Ngewo is the supreme God among the Mende people. The latter, who number about 1 million, are found in West Africa, more precisely in the southern and eastern parts of the country known today as Sierra Leone. However, a small Mende community is also found in the western part of neighboring Liberia. The Mende oral tradition, as well as linguistic evidence, indicates that the Mende migrated from the western Sudan, probably in several waves, between AD 200 and 1500. Their language is also called Mende (sometimes spelled Mande).
Ngewo, also known during more ancient times under the name of Leve (literally “one who is above”), is a sky god (i.e., the God of Heaven). Ngewo is thought of as the supreme force and power responsible for the creation of the universe and all that it contains: human beings, animals, plants, medicine, and so on. In addition, Ngewo infused his creation with a force that permeates everything and manifests itself not only in human beings, animals, plants, and objects, but also in natural phenomena such as lightning, mountains, and waterfalls. Ngewo's creative power thus asserts itself in all that is at all times.
Although omnipresent in daily Mende life and thought, Ngewo, as in most other African religious traditions, is withdrawn from the world, having retired to the heavens above. Evidence of Ngewo's powerful presence is attested by the natural world, which serves a constant reminder of its greatness. It is said that Ngewo, having offered his assistance to human beings, grew tired of their constant solicitations and withdrew from the world of the living one night while people were asleep. This withdrawal does not mean, however, that Ngewo is not involved in human affairs at all. In fact, Ngewo determines people's destiny, for example, how long they will live. Also, as the upholder of truth and justice, Ngewo's name and ultimate authority are invoked by a diviner seeking to identify a wrongdoer. It is also Ngewo who sends rain down onto the Earth, said to be his wife. Through the release of rain, Ngewo continues to play his role as creator and sustainer of all life. However, Ngewo delegated most of his governing power to ancestral and nature spirits (called dyininga), whose primary responsibility it is to administrate human affairs. Those spirits in effect act as intermediaries between the living and Ngewo. As such, they are venerated and receive prayers, offerings, and sacrifices. However, prayers may also be addressed directly and occasionally to Ngewo.
- Ardyn Boone, S. (1986). Radiance From the Waters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Little, K. (1954). The Mende in Sierra Leone. In D. Forde (Ed.), African Worlds: Studies in the Cosmological Ideas and Social Values of African Peoples (pp. 111–137). London & New York: The International African Institute and Oxford University Press.
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- Olson, J. S. (1996). The Peoples of Africa: An Etbnobistorical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.