This is not the kind of outfit most people slip into on a lazy Sunday morning, but while everyone else is nursing a dirty hangover and reading the horoscope section of the Sunday papers, Harold Sutton-Koroma is dressing up for church. Harold’s wife, Reverend Christiana Sutton-Koroma is the big boss of St. Paul’s Evangelical parish in Freetown and sitting in the front pew each week eagerly listening to her sermons you are guaranteed to find her handsome other half Harold. “My wife is the pastor here, so I have to look respectable for her and the congregation”, says Harold.
Harold jazzes up his morning suit with a red cummerbund, handkerchief and bow tie and says he always polishes his shoes.
Photo courtesy Tom Dixon
That’s Harold with his bae Rev. Christiana. And what’s it like to be married to a Reverend? “She is my wife it is just normal for me. I do many things as well in my life, I am a fashion designer, a driving instructor and a community priest which means I am not yet ordained but one day I will be”.
Salimatu Bangura was wearing her favourite ‘meeting clothes’ when I snapped her on the outskirts of Freetown. Ribbon lace is something you don’t see enough of these days, but Sal reinvents the classic 80’s mother-of-the-bride go-to, with this elegant page boy collared cream blouse. The unexpected combination of a pink and grey Mende lappa and matching head wrap ties the whole thing up nicely while the gold jewellery adds a touch of lux.
Salimatu’s meeting was in fact a gathering of Freetown’s traditional healers. Known commonly as witch doctors, they are often the first port of call for those seeking medical attention in Sierra Leone.
In times of Ebola though, the role of a witch doctor has changed drastically and their lives have been vastly affected. Communities are now being told to not visit traditional healers because it is un safe to touch people with Ebola symptoms without the protection of PPE. Most traditional healers are complying with the new by-law to not treat sick patients and are referring them to health clinics or calling the emergency line 117.
The first case of Ebola in Sierra Leone can be traced back to a traditional healer who had been treating sick people in Kenema district. In May 2014 a well-known and widely respected trad healer was seeing patients who travelled from over the border in Guinea (where the outbreak was already raging). Not surprisingly the healer became infected with Ebola and died. Mourners turned up in droves to her traditional burial, a practice which involves touching and kissing the body of the deceased. It was estimated that that one funeral can be linked to 365 deaths.
The Ebola outbreak has meant that Salimatu and hundreds like her are currently unemployed, “Ebola has taken my money”, but it has also placed this group at the frontline of the community response. Without the co-operation of traditional healers Ebola will continue to spread.