By Fuad Conteh
According to reports reaching this medium from the village of Rokimbi in the Lokomasama Chiefdom, Port Loko District in Northern Sierra Leone, a young lady by the name of Ramatu Fornah, narrowly escaped death at the hands of the most dreaded female Secret Society in the country, ‘the Sowei Secret Society’.
According to our source, she was abducted at her home in the village in connivance with her aunt, and taken to the Soweis Secret Society shrine in the bush, where she was going to be forcefully initiated into the society. It was further disclosed that the Soweis Secret Society ritual is much more rigorous and dangerous than the Bondo, as they are the cutters of all new initiates of the Bondo society, a practice known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Our source shied away from giving us a vivid description of the ritual, as it is believed that any exposure of their rites to non-initiates will incur the wrath of the Gods, which are said to have mystical powers. Our source only explained the activities of the second initiation of girls (Bondo Secret Society), describing it as a very dangerous rite that has seen many young girls bleed to death. According to our source, part of the society’s main ritual is what is known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a practice that is age-old and declared by traditionalists as part of their culture. It is practiced as a rite of passage into adulthood by traditional cutters (soweis)
In an in-depth investigation done by this writer on this matter, it was discovered that it is the practice of families in the village, especially the mothers and Aunts of these young girls, to send their girls for initiation, a practice they say prepares the girls for full adulthood. Though there have been reports of deaths from this practice, which had been condemned by activists against the practice, the government has been reluctant to discuss it, let alone countenance any suggestion of a shift from the practice. The excuse has always been that it is part of their indigenous female tradition, practiced by their ancestors and handed down through generations.
In Ramatu’s case, it was revealed that her late mother was a senior member of the Sowei Secret Society, and also a senior Chieftaincy member. According to their tradition, at the death of her late mother, one of her daughters should take her place in the society, and since Ramatu’s elder sister had died during the said initiation to replace her mother, the next option was Ramatu, who will have to go through rigorous rituals, which often leads to the death of some of the initiates through bleeding and other complications. At the end of the ritual, the successful initiates then become a ‘Sowie’ (a leader that will play a vital role in the Female Genital Mutilation exercise of other newcomers). It was also revealed that many young girls, whose mothers were part of this Sowei Secret Society, left the village in fear of being initiated, as the whole exercise is extremely risky and had cost so many girls their lives.
A close family member, who wishes to remain anonymous, allegedly said to be Ramatu’s Uncle, told this writer that after the death of Ramatu’s mother, Ya Ramatu Kamara, her elder sister, Mariatu Fornah, was taken to the secret society bush for initiation, to replace their late mother as leader of the Soweis Secret Society. The said initiation rites was to last for six months, and it was reported that during the process, which included very inhumane traditional rites, Ramatu’s sister, Mariatu Fornah, died. Upon her death, the elders of the village again demanded from the family that the next eldest daughter of the late mother be given up for initiation, who happened to be Ramatu Fornah.
It was further revealed that at the death of Maraitu Fornah, the family was not allowed to retrieve her remains, as they claimed that she was with their ‘God’. As Ramatu was in Freetown, she was called by her aunt in the village to report immediately to the village for an urgent family meeting. She left Freetown the next day and arrived in the village of Rokimbi in the Lokomasa Chiefdom, late in the evening. On her arrival, a meeting was urgently convened, during which Ramatu was told that she should replace her late mother and sister in the secret society, as a leader, and that plans were on the way for the ceremony to commence soon.
Infuriated by this decision, and bearing in mind that her late sister died during the such an initiation ceremony, Ramatu is said to have out-rightly refused the suggestion of her aunts and the elders in the village, on the grounds that it was demonic and against her religious belief, as well as barbaric, much to the disdain of some female family members and the elders, who wanted Ramatu to take that position and save the family name in the village. She argued that she has given her life to God and will not be a member of such a demonic secret society.
Sources close to the family explained that as it was late, Ramatu was unable to return to Freetown, and had planned to return the next day by the first available means of transportation, so she went to bed at the house in which she was lodged. It was also revealed that during that night, members of the Soweis Secret Society stormed the said house and abducted her, taking her to the Soweis Secret Society shrine in the forest.
According to our source, as Ramatu resisted, she was heavily beaten all the way to the shrine, where she was tied to a tree, awaiting the commencement of the rituals. In the early hours of the morning of 11th December 2020, our source furthered that they heard a strange noise nearby, and fearing that it might be that of some wild beast, the members took to their heels, and she is said to have been allegedly rescued by one hunter, who untied Ramatu and showed her an escape route.
Family members say that since Ramatu was taken away from the house, she had not returned, and only knew of her disappearance when the Sowei Secret Society members came looking for her. Even close friends of Ramatu confided in this writer that their houses were raided by the members in search of her, and had vowed to find her at all cost and initiate her, as they claimed that she has seen what goes on in their sacred shrine and should be initiated at all cost.
Meanwhile, family members say that since she was abducted that night, her whereabouts is unknown and that the members of the Sowei Secret Society had stormed their house on several occasions, threatening to kill Ramatu when found, including anyone hiding her.
Family members say that they cannot report the matter to the police, as top female politicians, as well as prominent top female government officials are members of the dreaded Sowei Secret Society in the country, and most of them occupy important positions, and discussions on such matters is taboo. Even their male counterparts do not meddle in an all-female secret society matter, as is the same with the all-male secret societies.
As we go to press, the whereabouts of Ramatu is still unknown, and a nationwide hunt has been mounted for her by the society members, in collaboration with other members of affiliate secret society bodies.