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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Freetown to Bo town

Thus far in the unit, we have focused on the movements of Africans from Africa to other parts of the world. However, the movements between Africa and the rest of the world do not occur in only one direction. At several periods in history, Africans and people of Africa descent have migrated back to Africa. In this activity, you will learn about the return to Africa and the founding of the African countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia.[Map: Colonial Africa] The "back-to-Africa" migrations that resulted in the formation of these two countries came from highly organized efforts in the Nineteenth century on the part of Africans in the diaspora to return to Africa.
Africans in the Americas and Europe continued to return to live in Africa in somewhat smaller numbers throughout the twentieth century. For example, there were a number of African American missionaries who moved to Africa. Moreover, when African countries became independent in the 1960s and 1970s a number of African Americans and Africans in Britain immigrated to these newly independent African countries. Ghana, which became independent in 1957, was one of the most popular destinations for Africans from the diaspora. For example, Professor W.E.B. Du Bois, a very important African American scholar and civil rights leader, was among those who immigrated to Ghana in 1958. He remained in Ghana until his death in 1963.
Most recently, when South Africa became independent in 1994 after a long period of struggle against Apartheid, people of African heritage in the United States, Canada, and the West Indies moved to South Africa.
After you have read the information included in this section of the module, please read and respond to the questions and complete the activities at the end of the activity.
I. Resettling in Africa: Sierra Leone [Map: Sierra Leone , Info on Sierra Leone]
As we learned in Activity 4, many American slaves and slaves from other parts of the world came to London in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to find freedom. This group of blacks became the first to be resettled in Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa. Two main reasons explain why whites organized and financed the resettlement of blacks in Africa. First, the former slaves lived in poverty and were considered a social problem for the government. Second, a group of men who believed that slavery was wrong wanted to help create a free, black community in Africa.
An English botanist (a scientist who studies plants) had been to visit Sierra Leone to study its plant life, and sent back reports about the country to the English government. The reports said that the country would be good for farming, so the government decided that it should repatriate (return to the place of their birth) the former slaves to this country. Four hundred and eleven immigrants left England in February 1787 and arrived in Sierra Leone on May 14, 1787.
Sierra Leone, consequently, has a unique history. Most of Africa's 54 countries were colonies of European nation-states from the late 19th Century. Sierra Leone became a colony of Britain nearly 100 years earlier in the late 18th Century. This means that Sierra Leone became a colony of Britain just after the thirteen American colonies gained their independencefrom Britain.
Sierra Leone was also different in another way from other African colonies. Britain formed the colony to be a home for freed slaves from North America. The first freed slaves returned to Africa from Canada in 1787. In 1808, the British government outlawed the slave trade. In aneffort to stop the Atlantic slave trade, the British navy intercepted slave ships from Africa which were heading across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. The slaves freed from these ships were taken to Sierra Leone. Tens of thousands of freed slaves captured from slaveships or groups who returned from North America (many coming from the West Indies), settled in Sierra Leone during the 19th Century. Only one other African country was founded by freed slaves from the Americas, Liberia, a name taken from the word liberty, Sierra Leone's neighbor to the south.
If you have seen the movie Amistad, you may remember that at the end of the movie the slaves freed from the ship Amistad were sent to Sierra Leone.
Based on this information we can see why the capital city of this colony was called Freetown.
For most of the 19th Century, the colony of Sierra Leone was limited to the area along the coast and nearby hinterland. Hinterland refers to an area to the interior of the coast. Since the freed slaves came from many different parts of West Africa, North America and the WestIndies, they spoke different languages. In Sierra Leone, these settlers developed a new language based primarily on English but with many words and phrases from African languages. This language is called Krio. By the end of the 19th Century, the descendants of the freedslaves became known as the Creole community.
Although the freed slaves who settled in Sierra Leone played an important role in the history of the country, most Sierra Leoneans are descendants of ethnic groups that have lived there for hundreds of years. Long term inhabitants of a given area are called indigenous people. Native Americans are the indigenous population of the United States; the main indigenous ethnic groups in Sierra Leone are the Mende and the Temne. Both of these ethnic groups spread across the boundaries of Sierra Leone into neighboring Guinea and Liberia.
As you can imagine, relationships between the new immigrants from North America and the West Indies and the local Temne peoples, who lived in the coastal regions near Freetown, were not always good. They were educated and Christians and felt that they had an obligation to covert and "civilize" the indigenous peoples. The Temne, not surprisingly resisted efforts by the returning Africans to take control of the coastal areas that had belonged to them for many years.
Towards the end of the 19th Century, two important changes took place in Sierra Leone. First, British businesses and the British government became interested in expanding their control into the interior of the colony. Secondly, as a result of this expansion, many Temne and Mande peoples from the interior moved to Freetown and the coastal region.
British business companies were interested in taking advantage of agricultural and mineral resources offered by Sierra Leone. In the early part of the 20th Century, colonial officials encouraged the production of palm oil, cocoa beans (chocolate) and coffee. In the 1930s, diamonds mines were opened. Later bauxite (mineral from which aluminum is made) and rutile (gemstone) were found in deposits large enough to be mined. These raw materials became the basis of Sierra Leone's export economy. However, the vast majority of the people made theirliving as small scale farmers, growing rice, casava, and groundnuts (peanuts).
In the first century of colonial rule, the British allowed the Creole (freed-slave) community to participate in the administration of the colony. However, by the beginning of the 20th Century, as they expanded colonial rule into the interior, the British reduced political participation by Sierra Leoneans. The British colonialists, as they did elsewhere in West Africa, instituted a system of indirect rule. [See Module Seven B African History and Module Ten: African Politics] In this system, the colonialists appointed local chiefs and headmen to help them govern. While this system helped traditional rulers to maintain some of their power, it did not allow for the majority of Sierra Leoneans to participate in governing their own communities orcountry.
During the time of colonial rule, Christian mission societies began to build schools. Through these efforts, and with some support from the colonial government, a system of elementary and secondary schools was built in Sierra Leone. At independence in 1961, approximately onethird of the population was literate, could read and write in either English, Mende or Temne. These efforts were complimented by Islamic schools, which taught students to read the Q'uran (Moslem holy book) in Arabic. In spite of the low levels of school attendance, Sierra Leonehas a proud history of higher education. In 1827, Fourah Bay College was founded by the Church Missionary Society. This college was the first English-media college in all of West Africa. Indeed, for almost 100 years it was the only college in British governed West Africa which offered degrees. Students came to study at Fourah Bay from as far away as Nigeria and Ghana. On April 27, 1961, Sierra Leone gained its political independence after nearly 160 years of British rule. All of Sierra Leone's neighbors in West Africa also gained their political independence from either Britain or France between 1957 and 1962.

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