Whether on a pilgrimage, a business trip or a beach vacation, the ruins of Bunce Island are a powerful part of many itineraries. Over 50 000 people were focibly deported from this point and sold as slaves in the Americas.
Sierra Leone’s name dates back to 1462 when a Portuguese explorer sailed down the coast of West Africa. There is some dispute whether it was the shape or climatic conditions that influenced Pedro da Centra to come up with “Sierra Lyoa” meaning Lion Mountains. Some say the coastal mountains looked like lion’s teeth. Others suggest he thought the thunderstorms over the mountainous peninsula sounded like the roar of a lion. Sixteenth century sailors called it “Sierra Leoa” which evolved in the 17th century to Sierra Leone. The British officially adopted the name Sierra Leone in 1787.
A Shared Heritage & A Common Culture
Long before da Centra however, the region was a land of small communities going about their lives. The arrival of Europeans brought trade opportunities that at first functioned fairly well. The Portuguese build a fort in what would become Freetown, for the exchange of gold and ivory for swords and utensils. But from the 1550s on, the most financially rewarding goods had become human beings. The most drastic forced emigration occurred between 1668 and 1807 when over 50, 000 slaves were deported from Bunce Island to the southern colonies (and then states) of Georgia and South Carolina. The expanding rice plantations of the area required skilled labor. Plantation owners were willing to pay top dollar for the skills and knowledge that slaves from the traditional rice farming villages of Sierra Leone and the surrounding region brought with them. The descendants of these slaves still live along the coast lines of Georgia and South Carolina. The isolation of the rice farms and the large concentration of Africans with similar cultures and shared traditions contributed in part to the preservation of these customs and languages. The cultural similarities between these descendants, known as the Gullah, and modern day Sierra Leoneans is a source of pride on both sides of the ocean.
Freedom & Hope In Africa
In 1787, British philanthropists founded the Province of Freetown, which later became Freetown – a British Crown Colony and the principal base for the suppression of the slave trade. By 1792, 1200 freed slaves from Nova Scotia joined the original few settlers from Britain. The Maroons (another group of slaves) who had rebelled in Jamaica traveled to Freetown in 1800. Through the efforts of such men as William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp, Lord Mansfield formed an administration in 1806, which was instrumental in the British Empire’s abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade (1807). In 1808, Sierra Leone officially became a Crown Colony dedicated to demonstrating the principles of Christianity, civilization and commerce. In 1833, the British Parliament passed the Emancipation Act and slavery was finally abolished. It wasn't for another 20 years, in 1865, that the United State followed suit and passed the 13th amendment abolishing slavery.
By 1855, over 50,000 freed slaves had settled in Freetown. Know as Krios, the repatriated settlers of Freetown today live in a multi-ethnic country. Though English is the official language, Krio is widely spoken throughout the country allowing different tribal groups a common language.
Sierra Leone gained independence on April 27 1961 and the status of Republic on April 19 1971. Although there have been many changes in the socio- political, and economic spheres since that time, including a prolonged civil disruption throughout the 1990s, Sierra Leone is now a peaceful democracy. Today, under a multi-party democracy, rapid changes have occurred in every facet of life. The country’s economy is picking up. Infrastructure is being rehabilitated and modernized. Telecommunications are excellent; the education system is growing and healthy. The tourism sector has enormous potential and is steadily becoming a major player in the economy. Sierra Leone has developed into an ideal eco-friendly holiday destination and more tourist facilities are being established. Political stability and tolerance have fostered a peaceful co-existence. The country is making steady progress in its socio-economic and political development.
Sierra Leone is home to fifteen indigenous ethno-linguistic groupings. These cultural groupings have their own unique rich cultural heritage and practices. Multicultural values, traditions and belief systems can be seen through the diverse languages and literal arts, festivals, rituals, ceremonies, performing arts and crafts, traditional knowledge, religious beliefs, traditional cultural institutions and historic sites, monuments and antiques. All these constitute elements of a broader national culture of Sierra Leone.