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The pre-colonial political structure of the Mende ethnic group in Sierra Leone

The Mendes are a group of people found in Sierra Leone. They can be found in the Southern and Eastern parts of Sierra Leone. The Mendes of Sierra Leone constituted some of the biggest ethnic groups, about half of the entire population of modern state. Their political organisation was so structured that they can today be likened to some of the local government systems in the world today.

Paramount Chief
The largest political unit among the Mendes was called Chiefdom. It was headed by a Paramount Chief. The Paramount Chief was selected from among the descendants of the founder of the territory of the Chiefdom. Normally, the one selected was the eldest surviving descendant of the founder of the chiefdom. The main duty of the Paramount Chief was to ensure the maintenance of law and order in his chiefdom. Every piece of land in the Chiefdom was under his custody. Landholding by others was therefore temporary. 

Council of Elders
The Paramount Chief was assisted in his functions by a Council. This Council consisted of a Speaker, Sub-Chiefs, Title Holders and Village Heads. The functions of the Council were to
1.  help ensure law and order
2.  settle land disputes
3   enforcement of the laws of the land
4   punish those who broke the law
5.  take major political decisions (going to war)

Head of Sections
The next political level was the sections. The Chiefdom was divided into Sections and headed by a sectional leader. The section in itself was made up of a group of towns and villages. Like the head of Chiefdom, the head of a section was chosen from among the surviving descendants of the founder of the section. The main function of the head of a section was to make sure there was peace and harmony in his section and that laws and order was maintained.

Small towns and villages
The small towns and villages were grouped together to form a section. The small towns and villages were made up of groups of family units. There were Village Heads who were charged with the duty of maintaining order in the small villages and towns.

Family Heads
There were groups of families in every small town and village. Each of these families was headed by the senior-most male member of the family. His main duty was to ensure peaceful coexistence among family members. Where disputes arose, he was mandated to settle those disputes before they went of hand.

Secret Societies
There were two Secret Societies in Mende land which was mainly to ensure social order and discipline. These were the Poro and the Sande secret societies. Some of their functions included
1. law enforcement
2. Child Education (transfer societal norms and values)
3. Military Recruitment and training
4. Regulation of agricultural activities
5. Performance of religious rituals

Judicial organization
Every member of the Mende society was expected to obey the Code of Laws of the secret societies. The heads of family groups were mandated to settle disputes arising among members of the family. There were also native courts which were presided over by the Paramount Chief of the Chiefdom. 

1. Highlight the pre-colonial political structure of the Mendes in Sierra Leone
2. Describe the pre-colonial political structure of any ethnic group in your country.

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