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date: 26 September 2022

Women in Sierra Leonelocked

Women in Sierra Leonelocked

  • Sylvia MacauleySylvia MacauleyCalifornia State University, Northridge, Department of History


Located on the Atlantic coast of Africa, Sierra Leone is one of the smaller countries on the African continent but with a significance to the history of Africa and the New World that truly belies its size. Its population largely consists of two indigenous groups—the Temne and the Mende—as well as a mixture of other settlers based in the Western Area. Starting in the late 18th century, these settlers were repatriated from Britain, America, and Jamaica with the goal of creating a “Province of Freedom.” West Africans liberated from outbound slave ships on the Atlantic also settled on the coast. The settlers and liberated Africans ultimately developed a new culture and became known as the Krio. Culturally, the indigenous groups had a lot more in common with each other than with the Krio, whose ways were more Western-oriented. From the time the Sierra Leone Company was created in 1790—to administer the new settlement of Freetown as a charter—through the change to Crown colony rule in 1808, the leaders of the surrounding indigenous groups were recognized as neighbors and interacted with the British colony of Freetown as trading partners. It was not until 1896, when the British annexed the areas surrounding the colony and declared them a Protectorate that the relationship between the former neighbors changed. That colonial relationship lasted until 1961, when Sierra Leone declared its independence.

Altogether there are about sixteen ethnolinguistic groups in the country, with the largest—the Temne—dominating the northern half, followed closely by the second largest—the Mende—dominating the southern half of the country. The smallest group—the Krio—are largely limited to the Western Peninsula.

Information about the lives of women in Sierra Leone from the era of Company rule until independence, have been difficult to come by, and women have mostly been left out of the history of the country. The early documented entries were about European women in Sierra Leone, then settler Krio women, and eventually Mende women. Despite the numerical superiority of the Temne, it is only in recent years—largely due to the adoption of new methodologies like oral histories and comparative ethnographies—that Temne women have started attracting the attention of scholars. As a result, Sierra Leone can now move beyond references to only Krio and Mende women, like Cummings-John and Madam Yoko, and add references to a few more powerful and influential women, like Sukainatu Bangura, Mariatu Koroma, Kadi Sesay, and Zainab Bangura, from the largest ethnic group—the Temne—who have also positively impacted the history of the country in diverse ways.


  • Women’s History

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