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>> 23 2 The History of Sex, Order, and Conflict in Sierra Leone If de clause day—O ye big men O ye men who go to Church; O ye men who get the money: O ye men who get the voice; Stand up—wake up—things day bad, mind Save de little girls from death Save de Creole girls from ruin1 The majority of the current literature on Sierra Leone tends to focus on one of the following: the “chaotic” nature of Africa in general and West Africa in particular,2 the eleven-year civil conflict3 , the role of blood diamonds in conflicts ,4 child soldiers,5 and the lessons to be learned from the United Nations’ mission and intervention in the Sierra Leone conflict.6 There is a dearth of critical scholarship that explores the roles and activity of women during the war or their lives post–armed conflict. Perhaps the most notable omission in this literature is in primary data such as individual interviews—not just with female soldiers but also with local citizens in general. In effect, much of the literature about the Sierra Leone conflict and the post–armed conflict period is not inclusive of voices and perspectives of the country’s citizens; rather, the literature is characterized by accounts in which investigators “speak for” the citizens of Sierra Leone. This chapter provides an overview of the historical context of Sierra Leone with a focus on what information is available on gender ordering and sexual regulation. This chapter is not meant to be a comprehensive overview of Sierra Leone’s history; rather, it should highlight for the reader the sociopolitical context of gender ordering and sexual regulation in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is situated on the west coast of Africa. It is bordered by beautiful beaches and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Liberia to the south, and Guinea to the north. With a population of more than 5 million, Sierra Leone has remained at the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index for well over a decade. Its struggling economy, with a gross domestic product per capita of approximately $806, is primarily based on the mining of diamonds and minerals as well as small-scale cash crop farming. Despite 24 > 25 also reported that some societies teach signs and signals known only to that particular group and that members have used these communication skills to signal to one another on the road or during conflict.12 In the past, persons entering adulthood were initiated into secret societies . Most accounts indicate that the average age of initiation into the societies is anywhere from twelve to eighteen; however, because of poverty or the disruption of regular society practices and traditions due to conflict, these ages have fluctuated dramatically over the years. Such secret societies are viewed as a right of passage for the girls and boys of a community ; when a child is nearing adulthood, he or she is initiated into one of the local secret societies—usually the same society that his or her parents belong to. The sole definition of adulthood for some communities in Sierra Leone rests on initiation and membership in a secret society. Momoh explains, “If you have a boy of fifteen that goes through a local ceremony to adulthood…and another man of sixty who has not gone through the same ceremony, you treat the fifteen-year-old as a man to be respected and as the elder.”13 Due to the significance of membership within communities, exclusion from secret societies can be detrimental. Membership not only is required to be considered an adult but also is a source of respect and trust, a requirement for leadership, and a foundation for many trade and business relationships. A Mende woman summarized the importance of membership: “If you don’t belong to the secret soc [sic] up in the provinces, you cannot make any decisions , and you would be excluded from positions of authority, no matter how old you are….If you are not a member of the Society, oh I tell you, you feel so left out.”14 The historical roots of the societies extend to well before colonial times. As a result, the Creoles—the landed population of freed slaves—have not traditionally participated in secret societies. Some Creoles regarded these groups as “backward”; in particular, Creoles have been critical of the tradition of circumcising both male and female inductees. In addition, there has been increased international pressure on female...


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