“Ndogboyosoi” takes its name from a forest trickster in Mende folklore, a figure that haunts the footpaths of the Sierra Leonean woods, differentiated from normal humans only by the fact that it walks backwards. The ndogboyosoi appears variously as an old man, a beautiful woman, wild game, or anything that may draw his quarry into the deep bush, only to disappear and leave the victim stranded and lost. Ndogboyosoi also gave its name to a period of political turmoil that preceded Sierra Leone’s devastating eleven-year civil war. As rebel soldiers crept across the Liberian border, many officials in the distant capital of Freetown dismissed the threat as an extension of the Ndogboyosoi conflict, allowing the rebels to gain a foothold and the war to spiral out of control.
The Ndogboyosoi thus represents the dangerous deceptions of the Sierra Leonean forest. This multimedia work explores the misleading disparity between idyllic images of Eastern Sierra Leone’s rolling hills and lush vegetation and the terrifying stories of events that have taken place there. The audio presents the voices of local residents as they recount stories of dangerous encounters on the road, from ghost stories to memories of war to tales of traffic accidents. The video uses images of the very same locations taken from the backs of the motorbike taxis that now race across this region, reversing and slowing down their progress in order to encourage a lingering gaze upon a landscape that might otherwise be overlooked. As the Sierra Leone government slowly begins to make due on decades of promises to renovate these roads into major highways, these spaces will, like the disturbing events that happened in them, retreat into memory.
“Ndogboyosoi” screened as an installation at the “Interstices” exhibition, Kochi Biennale, Kochi, India, 2012, and at the American Ethnological Society (AES)/Society for Visual Anthropology (SVA) Spring Conference, 2014.