Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions

Almost all ceremonial occasions such as weddings, funerals, initiations, and memorial services demand the preparation of large platters of rice. Depending on the occasion, a portion may also be offered to the ancestors, to honor their memory. Another common practice in this sense is to pour libation in honor of the ancestors at the corners of a house. Other food traditions vary with region or religion: Mende Muslims, for instance, will mark a burial ceremony with Yahweh, a ball of rice flour mixed with water and sugar, served with a kola nut on top.

Kola nuts are highly valued in and of themselves and are often associated with greetings, diplomacy, provisions of respect, religious rites, and initiation ceremonies. High in caffeine concentration, they are also used as a stimulant in clothes dying, and even in honor of different classes of people in society. Sierra Leonean society is in some ways a stratified one. The traditional elite families are those who can trace descent (usually through the father’s line) to a warrior or hunter who first settled in the area.

Colonial administrators in some ways exacerbated these differences between people, by favoring those elite families who supported their agenda with urban employment opportunities, political appointments, and education.