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Sierra Leoneans Put On a Show at Paddle Parade

Thousands of Sierra Leoneans lined the streets of Freetown to participate in the annual Paddle Parade on Monday which was a public holiday to mark the Moslem feast of Eid ul Adha.  Reminiscent of the sights and sounds of Carnival in Rio de Janiero or Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the parade route started in Cline Town in the east  and ended at St. John in the west end of Freetown.  Paddle is more like a social club than a secret society.

Paddle Parade in Freetown

Like a heavyweight boxing match where the main event is left for last, several masked “devils” and acts appeared before the main Paddle devil. There was Sarah the Great a musician, currently with many hits on the Sierra Leone music scene waving to jubilant fans. There was the Matoma Devil from Wellington with a hideous looking mask that makes Sierra  Leoneans wonder at its supernatural powers.  Someone in the crowd said it was a Limba devil. When the Matoma Devil chose to kneel down in the middle of Kissy Road, all spectators, urged on by the devil’s handlers promptly did the same.  A man in the crowd swore that the devil’s powers were extraordinary. One of the devil’s attendants waved to a photographer to refrain from taking photos.

There was the Dogboi Devil which was described as a Mende Devil. Occasionally, the devils would spot someone in the crowd and make a beeline toward that person for a personal performance.  The person would give a donation. A woman danced on stilts as comedians entertained the crowd. Energetic young men with drums and heavy boxes slung around their necks provided a deafening cacophony of music. So did cars and trucks carrying giant stereo systems rigged to electrical generators. A drunk briefly put his drink on the roof of one such car while he hitched his pants. When he turned around, the car was half a block away, he staggered after it, prompting laughter from the crowd. Several vendors sold hard liquor from open carts known as omolankes. The smell of marijuana wafted from where a group of youths stood on the roof of a building.

There were gasps when the Paddle Devil, the object of the parade made its appearance surrounded by several attendants. People in the crowd expressed amazement at the great artistry that went into creating the great wildebeest head of the devil. Several bells and assorted shells hung from the back. Members of the Paddle society were clad in red and carried red mini paddles.  Several senior government officials and civil servants were spotted among them.  The Sierra Leone Police directed traffic and mediated little disputes among the crowd. No arrests were reported.