African nation and former British colony of Sierra Leone gained its independence on April 27th, 1961. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the country’s liberation. In the country itself as well as the Salone community in the United States there have been celebrations of the culture. With 2011 declared by the United Nations as the International Year for People of African Descent, there is much cause for such affirmation. While colonialism for many is a distant memory, it was no small triumph for the nations of Africa to become politically independent following the Second World War.
The history of Sierra Leone reveals that there are many ties to Black America as well as other parts of the Diaspora. The West African nation began as a settlement for enslaved Africans who fought on the side of the British in the American Revolutionary War. These Loyalists and their descendants, would found the colony in 1787. It would remain a protectorate for the next 170+ years.
Sierra Leone and African-Americans
This country has a particularly strong connection to Black Americans. Particularly if your family is from the Sea Island regions of South Carolina. Scholars like Edward Ball have studied the region and determined that a great deal of the people who inhabit the coastal regions of both Georgia and South Carolina(referred to as Gullah-Geechie people) originate from Sierra Leone. One of the points of connection is Bunce Island, a slave castle on the way from the country to the New World. Also noted is a certain amount of cultural continuity, something that many believed was destroyed by the Middle Passage. Even down to the same type of rice that is prepared. Fascinating stuff. Given my current research, there is a strong possibility that way, way down the line my heritage is Sierra Leonean as well. I do know that my grandfather was from Beaufort, which is in from what I have heard roughly around the area of St. Helenas island. So in some small way, I feel like this independence celebration is mine as well.
In the popular consciousness, notions of what Sierra Leone represents is dominated by the 10 year long civil war. This horrendous event seared images of child soldiers and conflict minerals inextricably into the minds of those who focused on the state of post colonial Black Africa. It also was used as fodder for far too many Hollywood depictions of the overall ungovernable and allegedly inherently corrupt nature of this area of the developing world. Despite the stigma, the country and its leadership is looking to move past this periodic moment of regression. Much like other developing nations, Sierra Leone has and will continue to face challenges.
To see an interesting editorial on the 50th Anniversary of Salone independence, head over to Awareness Times the country’s most widely circulated newspaper. The article is titled: “Celebrating 50 years of what? by Austin Thomas.
And now, for some fun little facts about Sierra Leone:
Sierra Leone means “mountain lion” in Portuguese
Some famous people of Sierra Leonean descent include CNN correspondent Isha Sesay, actor Idris Elba, and literary figure Kadijah Sesay.
My favorite saying: “The family tree may bend, but it never breaks”
Happy Salone day!
Marc W. Polite
*Wonders what his name would have been if he was born in Bo, Sierra Leone instead of Harlem, NY.*