This is a typical fish net style hammock, claimed here by Pastor Kobba during our visit to Sanhan village.
While sitting on my porch this morning, chatting with ELCSL colleagues, reference was made to my hammock hanging there, and this led to a discussion about the tradition of carrying paramount chiefs to special meetings in hammocks. The hammock used for this purpose was specially made with a traditional woven fabric (country cloth), and it was designed to allow the chief to sit upright while being carried by four men. This tradition seems, however, to have disappeared since the rebel war; today chiefs and other “big men” arrive by car.
Earlier in Lent I had speculated with other colleagues and friends what means of transport Jesus would use to enter Freetown, if the events of Palm Sunday were to take place here today. (Donkeys are not known in Sierra Leone.) The consensus idea for a Sierra Leonean equivalent to a donkey was an “omalankee” cart typically used to haul heavy items throughout the city. Omalenkees are humble and common, although not normally used to transport people. This morning, however, we decided that if Jesus were to seek a triumphant entry into Freetown in the traditions of Sierra Leone, he might enter the city in a hammock, carried and proclaimed as “chief.”
Omalankees can be hired to haul just about anything through the streets of Freetown.
On Maundy Thursday last week I celebrated with the Lutheran community of St. Paul in the eastern part of Freetown, and in my sermon we had further discussions about the role of chiefs. St. Paul’s had not previously worshiped on Maundy Thursday, and members had never before participated in a foot washing service according to the traditions of the day. So we talked about the scripture reading from John 13 describing Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Sierra Leonean society is organized, to a great extent, along strict hierarchical lines, and there are unwritten rules governing behavior and interaction between those of high status and ordinary men and women. Chiefs, for example, would never carry water or engage in menial labor. Chiefs would never stoop to do the work of a servant or wash the feet of others. For Jesus — master and “chief” to do such a thing is well understood as a great and unusual act of love and service.
For our Maundy Thursday worship, St. Paul’s evangelist –Tennyson Bindi — and I proceeded then to wash the feet of all the members of the church. All participated, from the youngest to the oldest. When we finished, the water in the basin was quite muddy, as the feet we washed were dirty from all the steps taken in the heat and dust of the day. It strikes me that in the US, our practice of ancient Christian traditions is a bit sanitized. Here, the washing of feet really was a practical service of grace ,and a reflection of our ongoing need for cleansing waters both physically and spiritually. And in a culture that upholds the primacy of “big men,” Jesus’ actions are a startling challenge to the established order. He says: “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you…. By this they will know that you are my disciples , if you have love for one another.”
Members and friends of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Kissy (eastern Freetown). This photo was taken late in Febuary when we visited to see the work being done to prepare mud bricks for building new walls.
Against this backdrop of holy week discussions and devotions, and in a city crowded to overflowing with holiday pilgrims, my own celebration of Easter began in the dark at Lumley Beach on the Atlantic Ocean. Dawn began breaking into the darkness about 6 am on Sunday morning and although the sun was hidden behind Freetown’s dusty haze, a sunrise service at the beach was an ideal way to begin the day. Those who gathered on the beach shared a breakfast of bread and fish.
"Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus." (John 21:4)
Later in the morning I participated in worship at St. Mark’s in Calaba Town, and in the evening I hosted a potluck picnic complete with campfire and marshmallows. All day long, we celebrated the Easter truth: Christ is risen, and he is known to us in the breaking of the bread.
Easter Eucharist at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Bishop Barnett presiding. 14 candidates were baptized on Easter morning.