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Freetown History Distorted … C. Magbaily Fyle

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Freetown History Distorted … C. Magbaily Fyle


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The Scholarly community will always welcome a new addition to the Literature on African societies. Bangura here boldly puts forward a rehashed version of his 2002 Ph.D thesis on the ‘Temne’ of Sierra Leone. Essentially a history of the Sierra Leone Peninsula in the colonial period, Bangura breaks new ground here.  The main strength of his work is the emphasis on non-elite groups in  this British colony, with special attention to the ‘Temne’. The concentration on elite groups  rightly suppresses the  contribution of other groups to the life and advancement of these colonial societies. Bangura seeks to shift this emphasis and presents a convincing case in this regard.

Serious doubts however exist as to his grasp of the origins and rendition of African names in European languages by the first recorders and the implications this can have for subsequent discourse in African history. This problem can be often amplified by reference to ethnographic  detail, particularly language and oral tradition, a privilege the first recorders never had and so made simple mistakes in renditions of toponymy and anthroponymy, pregnant with elaborate analyses later on. This problem is very present in Bangura’s analyses on the names ‘Temne’ and ‘Creole’.

Let us take first the name ‘Temne’. An ex British military officer, Alexander Gordon Laing, first penetrated the interior of the Sierra Leone Peninsula in 1821 and wrote about his experiences in a book titled  Travels in Timannee, Kooranko and Soolima Countries (London, Longmans 1825).  The names here represent what Laing heard. From  ethnolinguistic evidence, it is clear that Laing was told the name Themnԑ instead of Timannee, for the former  is the way these people have always called themselves. Once recorded in English as Timannee, anyone who was going to refer to these people in writing always referred to that name in the form  given by Laing or variants of it. Up to 1911 Colonial Government  documents cited by Bangura (p.77) used the spelling ‘Timinee’.  By 1925 official documents had settled on the Temne spelling (p66) and this then became the norm both in written and spoken English and in the dominant lingua franca, Krio. When speaking their own language the Themnԑ  always referred to themselves as Themnԑ but called themselves Temne when speaking English and Krio.

Bangura does not quite relate to this historical development. He insists on calling the people Temne and  said Theimne (his own spelling) ‘was the language spoken by…the Temne’ (p.21). He names unspecified sources, a problem common in this work, to lay claims to his own derivation of the word ‘Temne’ (p64).

A similar problem arises with the term ‘Creole’ which Bangura dwells on extensively. He claims erroneously that up to the twentieth century there was no coherent Krio society because the writings of the Krio (Creole) people failed to identify themselves by that appellation. He admits however that the colonial Government and all other sources were referring to them as ‘Creoles’. Bangura refrained from probing why this apparent anomaly was the case.

The term ‘Creole’ in the context of Sierra Leone history is a misnomer. It was first used by J. Miller, an Inspector of Schools in the Colony, who was investigating school segregation in the Colony. At the death of Governor Charles Macarthy in 1824, the new Governor would not accede to the arrangement Macarthy had with the Missionary Bodies that ran the schools which gave these Missionary groups special powers  in the running of the Colony. In retaliation, the Missionaries closed their schools to all newly arrived Liberated Africans, only admitting children born in the colony. The term ‘Colony Born” thus became a prestigious term, differentiating these from the destitute looking newly arrived for whom the cash strapped Liberated African Department could not provide adequate schooling. Miller’s inquiry led him to the name given to these newly arrived and that was ‘akiriyo’. He however thought he heard ‘Creole” and this is what he penned in his report. Within a decade, many of the ‘akiriyo’ now had children who were Colony Born, blurring the division between the two Liberated African groups. By the mid nineteenth century, the term  Colony Born was being applied to even descendants of Nova Scotians and Maroons, those called ‘Settlers’ in the literature. All Colony Born were being regarded as akiriyo (rendered as ‘Creole’) by those who were educated and wrote in English following the first usage by Miller.

The original Settlers –Nova Scotians and Maroons- hated the application of the term Akiriyo to themselves, seeing that the term originated from the most destitute of the Liberated Africans. They had earlier called the Liberated Africans ‘krut’ (bushmen), ‘liberated far-fetched’, but decades later, as they merged with the Liberated Africans, they found themselves being regarded as akiriyo. That’s the reason why those who were called ‘Settlers’ stubbornly refused to use the term akiriyo (recognized in the oral rendition) or ‘Creole’ (in the English version) until by the 1920s they could resist no more.

Most of the references cited by Bangura accord with this development.  Bangura  insists that  “Akintola Wyse is widely known as the obdurate progenitor of the ‘Krio myth’ “(p.38).  Only one scholar, Christopher Fyfe, labeled Wyse in that regard. But Fyfe himself did not explore the education aspect of the origin of the name Akiriyo and was perhaps therefore quick to label it a myth. Bangura is familiar with published writings by this reviewer on this matter (see references) and on the two sides of    identity – what one wants to be called and what others actually call you. He however does not even cite or relate to those writing which run directly counter to his assertions.

We need also to say a few words on the issue on Themnԑ “ownership” of the Sierra Leone Peninsula that Bangura persistently touts. It is not clear exactly what he means. In the anthropological conception,  ownership of the earth often refers to the first comers on the land, even when the political rulership has changed hands. These first comers are often called upon by the rulers to propitiate the spirits of the land  whenever considered necessary. It is clear that Bangura is not using the term ‘ownership’  in this sense.

Bangura  states from unnamed sources that ‘By the mid-fifteenth century, a group of Temne speakers migrated to the coast from the hinterland. The migrants quickly attacked, conquered and dislocated Bullom and Sherbro speakers, the earliest occupants of the coast” (p.64) There is no source known to this reviewer which discusses a mid fifteenth century invasion of the Peninsula by the Themnԑ. The best source on the Peninsula in that period remains Walter Rodney’s History of the Upper Guinea Coast. Themnԑ political domination of the Peninsula only became evident by the early eighteenth century. Themnԑ had been visiting the estuary areas to trade for  over  two centuries before that time and by the seventeenth century, the Themnԑ language was well known at the Peninsula. But to claim as Bangura does, that all of the peninsula villages renamed by the British belonged to the Themnԑ needs further explanation. It is not clear whether the political rule of the Themnԑ at the estuary area extended to all of these Bullom villages by the eighteenth century. Documentary evidence is not available to clarify this matter and it would hard to get oral sources that could throw light on the issue.

Equally problematic is Bangura’s claim that “the idea of being Temne in the colony was different from the idea of being Temne in the hinterland” (p23), a claim he repeats  (p. 64) and assigns to unspecified ‘oral sources’.  The claim is elaborated to mean that some gate keepers “conspired to construct a glossy image of being Temne on the territory that later became the Sierra Leone Colony” (p64)

As far as the language is concerned, there is absolutely no evidence that the Themnԑ spoken in the colony differed in any way from that spoken in the interior of Sierra Leone. Being closest to the  Peninsula, and with a new colony offering new opportunities, Themnԑ migration to the colony continued unabated throughout the centuries. This reinforced the Themnԑ language and culture in the Colony. One would like to see the evidence that a new Themnԑ culture was formed in the Colony.

Many of the questions raised  in Bangura’s work could have been better attended to  if he had kept abreast with more recently published material on these topics, and if he had used available evidence carefully. But this does not seem to have been the case. For example, he cites a reference saying Governor Rowe in the Colony was giving instructions on solving a crisis in electing a ‘Tribal Headman’ in the village of Waterloo in the 1920s (p.79). Rowe was Governor of the Colony only  in the 1880s. On another citation related to his major source for the information on Themnԑ women leaders, he maintains that Sukainatu Bangura was born in 1901 (p.176). She was interviewed by the author in 2003 (p.169) and she “died a few years after  (the) extensive interview”. Questions would definitely be raised about your major source being a centenarian, or is Haja Sukainatu Bangura  (p.176)different from Sukainatu Bangura  (p.169) The reader should have been alerted if that were the case.

In spite of these reservations, Bangura’s work does make a contribution to our understanding of Sierra Leone’s history.

C. Magbaily Fyle


C. Magbaily Fyle, “The Yoruba Diaspora in Sierra Leone’s Krio Society”. In Toyin Falola and Matt D. Childs (eds), The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2004

______________,” From Creoledom to Kriodom: A Rejoinder” The Patriotic Vanguard, July 10, 2014. On the web  @ http://www.thepatrioticvanguard.com

______________, “Nationalism should Trump Ethnicity: The Krio Saga in Sierra Leone’s History”. In Weave, Research in Sierra Leone Studies(RISLS)  1,2, 2013. On the web @ http://www.weavesl.org

______________’ “Reaction to Ibrahim Abdullah’s Comments on Krio”. Weave. RISLS 1,2,2013

_______________ and Akintola Wyse, “Kriodom: A Maligned Culture”. The Journal of the Historical Society of Sierra Leone. II, 1&2, December, 1979.

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