Man & Family Escape from Traditional Secret Society Practice; Community Seeks Their Return

Ernest O Kanu and Isatu Turay.jpg
Ernest O Kanu and Isatu Turay

By Foday Moriba Conteh

Recent reports have uncovered the escape of Ernest O Kanu, alongside his pregnant fiancée, Isatu Turay (commonly known as Mrs. Kanu), and their daughter, Alimatu Kanu, from the Fiancée Family Traditional Secret Society Cultural Practice, recognized as the Bondo/Sande Society in Sierra Leone. This society is notorious for its practice of female genital mutilation/circumcision (FGM/C), along with the transmission of traditional and cultural legacies through spiritual rituals.

Mrs. Mariama Sandi, a Sowei elder in the community, provided insight into the circumstances surrounding the escape, which the elders deemed disrespectful.

She highlighted a tragic incident that occurred on July 3rd, 2022, a day designated for significant traditional events, including the burial ceremony of the late Ya Koloneh Fatmata Turay De Sowei, the coronation of the new Sowei Isatu, and the circumcision ritual of Alimatu.

She brought insight into the esteemed title known as “The Ya Koloneh De Sowei”, which the deceased elder inherited from her late mother in 2015 after her mother’s tragic suicide by drowning in the Bankasoka River in Port Loko District. The deceased elder held this position until July 1st, 2022, when she was found dead, having drowned in a water well at her residence in 555 Waterloo. This title had been passed down through generations, signifying the moment for Isatu and her daughter to take on leadership roles; however, they chose to escape instead.

Mrs. Sandi mentioned that following the death of Ya Koloneh De Sowei, the traditional society elders in Kenema sought the immediate release of the deceased’s body for burial according to their customs and traditions. They also requested the presence of Isatu and her daughter, Alimatu, for additional traditional rituals.

During the burial ceremony held on July 3rd, 2022, which was conducted as a night ceremonial event to accommodate specific traditional rituals, Isatu attended with her fiancé, Ernest, and their daughter, Alimatu. In order to manage the crowd and maintain order, two police officers were invited to oversee the daytime proceedings.

Mrs. Sandi revealed that while in a secluded bush during the burial ceremony, Isatu was given traditional medicine in a calabash, causing her to lose consciousness. She added that after a while, the Soweis brought Isatu’s coronation items and Alimatu’s circumcision instruments. Isatu was instructed to retrieve her daughter from her father’s care, accompanied by an elderly Sowei.

Mrs. Sandi elaborated on the events unfolding during the retrieval of Alimatu from her father’s care. Ernest adamantly opposed the circumcision procedure for his daughter, expressing concerns about potential risks to her health and well-being. He also voiced apprehension about Isatu assuming the role of Ya Koloneh and fearing potential spiritual trauma for her in the future. The elderly Sowei promptly informed the other elders of Ernest’s objections. Upon their arrival, they discovered that Ernest had fled with Isatu and his daughter.

Since then, their whereabouts have remained unknown after the escape, with family members and secret society members collaborating to facilitate their return using traditional and spiritual methods.

Mrs. Sandi expressed disappointment, stating that Isatu and her daughter betrayed their ancestors, family, and society by rejecting their sacred responsibilities. The elders are seeking severe traditional consequences for Ernest, aiming to subject Isatu to public shame and stigmatization for not conforming to traditional expectations. Meanwhile, Alimatu will undergo traditional rituals as her mother’s heir, including a circumcision procedure.

The community elders have filed a complaint against Ernest for various crimes committed, including disrespect and interference in cultural practices. Additionally, the Kenema District Police have been informed about Ernest’s escape with their late revered Sowei child and grandchild. This police force has collaborated with other law enforcement agencies domestically and internationally to search for Ernest. They have shared the family’s details and photographs with various police units in their search efforts.

The incident has sparked community-wide discussions on preventing such actions, highlighting the challenges in combating entrenched cultural practices like FGM/C.

The secrecy and rituals of societies like Bondo play a significant role in societal structures, influencing traditional women’s rights and political dynamics.


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