Mende culture of Sierra Leone as an example, Sande is part of the network of institutions called Hale, which provide a worldview for its members. In Mende culture, people are socially and culturally categorized as either Halemoi, those who belong to the network of hale institutions and are initiated into men’s and women’s societies, and Kpowa; those who are not in the hale and have not been initiated in any of the hale societies.

The Mende people, like most other groups in Sierra Leone, pass their culture and traditions down to the next generation through these Hale institutions, including the Sande. These institutions are therefore educational institutions through which a world of knowledge is imparted to all members, who then become enlightened. Therefore, a person who is not a member of these institutions, a Kpowa, does not have the same understanding about the fundamentals of life, as the halemoi perceives it. Rather than respect this perspective, outsiders, particularly Western researchers, have always referred to these institutions as “secret” societies.

So, what is Sande/Bondo? It is a women’s institution that is part of the larger network of hale social institutions, which has, for generations, provided a vital source of knowledge for women in our society and has provided a viable societal structure within which women in Sierra Leone have a societal structure through which we can be empowered to partake in socio-political  transformation of our nation.

We will touch on some of the aspects and essence of Sande/Bondo.

Stay tuned!

One response to “Women’s Empowerment: Spotlight on Sande/Bondo of Sierra Leone

  1. As alway, Mamasalone you are right on target. I truly enjoy reading your article.

    Hopefully, we as a people will become a little more conscious of what is happening in Africa, especially in Sierra Leone. So keep putting the information out. Like you, I believe one, hopefully sooner than later we will wake up.



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