The Creoles of Sierra Leon
The Birth of a Nation
Sierra Leone is located in western Africa and home to a proud nation of Creoles whose ancestors migrated to the capital city of Freetown in the 18th and 19th centuries. Representing almost six percent of the total population in Sierra Leone, Creoles have a unique and convoluted culture. Despite their small numbers, the language of these Creoles, known locally as Krio, has become the lingua franca that has bridged all of the various linguistic and ethnic barriers to unite the people . .
Daily struggles in Sierra Leon
The long road to independence and freedom has not been without hardship and challenge, but Sierra Leoneans have typically lived peacefully among each other. Despite civil unrest that began in the early 1990s, the Creoles of Freetown and other areas of Sierra Leone continue to participate in social groups for men and women united in struggle for a more balanced and fair government.
In 1791, at the behest of London-based Sierra Leone Company, Lt. John Clarkson was dispatched to Nova Scotia. He was tasked with recruiting volunteer men and women to settle what was to become Freetown, Sierra Leone. Nova Scotia was home to black loyalists, slaves who had escaped America during the Revolutionary War and fought for their freedom alongside the British. The English crown rewarded their service by establishing a place for them to live free of bondage and subservience. These former American slaves that agreed to move again were known as ‘Settlers’ and were fundamental in bringing Christianity and Western ideals to the African colony of Freetown.
British Man of War
Hunting slave traders was good business
Following attacks from indigenous tribes against the colony in 1801, the English empire turned the full weight of its attentions on the small African town of liberated slaves. They seized the opportunity to launch their anti-slavery campaign and quickly established a permanent settlement in Freetown. The heavily protected and richly supplied port soon became the headquarters for the West Africa Squadron of the British Royal Navy, the fleet commissioned with enforcing the ban on the African slave trade.
The crews of this elite squadron seized ships embarking from African coasts bound for ports in North America, France and the Netherlands, liberating thousands of slaves. When offered the choice oftentimes the subjects would choose to stay in Freetown rather than return to the area where they were taken. In addition to the recaptured, many freed and escaped slaves made their way aboard ships from the Caribbean and London. It was this massive influx of emigrants and refugees converging into a melting pot of culture and diversity that laid the foundations for the Creole people of Sierra Leone.
From slaves to settlers in Sierra Leone
It is natural that the newly-liberated slaves wanted to remain in the city. Located serenely beside the world’s third largest natural harbor, Freetown is and always has been the capital and heart of the Republic of Sierra Leone. The country borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Liberia to the southeast and Guinea to the north and northeast. Sierra Leone boasts lush jungles and picturesque waterfalls as well as a thriving marine industry along the bountiful Atlantic coastline, both then and now. It is a direct result of this migration and settlement of ex-slaves that the area flourished.
Like their neighbors the Sierra Leone Creoles, Americo-Liberians are descended from free-born or liberated slaves from America, the West Indies, and Africa. These tribes refuse to interbreed with the natives; therefore, intermarriages are common among Sierra Leonean Creoles and Americo-Liberians. The two ethnic groups are considered sister tribes and share many similarities due to frequent past migration both ways.
Miss Sierra Leon pageant winner
Creole as a Language
The Creole language that evolved to become the national standard of Sierra Leone is as distinct as it is romantic, mixing English with French and African syntax. Over 97% of Sierra Leoneans speak Krio, and it is not uncommon for the Creole communities to speak other languages including English and that of a neighboring ethnicity for trade purposes.
Creole Religion in Sierra Leon
Ninety percent of Creoles in Sierra Leone are Christian while the other ten percent are Muslim. This is largely due to the influence from freed slaves and settlers that were colonized by a Western power. Despite over four million Muslims in Sierra Leone, the Creoles hold fervently to their Christian beliefs.
Marriage in Sierra Leone continues to be a contract used to bind families and tribes. The family of the hopeful groom seeks the perfect bride for their son from the available women. Once the bride’s family has accepted the agreement of marriage, they issue a ‘stop put’ that ends all other suitors’ claims for the young woman. Similar to Western marriage ceremonies, the Sierra Leonean Creoles will organize a bachelor party for the groom to bid farewell to single life in typical manly fashion: with much reluctance.
Death and Burial Ceremonies
Death is another aspect of the culture of Creoles in Sierra Leone that has heavy undertones of Christian philosophy and influence. The dead are interred for the usual viewing period, however, this is occasioned by loud clapping intended to wake the victim in case they are in a trance. The body is then shrouded in burial wrappings and buried in the typical Western fashion attended with a funeral and religious leaders. The Creole culture honors the memory of the dead for a period of one year before the mourning process is considered over and the family visits the grave in white attire to say farewell.
A Nation Thrives
The modest colony of Freetown became a beacon of salvation for slaves and the oppressed from all over the globe. The meeting and melding of these grateful people led to the creation of the Creole culture and the Krio language that stands today as a tangible adhesive for the people of Sierra Leone.
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© 2012 Steven P Kelly