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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Tuesday Evening Melody: A Secret Society Song from Sierra Leone

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

In Sierra Leone, it’s common for girls to be initiated into secret societies where they spend a period of time in the bush learning traditional cooking, dances, and songs. This week’s selection for our Tuesday evening melody, “A Mara Kone A Borley Pon,” comes from a field recording performed by the initiates of the Bundu society in the town of Tagrin. According to the album’s liner notes, the song’s call and response lyrics translate as:

Oh, my mind has taken me back to my place of origin.
My mind is no longer in this place.
My mind has gone as far as Koya.

In this week’s show "The Art of Peace," the song punctuates a story that John Paul Lederach tells about his daughter Angela’s work with former female child soldiers in West Africa. We intended this song to illustrate how vibrational drumming and traditional singing can transform traumatic experiences in ways that talking alone doesn’t.

Our original script described the song as “ritual music that comes from the part of West Africa where John Paul Lederach’s daughter, Angie, has worked.” But, this script is too vague and leaves the listener with more questions than answers. It lacks specificity; West Africa constitutes a big swath of geography.

For this week’s broadcast, we added “Sierra Leone” — where Angela Lederach has worked — to this piece of radio script. But we still don’t know the context of this song. How is it actually used in Bundu rituals? What is the translation of the song’s title?

Based on the lyrics, I wonder if the song expresses a longing to revive memories of a flourishing pre-colonial period when the kingdom of Koya reigned. Does anyone have insights about Koya and how it figures into the historical and cultural imagination of Sierra Leone? We’d love your help in deepening our understanding.