A Mende Glossary

`On this page I will attempt to explain (if not exactly define) some words and expressions that Salia Koroma uses. They aren’t, every one of them, all necessarily difficult or unusual words or expressions; the uncommon ones bear testament to a world long gone.

This glossary would appear haphazard, and this is deliberate. I’ve no intention whatsoever (which is to say, there’ll be no attempt) to give you an alphabetical list.


A word about pronunciation:

e in final positions is acute accented (he pronounced hay);

i is pronounced like the English e

mb and nd are single articulations, slightly nasalised b and d, not an m followed by a b or an n followed by a d.

kp and gb are single articulations, the gb sound being the voiced mirror image of the kp sound when consonant mutation occurs. Eg. kpaleh (intr. v.) to pain, hurt, or smart, can become gbaleh depending on the word it is contiguous to. Mutation occurs very frequently in Mende: F/V; T/L/D/Nd; K/G/; J/S; L/Nd; P/W/B, etc.

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Banga (n., indef.): an open space in the middle of a village or town, an open public area in a town or village. The definite form of the noun is Bangei (pronounced “ba/ngay”).

Kobanga (koh/ba/nga, n., indef.): a kobanga was a “banga” in a war town; muster ground. Koh means war, so kobanga was essentially a parade ground for the warriors. This is where they mustered before and after a war. Kobangei (def. noun).

Mende (n.): the people, the country

Hedi (adj.) always used with “Mende,” as in Mende hedi. It means the language, culture, customs, laws and traditions of the Mende; “Deep Mende,” is the common translation. Being an expert in the deep knowledge of all things Mende.

Palii (n.): pool (the deep part of a river or stream). In Mende mythology, it is the seat of water spirits and the ancestors.

Fombo (v., transitive): to unfurl, to unfold, to lay out, to stretch out

Vombo, (unvoiced, Fombo)(n., indef.): a (water) current. Vombui/Vomboi is the definite form of the noun.


Nje loh lani Sefadu liandia

Njei na ta tolia Gbensa

Eh leh eh ye

Vombo gbi hun

There is a water in the middle of Sefadu

That water is called Gbensa

It neither flows up nor down

It has no current

Salia Koroma, Fishing For Our Father.

Bawo (v., contracted to bao/bau), to save, to deliver, to heal, to cure. to set free.

Bawoya, (contracted to Bauya, Baoya in informal speech) (n.): deliverance, salvation

Bawoma/Baoma (n.) haven, refuge

Baomoh (n. indef., baomui, n., def.): one who rescues or redeems, saviour

Bayi (n.): blessing, God’s favour

Luba: (n.): blessing. It is also a proper noun, a girl’s name.

(v.): to bless, e.g. Ngewo i bi luba (may God bless you).

(adj.): blessed, sometimes constructed with the prefix “ma.” E.g. Maria maluba goi =the Blessed ((Virgin)) Mary

Gaii/ Gayi (n.): forge, smithy

Gaii Gotu (n.): anvil

Kebbi (n.): smith. It’s also a proper noun, a man’s name

Gaimoh (n., indef.; gaimoi is the definite form): smith

Gbanya (n., indef.; gbanyei is the definite form): tongs, blacksmith’s pincers. It’s also a man’s name.

Ya (n.): suffix, equivalent to the common -hood, -ism, -ship, -y and -ness suffixes in English. This ending, added to the stem of the word in Mende denotes a state or condition.   E.g: Temaya= dominion, supremacy. Mahaya= the state of being a chief/ king, majesty

Jianyoh (n): fellow traveller, travelling companion

Heinyoh (n.): neighbour

Heinyoya (n.) neighbourliness

Heimoh (n.): neighbour

Hota (n.): stranger, visitor, guest

Hotanje (n): landlady, hostess

Hotakeh (n.): host, landlord

Kenye (n.): land, country, nation; the wider world; foreign parts.    It’s also a proper noun, a girl’s name, one born in a strange land/foreign country.

Kenyemoh (n.): a foreigner, someone who isn’t Mende. (kenyemui, def. form of the noun)

Kenye yia (n.): language, foreign language

Kuhamoh (koamoh/kuamoh, in informal speech) (n.): a foreigner, “one from afar.” (koamui, def. form)

Kuhan (adv.): far, a long way from, afar

(adj.): long, tall

Jongoboti (n.): a beanpole, a stringbean, an especially tall person

Kaveh (v.): to eat voraciously, overfilling the mouth

Kapu (v.): to devour, to rob, to plunder, grab forcefully

Kapu hani (n.): booty, plunder, property gained by force

Kapumoh (n.): plunderer, thief

Huma (v.): to steal, to rob

Huma hani (n.): stolen goods, plunder

Humamoh (n.): thief, robber

Joombui (n.): sin

Joombu Hinda (n.): sin, sinful way, something sinful

Joombu Hinde We (v.): to sin, to commit a sin, do something sinful

Kaye (n.): sin, fault, transgression

Kaye (v.): to free of guilt or fault; justify.

-You’ll note that Kaye is a contronym-

When one replies to the question “Kahui ye na?(how are you/how do you do?) with “Kaye i Ngewoh ma” (thank God),” what you’re in fact saying is “(I find) No fault with God, God is faultless.”

Gaye (see Kaye): v. to confess a fault, a wrongdoing, a sin

Kpaleh (n.): pain. grief, grievance, grudge

Kpaleh (v.): to hurt, to pain

Kpaleh-gbia (v.): to complain, to outline a grievance

Kpaleh-gbiamoh (n.): complainant, a person who tells a grievance

Pondo lo (n.): an orphan (Most times it’s shortened to just pondo)

Pohani (n.): an heirloom, an inheritance. (Pohai, in informal Mende)

Pondo nyaha (n.): widow

Pondo hini (n.): widower

Pondoya (n.): orphanhood. (Pondoyei= defi.)

Kugba (n.; kugbei is the definite form): officer, captain, leader

Kokugba (n.): war officer, general, captain of a party of warriors

Maha(n.): king, chief, queen, leader. (def. noun: mahei; Plural forms are mahanga, mahangeisia, and maheisia)

Ndoh Mahei (n.): paramount chief of a chiefdom, literally “chief/king of the land/country”

Lavali (n.): an official who represents and speaks on behalf of “ndoh mahei” (the paramount chief), literally an advocate, a paramount chief’s principal counsel ; a lavali is a ‘prime ministerial’ position.

Pati Mahei (n.): section chief (literal), headman of a chiefdom section/division

Ta Mahei (n.): village headman

Mahalo (n.): a freeborn, freeman, citizen, literally “child of a chief.”

Nduwoh (n.): a slave

Nduwoya (n.): slavery, bondage

Kpomba (n.): a pledge, security (for a loan)

Kpombaya (n.): the state of being under pledge

Pu kpombaya hun (v.): to pawn, “to place under pledge.”

Ngumawo (v.; ngumao in informal speech): to redeem from slavery or bondage, to ransom, to regain from a pledge.

Wumawo (v.): See Ngumawo above.

Sama (n.): a nobleman, prince, chief. By extension a person of rank through wealth or power, a worthy.

Sama Hinda (n.): aristocratic behaviour

Samaya (n.): nobility, the state of being a “sama.” (Samayei= def.)

Sawa (n., Saa in informal speech): law, rule, commandment; a ban, a prohibition. (Sawei). Ex.: Maha a sawei la ngi lileh kpe loh= A king makes the law in his moment of contentment, Mende proverb.

Johwoh (n., indef.): iron chain (Johwei, def. noun)

Sawo ( adv.; in informal speech: Sao): no

Eye (adv;  pronounced  “ay-ye): yes,  all right, fine

Fale 1(conj.): therefore. 2 (n.): reason, as in “Ji vale/Aji fale=for this reason.”

Keh (conj. and adv.): and, then, thus, yet, so that, then.

Sulleh (n.): waterfall, rapids in a river; noise.

Popa (n.): a lake (Popei, def.)

Popawo (n.): a puddle, pooling water. (Popawei, def. form of noun)

Tii (n.): island

Njagbo (n.): a lake-like body of shallow water attached to a river or stream

Kpoli (n): a creek, stream

Batii (n.): a field, usually one that’s seasonally flooded.

Tombo (n.): a ghost town, an abandoned village. (Tombui/tomboi).

Njaneneh (n): a water strider

Njalo (n): a mythical water spirit with a shiny, silvery head and the body of a snake.

Tingo (n.): a rivermaid (mermaid), a female water spirit that’s half human and half fish. When used figuratively it means a beautiful woman.

Siboni (n.): filthiness, slime, muck, foul and disease-ridden matter, rubbish

Njagbili (n.): rain clouds. (Njagbii, in informal speech)

Ligbili (adj.): cloudy, mucky

Konu (n.): branch of a palm tree

Jaja (n.): the hard, serrated thorns on a palm branch

Mbeke (n., indef.; Mbekei = def.): a tree branch.

Fama (n.): greetings, salutation, a social call, a visit. (In consonant mutation, it becomes Vama)

Va (v.): to greet, to call on, to visit, to shake hands, to send regards

Va (n.): news, information (Vei)

Va ve (v.): to give news, to bring up-to-date, to apprise (someone) of

Tonya (n.): truth, honesty, rightness, certainty, correctness

(adj.): true, right, just, honest, truthful. Ex. Tonya moh mia a biye= You’re an honest person.

Tonya hinda (n.): truthfulness, justice, righteousness

Totu (n.): messenger, usually between lovers

Ex. Ngi gahue keh ngi totu mo lua= Before I could cross it (the border) I saw a messenger, S. Koroma.

To (v): to send, to dispatch, to commission;

to point, to aim. (Depending on the word next to it, To mutates to Lo, or to Do in the kpa-Mende dialect)

Tomoh (n.): a messenger

Tobla (n., pl.): messengers, apostles, as in Tobla Ti Wehindesia =Acts of the Apostles

To (v. tr.): to erect, to build, to stand (something) up;

(v. intr.): to stand. (Mutates to Lo depending on its environment. It mutates to Do in kpa-Mende).

Tombu (n.): a back-up singer, by extension chorus

Kendeh (v.): to drag or to pull, like a net; to lead forcefully, as with captives.

Gendeh (v.): see Kendeh above.

Gendei (n): an assemblage, a crowd brought together by compulsion. (See Gendeh)

Kposo (n.): a trap made mostly of earth that crushes the game when it’s triggered.

Mani (n.): a trap, the generic name for any trap. Note: there’s a specific name for each trap

Bembi/Bimbi (n): a round net with a rigid stick frame for fishing in creeks, streams and shallow ends of rivers.

Kala (n.): a fish trap set in a weir or dam (Kaa)

Mbumbu /Mbumbui (n.): a fish pot

Piyei (n.): fish basket

Kanyama (n.): window (Kanyami, definite form of the noun)

Fogba (v., transitive): to hit, to strike, to whip

Gbakpa (v., transitive): to fasten, to nail, to plant (as a stake or a pillar), to strengthen,

2. (v., intransitive) to kneel

Baa (n.): respect, honour, worth, value (of people), price

Bagoma (n.):, respect, honour, worth ( “Ba goh ma”, literally, recognise the worth of someone, or give respect/honour to )

Songoi/Jongoi (n.): price, value, worth of something

Salo (n.): orange (in the kpa, Sewama and Wanjama dialects of Mende)

Lumbei (n.): orange (in the koh-Mende dialect)

Lumbi (n.) lime (in kpa-, Sewama, Wanjama dialects)

Lumbei Nyenye (n.): lime (koh-Mende dialect)

Faka (n.): eaves (Fakei, def. form)

Sindei (n.): eaves, rainwater gathered from eaves

Chindei (see Sindei above)

Sende (v.): to strain, to pour (liquid)

Chende (v.): see Sende above

Kpakpa Gohtu (n.): a rock buried with amulets and medicine when a village or town was founded, the amulets as protection and the rock as a symbol of permanence and indestructibility. A rock wasn’t always used, in which case we’re dealing with just a “kpakpa.”

(In many songs Salia refers to himself as “Kpakpa-gohti, Ta-Luva”.)

Kama (adj.): unusual, weird, odd, wonderful, out of the ordinary, unexpected, marvelous, marvel, strange, magical.

For emphasis the word is often duplicated (kama kama), the first kama playing the intensifying adverbial role of “very” or “too” in English

Kamala or Kama (n.): Poro Society meeting ground, also the entrance/gate to the Poro bush (or meeting place)

Kamasoh/Kamacho/Kamajoh (n.): historically a skilled hunter of big and dangerous game like elephants, bush pigs, and bush cows. Over and above his bush craft, such a hunter was reputedly skilled in the magic arts.

Kanjia (adj.; n., masc): a quarrelsome man, a contentious person; a proper noun

Manjia (adj.; n., fem.) a quarrelsome woman, a proper noun given to a girl whose pregnancy was characterised by discord between the parents

Sekkulo (def. Sekkului) (n.): a speckled hawk. Sekkui, in informal speech

Sekpendeh (n.): a greyish hawk

Bimbaon (n.): dummy, dimwit, dullard

Kande (adj.): unusual, curious, weird, complicated, freakish, astonishing,critical

Gande (v.): to confuse, to throw (someone) into confusion, to confound, to puzzle/to be puzzled, to befuddle, to dazzle

Bottani (n.): clenched fist. (bottai, informal)

Ndapi (n.): a fight, skirmish, battle

Koh (n): war. (def.= koi)

Lappi (v.): to fight

Goh (v.): to do battle

Kakpa (v.): to besiege, to encircle, to surround, to plot against, to conspire against

Koi kakpa nya ma/ Gbeh ngi nunga loi ti wa

(I’m under siege/So I’ll call for relief to come)

-Salia Koroma, Janeneh Bembe

Kakpa hinda (n.): conspiracy

Kakala (v.): to encircle (with), to go around. (Kaa, or kakaa, in informal speech).

-(adj.): windy, crooked

Jowo (n.): enemy, foe (def.= jowui)

Kpindi (n.): night, darkness, obscurity

Kpindiweleh (n.): prison (inf.=kpindiweh), literally, house of darkness

Kafa (adj.): crooked, dishonest, deceitful

Kafa (v.): to cheat, to swindle

Gafa (v.) See Kafa above

Sassi (v.): eschew, abstain, avoid (someone/something) as if they/it would contaminate; to treat with contempt

Jassi (v.): see Sassi above

Sondeh (v.) : to hold in contempt (by sucking air through the teeth), to insult (thus), to sneer at, to slight

Jondeh (v.) see Sondeh above. (Jondeh is the voiced mirror image of Sondeh)

Sondei (n.): contempt expressed by sucking air through the teeth

Ka (n.): a male honorific for mythic, historic and legendary people and characters. Ex., the spider of folk tales is called KaSillo; founding fathers of chiefdoms had the Ka in front of their names, KaYamba, KaKowa

Yama (v.): to return, to go back, to put back

Gama (v.) see Yama

Yogobe (adv.): an echomimetic meaning among other things: every which way, pell-mell, haphazardly

Ndake (n.): fellow, mate, comrade, man, peer, colleague. It’s used among men of the same age group, or an older man to younger one.

Ndovo (n.): toad

Gboniaya (n.): quandry, a headache, a complexe situation, a place of lamentation, a situation that could lead to grief

Gbonyeh (v.): to compain, murmur, bemoan

Kpulli (n.): knurl (on a tree)

Kputi (n.): tadpole

Bongloh (n.): tadpole, in the kpa-Mende dialect

Gona (v.): to report to, to present

Magona (v.): see Gona above

Komeh (v.): to meet, to accost, to approach

Komeh (n.): meeting, gathering, assembly, feast, festivities

– a girl’s name, one born during a festive season

Gomeh (v.): see Komeh above

Fiti fata (adv.): anyhow, any which way, disorderly, freely, willy-nilly

Kulii (n.): pen, coop, enclosure for bathing

Lato (v.): to praise, to acclaim, to glorify, to exalt. From la (mutation of nda, ndei): name + to: to raise, to lift up, to erect, to build up.

Bato (v.): to praise, to glorify. From Ba (respect, worth, honour, value)+ to (to raise, to lift up)

Bijeh (v.): to praise, to pay reverence (to)

Pennei (n): ringworm

Kanii (n.): precious or semi-precious metal, money. Kani-gboli (red metal) can refer to gold, brass and copper. Kani-goli (white metal) is silver.

Gbanda (n.) (gbandei): baldness (on top of the head and towards the back)

Yeleh (n.) (yelei): baldness (from the forehead towards the top of the head)

Gbasondeh (n.): tree frog

Mbaka (mbakei) (n.): a robust,coiled forest vine used as rope, accordion rope; accordion ( the name was applied to the accordion when the Mende came in contact with the instrument in the late 19th, early 20th centuries).

Kpavenja (adj.): rude, ill-mannered, vulgar, offensive

Hakeh (n.): curse, malediction

Haketo (n.): an excuse

Haketo (v.): to excuse, to pardon

Simalii (n.): fresh (new), very limpid palm oil

Gloh gboli (n.): palm oil, literally red oil

Gloh (n.): oil, fat, lard

Nda gloh (n.): palm kernel oil

Fakali (fakai) (n.): pawpaw (papaya)

Fakai (n.):, a small village, hamlet, a place of no significance

Sii (n.): tops

Tokpoh (n.): oil palm tree

Toma (n.): rank, standing, meaning, signification.

Ex: “Keh ti kpeleh ti loe toma hoe” -S. Koroma, Fishing for Our Father. (But indeed each one had a meaning unto itself

Popo (v.): to carry on the back, as with a baby, to ride piggyback

Pimeh (v.) to run

Wimeh (v.): see Pimeh above

Tomoh tomoh (adj.): lukewarm, tepid

Taotao (adj.): (of food) tasteless, bland, without flavour

Tava tava (adj.): rubbery (of food)

Kona (n.): axe (Konii, def.)

Kona (v.): to give a report, to account (for), to give an account (of), to answer

Gona (v.): see Kona above

Konigui (n.): centipede, literally “axe-head”

Ndondoh (n.): millipede

Kaa Londoh (n.): flat-backed millipede

Timi timii (n.): pins and needles, numbness

Dumbeh (n.): half-wit, moron

Kalii (n.): a hoe

Sondu (n.): imprecations, curse,

(v.):to wish harm on, to invoke malediction

Chondu (n.): see Sondu above

Sondo (v.): to tie (the mouth of a bag), to shut tight (as with a drawstring)

Chondo (v.): see Sondo above

Gowo (v., trans.): to take flight, to fly, to float (in the air)

Bubu (v., trans): to fly

Ndigbi (n.): heel

Ngombi (n.): knee; also a proper noun, a man’s name

Wombi (n.) see Ngombi above (consonant mutation)

Vovoh (n., indef.; vovoi, is the definite form of the noun): lungs, bellows

Ndo (n., indef.): child, descendant (ndui, def. noun)

Lo/Lui (indef def. nouns when consonant mutation occurs): child/ the child

Lenga (n.): children, descendants, lineage, offspring. (There’re two chiefdoms in the Bo District with “Lenga” in their names: (a) Niawa Lenga (or Nyawa Lenga), Scions of Nyawa, and (b) Selenga, Scions of Sei)

Kekeh (n.): father

Keh (n.): dad

Nkeh (n., kpa-Mende): dad

Keh (v.): to show, to demonstrate, to illustrate; to instruct, to teach

Kaa (v.): to teach, to instruct; to learn

Gaa (v.): see Kaa above

Kamoh (n.): teacher, master

Kaalopo (indef., n.): pupil, learner, student (kalopoei/kaalupui, def.)

Beh (pronounced be-eh; pronoun intensifier): self. Example: Nyabeh, tabeh, tiabeh, muabeh– myself, him/herself, themselves, ourselves

Beh (pronounced beh; adj.): fitting, becoming, appropriate, well-suited

(v.): to fit, to suit.

Daon (adj.): bright, shiny

Temui (n.): a dwarfish mythical being that lives in the forest.

Ndogbo Joso/Ndogbo yoso (n.): a mythical forest being that leads solitary walkers astray, with the intent to change them from their human form and to keep them as slaves. (Ndogbo Joso means “Magician of the Bush”).

Kalikonjo (n.): a mythical forest being

Kenji (n.): the seed of the raffia palm

Kenjigulo (n.): a venomous snake, colour of the kenji.

Kayi (adj.): rust, rusty, rusted

Nenemoh (n.): spy, literally “shadow-person.”

Naa (n.): now, presently, at this moment

Miji (n.): needle

Fande (n.): thread

Tikpoh (n.): walking stick, cane

Kenneh (n.): edge, (along the) length.

Eg. “Ngi hinteh woh Teye ma; ngi loe kenneh ma, ngi leffoh a Teye na” ( I then came upon the Teye River; I went along its length, upstream that Teye I went.”)Salia Koroma, Fishing for our Father

(adj.): sharp (blade)

Mamani (adj.): vain, conceited, proud, arrogant, stuck-up

(n.): vanity, pride, arrogance, conceit

Bomuko (n.): dove

Hoke (n.): guinea fowl

Nunni (n.): otter

Mayigande (n.): sharp dresser, clotheshorse, dandy. From Mayi, to dress, + Gande (mutated from Kande), to befuddle, to dazzle

Kokobiyoko/Kokobioko (n.): abracadabra, hocus-pocus

Hele/Hilli (n.): elephant

Ndamba (n.): crocodile

Panda (adv.): well, completely, fully, carefully

(adj.): better

Langa (n.): insolence, defiance, impertinence, disrespect

(adj.): mischievous, miscreant, cheeky

Ngomani/Ngomeni (n.): obedience, dutifulness

(adj.): respectful, obedient, faithful, dutiful

Patui (n.): journey, travel, adventure, aimless travel. The origin is from colonial-era administrative English, patrol, a quasi-military excursion undertaken by a district commissioner to tour the area under his jurisdiction. It must have seemed aimless.

Bamande (n.): bell

Bekkeh (n., indef.): palm grub, larva of the rhinoceros beetle

Samba (v.): to give a gift, to give a present

Chamba or Jamba (v.): see Samba above

Sambei (n.): a gift, a present

Samba (n., indef.): basket

Sambo (v.): to shame, to dishonour, to disgrace

Jambo (v.): see Sambo above. (Consonant mutation has occured here)

Semeh (n.): an open-sided house, meeting house, courthouse

Ndokoh (n.): pillar, column, post, joist

Lohkoh (n.): see Ndokoh above; its mutated form

Semmeh Lokkoh: a nosey parker, a newsmonger. Literally, a meeting house post, but it’s meant in its figurative usage to mean a gossip. This expression refers to a tattler, as the pillar is humorously thought of as hearing all sorts of talks that go on in the semmeh, and that if it could talk, it would pass on any unverifiable news.

Sao (proper n.): name given to the first born of twins

Jinna (proper n.): name given to the second born of twins

Gbessay (proper n.): name of a child born after twins

Jekeh (indef. n.): a rattle (jekei, def. noun)

Nde (v.): to play, to beat, to hit

Le (v.): see Nde above

Feh (v.): to play (a wind instrument), to blow. ” Numu hokpa ta bulu le keh feh wati a hiti beh” = A nose is a trumpet but a time comes to blow/play it, Mende saying

Hama (n.): rainy season (Hamei)

Ngelevo (n.): dry season (Ngelevui)

Ngevo/ Ngevui : See Ngelevo/Ngelevui above. Shortened forms, used in everyday speech.

Ngele (n.): sky, the heavens

Ngelegohun (n.): heaven

Ngelebu (Ngebu) (n.): the earth, on earth, literally, ‘under the heavens,’ the world

Ngelebu Hinda (n.): the ways of the world, all that is manifest on earth

Ngewo (n.): God the creator, God.

Lehve (n.): God, the ancient word for God in the Mende creation myth.

Penipeni (adj.): sharp, pointed end.

Pepi (Pepe, koh-Mende dialect)(n.): tiny shrimp, usually used as an uncountable noun. Pepi are usually allowed to go high and used as flavouring in cooking.

Weniweni (v., adv.):to stream out, streaming

Wojuwoju (v., adv.): to stream forth, streaming out

Woji (n.): pudenda

Woji (adj.): lewd, lascivious, horny, lecherous;

Wojigbeh (v.): to whore about, to fornicate, to have sex, to sleep around

Wojigbemoh (adj.): a promiscuous person, philanderer. Literally, “one-who-chases- pudenda.”

Tewi (n.): bush cow, the reddish short-horned West African buffalo

Tupu (n.): Sierra Leone/Liberian forest (West African) puff adder, extremely venomous. (Tupui, def. noun)

Tewutewi (adj.): from the word Tewi, to describe cassava that doesn’t become soft when it’s cooked and is reddish in hue. This would happen to cassava roots that have remained too long in the ground beyond their harvesting time. Can also be referred to as Tewu langay

Totonyo (n., adj.): wrinkles, wrinkled

Toh (n.): good name, repute, reputation, fame

Tohwa (n.): great fame, great renown, great acclaim

Towama (n.): “place of great renown” (the name of a village in the Tikonko Chiefdom, the site of a former Teachers’ Training College, now one of the constituent colleges of Njala University).

Tumbu (n): a dwarf

Lumbe (v.): to rebuke (someone) loudly, to slam, to bellow, to roar (sea), rumble (thunder)

Kpawo (n.):an unmarried man or woman, a bachelor, a single

Kpawoya (n.): the state of being a single

Seneo (n.): congratulations, a congratulatory expression, well done

Jegunle (n.): albino (Jengui is the form used in normal every day speech)

Fe (n.): pot, bowl, jar

Ve (n.): See Fe above

Tawa Ve (n.): tobacco pipe (Tave is the informal, every day speech form)

Tawa (n.): tobacco

Haku (n.): tortoise (Hakui, def. noun)

Hainjo (n.): a recent graduate from the Sande or Poro

Togbeh (n.): mate, fellow, compeer, colleague (Only used among men who graduated from the Poro Society in the same cohort).

Togbeh (n.): young, immature (as it applies to animals). Ex., Nika logbeh =young cow, calf

Logbeh (Dogbeh, kpa-Mende): See the 2nd Togbeh above. (Consonant mutation).

Hunvo (v.): to go through, to escape, to go safely through, make one’s way from one end to the other (eg. “Te hun vo= go through a town”); experience, undergo

Jabeyia (n): innuendo, hint, an indirect coarse observation or biting talk (dropped in someone’s direction without specifically calling them by name but with enough information in it for the person to know that they’re the target). Jabeyiei (def. form)

Tondoh (n.): a large rat

Tondoh Mani (n.): rat trap

Totangi (n.): a trap to catch birds

Kibawo/Kibao (v): to dream

Kibawi/Kibaoi (n.): a dream

Henga (v.): dream

Hengawi/Hengaoi (n.): dream (Hengei)

Higboh (n.): a wasp that builds open nests

Jenjilo (n.): a large black spider

Silo (n.): spider (the generic name for spiders)

Jenjeh (n.): rubber tree, rubber obtained from the sap of the tree

Kabande (n.): miracle, a wonderful or curious thing

(adj.): miraculous, quirky, wild and out of sorts (behaviour)

Kpindiboh (n.): literally, “one who bores into darkness,” a person who roams the night, a nightwalker (with or without criminal intent; also, the term doesn’t necessarily have a moral judgement implied)

Kagbana (adj.): rascally, mischievous

Gbana (n.) rascal

Jiwi (n.): key

Kunda (n.): corner, nook

Kundei, def. form of noun Kunda. Ex., “Taa laye kundei na hun”= It’s in that corner

Kemu-kemu (n.): restlessness, dissatisfaction

Sogbeh (v.): to observe, to look at very closely, to note, to pay heed (to), to pay close attention (to)

Jogbeh (v.): see Sogbeh above

Jumbu (n.): sin, wickedness. (Jumbui: definte form of the noun)

Kpaleh (v.): to bemoan, to rue, to regret

Komi (n.): snot, nasal mucus

Kandi (n): a tree with a sugary-sour plum, called ‘monkey-apple tree’ in Krio. When used figuratively the Kandi (tree) in Mende represents fickleness, unreliability.

Kandi We (n.): fruit of the Kandi

Ligba (n.): the second highest official of the Sande society

Liho (n.): forebearance, tenacity, heart , long-suffering

Lindo (n.) bravery, courage (Lindui is the definite form of the noun)

Lilo (n.): bravery

Lombo (v.): to patch

Lomeh (adv.): quietly, silently, softly. The word is often replicated for extra emphasis. Ex.: “Nga jia lomeh lomeh ( I walk very softly, very quietly).”

Maga (v.): to dance to the time of music, to dance to a tune

Ka (v.): to dance

Make (n.): manners, civility

Makeh (v.): to raise, rear, to bring up, to tame (animals)

Makelo (v.): a ward, an adopted child

Makeveli (n.): ill-brought up (person or behaviour); Literally, ‘lacking manners.’

Makeveli (adj.): rude, uncivil, uncultured, ill-mannered. (From Make, ‘civility, manners’ + Felii, ‘privation, dearth, total lack .’)

Sangama (n.): tripod (of a loom). (def.: Sangamei)

Nini (n.): heddle. “Bi yegi kia nini wova” (Mende proverb)= You look like an old heddle, meaning: You’re as shabby-looking as a decrepit heddle.

Sema (n., indefinite): bamboo tree/cane, (Semi, def. )

Sabu (n.): (1) kindness, goodwill, benevolence

(2) wherewithal, means, ability (to extend kindness), finances

Kanu (v.): to wind (like a rope, thread), to go round, to depart or to turn from a straight line

(adj.): crooked, bent

Kabui (n.): grave, tomb

Kamba (n., indef.): grave, tomb (kambei, def.)

Kambajia/ Kambajehun (n.): graveyard, cemetery

Kamba (n.): clothing

Kalo (n., indef.): a bowl, a dish, a basin (kalui, def.)

Kimbui (bu) (n.): valley, bottom of a hill

Kimbo (n.): a cricket

Membu (n.): a small bird with a red head

Gbofio (n.): a small bird whose cry is said to channel the voice of spirits; figuratively, a gossip

Gboji (n): a plum with a spiky core, the tree of this plum

Pawa (n.): payment, reward, recompense, pay

(v.): to pay, to reward

Vole (v.): to whistle

Fole (n.): whistle

Hembei (n.): domain, kingdom, crown

So (n.): horse (Sui, def.)

Sande (n.): an all-female institution responsible for the various rites of passages of women in Mende society.

Sande Jowo (n.): the highest ranked official of the Sande. The term is also used loosely to embrace any woman who’s graduated from the Sande. (Sande Jowui, def.)

Sowo (n.): see Sande Jowo above. Leader. (Sowei, def.)

Sowo (n.): the spiritual essence of the Sande

Sowo (n.): the physical manifestation (mask, raffia and the wearer) of the spirit of Sande as it appears in public

Sande Mania (n.): the Sande Sisterhood, Women of the Sande, the full association in its membership

Mania (n., plur.): Women, grandmothers

Vonu (n.): last year

Pegba (n.): month (moon) that roughly corresponds to January

Vu (n.) the moon (month) that corresponds to February

Nanoi (n.): July

Pondo (n.): December

Saa (n.): September

Saa Ye (n.): September rain/ showers

Lugbu (n.): moon that corresponds to November

Lugbu       (1: noun.): fog, mist

(2: adj.):  misty, foggy

Mita (n.): spoon

Kpewo (n.): (1) wooden spoon used in cooking

(2): side stitch, side cramp

Miji (n.): Needle, a warrior rank in old Mende warfare. He was also called Hintemoh (the One-Who-Jumps-Down). He led an attack on a stockaded town, and every attack required only one miji.

Fande (n.): Thread, a warrior rank

Kanyei (n.): Wax, a warrior rank

Hakahomoi (n.): Ladder-holder, a warrior rank

Kokoyagbebla (n.): Drivers-from-the-stockade, a warrior rank

Koh Kugba (n.): warrior

Ngombu Hobla (n.): Bearers-of-Fire, a corps of warriors who engaged the fight at its hottest spot, they were in the midst of the battle

Gbamei (n.): Ordinary, the reserve/reinforcement

Koh Jukulisia (n.): War-Sparrows, young recruits who were usually carriers but who could be called upon to fight.

Koh Mahei (n.): War-chief, the general. The war-chiefs would participate in the fight only if things weren’t going according to plan.

Tiffa (n.): leaf

Mbaku (n.): weaver bird

Sukuli (n.): sparrow   (sukui/sukii, informal, everyday speech)

Jemi/ Jemeko (n.): kingfisher

Kole (n.): snail

Fafa Kole (n.): soft-shelled snail

Kokoye/Kokoe (n.): pheasant, bush fowl

Kule (n.): lizard

Jaka kule (n.): agama lizard

Kpeni (n.): a type of lizard

Gissi/Giji gbeni (n.): skink, (literally Kissi lizard)

Dowui (n.): 1. duck; also a proper noun, a man’s name

2. (n.): a shy person

Simongama (n.): incest

Songba (v.): (1) to peck, to peck at

(2) to snatch

Tenjama (n): literally, “Crossing-the-Water.” In traditional Mende funeral rites, ceremony that was held three days or four days after burial ( 3= women/ 4= men). The soul of the departed was then believed to have crossed the river and was now at rest.

Teveh (adj.): thin and flat

Teveh Leveh (adj.): very thin and flat



Ita/Taa  (cardinal): one

Haleyei (ordinal): first

Fele  (card.): two

Feleyei/Yefele (ord.): second

Sawa (card.): three

Sawayei/ Yesawei (ord.): third

Naani (card.): four

Yenanigoi  (ord.): fourth

+++++++              +++++++++++++        +++++++      ++++++++++++

Tamaa (adj.): foolish, reckless, improvident

Tamaa hinda (n.): foolishness, recklessness, wastefulness, prodigal, prodigality, squandering, improvidence

Tamamoh (n.): foolish person, a fool, a wasteful person, a prodigal person

Tama-gbeh (v): waste time, squander time/opportunity,

Temu (v.):  (in law) to decide a court case in favour of, to win a  court decision, to be proved right, to have the justness of your claim upheld. (Lemu, when the word mutates)

Temu (v.): to plead, to solicit, to ask for forgiveness, to beseech

Konneh (adv.) please

Dayele (adv.): please, do please

Manuma (v.): to forgive, to grant pardon

Muamua (n.): the physical sensation felt before something that leaves one in awe and wonderment; dread, respect and consternation all rolled up in one.

Kitii    1.(n.): problem that’s particularly difficult to resolve, enigma, between a rock and a hard place, a vexatious issue

2. (v.): to perplex, to thwart, to be between a rock and a hard place

Kpato (n.): a riverine hardwood tree

Kimbo (n.): cricket (insect)

Kimbu (n.): valley, bottom of a hill

Kiimbo  1. (v.): to belch (mutates to Giimbo)

2 (n.): a belch, an eructation

Kpanya (adj.): coarse, rough  (Kpanya kpanya: extremely coarse)

Kpeleh (n.): beard

Kpele-vanja  1. (adj):  luxuriant beard

2. (n.) someone with a full luxuriant beard

Luva (v.): to spend the day in a place; to sojourn in a place for any number of days. (Wuva, mutated form)

*****                                         **********                               *****



Wati (n.): time

Watigbi (adv.): always, all the time

Watiji (adv.): now, this time, at this time, at this instant

Watina (adv.): at that time, then, at that instant

Ha (n., adv. & adj.): today, present-day, now

Gboi (n. & adj.): yesterday

Sina (n. & adv.): tomorrow, the future, soon

Gbengi ( n. & adv.): yesterday, formerly,  in the past, before now, way back, previously

Gboi-Yekei (noun phrase, past t.) : the day before yesterday, two days ago

Gbengi- Yekei  (n. phrase):   used to talk about an event/action anterior to another past event or action

Sina-Yekei (n. phrase): the day after tomorrow, in the future

Vonu  (n. phrase): last year

Fuiji (n. phrase): this year, the current year

Folo (n.): day, sun, year (understood in Mende as the sun completing a full orbit round the sun)  In the economy of speech, “Fo” is the norm; “Vo” is the mutated form of “fo.”

Fole (n.) (pronounced “foe/lay”): sun, day.

** It is also a proper noun, a man’s name (Most times, the ancient honorific “Ka” is added to give Kafole). ** For a female, it is “Mafole or “Mafo.”**

Kpindi (n.): night .

**(A male born at night can be christened “Kakpindi,” a female “Magbindi.”)**

Genda (n.): morning

**A proper noun for a male child born at dawn; for a female child, the equivalent name is “Magenda.”)**

Gelewo/ Gewo/**Ngewo/ Ngelewo (n.): dawn, break of day,  (literally, “clearing or opening of the sky/heavens,” or “undarkening of the sky/heavens.”)

**The “n” in  “Ngewo” is not really articulated separately from the “g.”  The “g” is just slightly nasalised. The “N”  (and the “M”) followed by another consonant is nothing more than a “visual” signal for the slightest of nasalisation in the Mende language.

Fitii (n.): dusk, twilight

Fitii Lave (n.): literally, “Dusk-full-to the-brim, complete twilight.”  The briefest of time between dusk and complete darkness.   E.g.: “Fitii yeh kinii lave ma, keh ngi ndia na ti ma…” : Dusk was about to turn to full night, it was then that I told them…”, Salia Koroma, Yohmei.

Kpohkoh (n.): 1. sunset, evening;  2. night, used in the expression “Mu kpohkoh: Good night.”

+++++                          +++++                  +++++             +++++

Fissa (adj.): better, healthier, superior

(v.): to be better, to improve, to get better/stronger/healthier

Fesseh (v.): to scratch about (like a chicken), to dance, to shuffle

Sale (n.): proverb, parable, allegory

Tato (v.): to begin, to start

Tatoma (n.): beginning, start, origin, genesis

Kaja (n.): piassava fibre  (Kajei= def. noun)

Biliya/ Bilii (n.): circumcision

He Biliya (v.): to circumcise

Danyeh (n.): Sierra Leonean freshwater gar. (Danyii/ danyei, def. noun)

Faji (n.): bucket

Hakoh (n.): hail, frost

Haleweleh (n.): hospital, clinic, “medicine house” (Haleweh, contracted, everyday Mende)

Hale (n.; halei/halii: def. n.) :  1) medicine, herbal medicine, drug (medication);

-2) the natural and mystical powers that are controlled by certain “Societies” called halesia (n., pl.). These associations are the Poro, the Sande, the Njaye, and the Humoi;

-3) each of the masquerades associated with the “halesia” in (2) is called a “hale” or “ngafa” (spirit); the masked dancers are a physical manifestation of the spirit and mystery of the “Medicine Society.” . The Krio word “debul,” (“devil”) doesn’t apply in Mende.

Hale (v.): to heal, to cure, to make whole again.

Hondoh ( num.; adj.) hundred

Hondoh Puu (num.; adj.): thousand (= ten hundreds)

Fonde (n.): asthma, difficult breathing

Fonde (v., transitive & intransitive): to choke (breathing), gag, gasp (for breath), throttle, asphyxiate.   Salia Koroma was called (and referred to himself as) Mbaka-Vonde, The-One-who-throttles-an-accordion.)

Nimisa (n.): misfortune, destruction, ruin, damnation, extreme difficulty, severe judgement

Njahele (n.): hippopotamus




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