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lime Community & Support feature: Sierra Leone 50

Lime feature- Community & Support

Sierra Leone 50

words by

Nicke Adebowale

Reporter: Nicke Adebowale

This month Sierra Leone joins a growing list of African countries celebrating 50 years of independence. Every former colony struggled for freedom and Sierra Leone was no different.

It has a unique place in the tragedy that was the transatlantic slave trade, once a focal point for its growth it eventually became a starting place of its demise. 

Sierra Leone was one of the first points of contact in West Africa for European explorers. The Portuguese arrived first and explorer Pedro da Cintra named the peninsula "Serra Lyoa" (Lion Mountain).

The first slaves to arrive in North America were brought there in 1652 from Sierra Leone.

The Amistad revolt of 1840 involved illegally captured Africans from Sierra Leone. After their capture and brutal imprisonment 53 Africans rebelled during the journey across the Atlantic and demanded the ship return to Africa. Rough seas made this difficult and the crew steered the ship to America were the infamous trial took place. Three years later the surviving 36 Africans returned home.

Sengbe Pieh (also known as Joseph Cinqué) was the most prominent of the Amistad defendants. He was the first to unshackle himself and freed the others. He held command of the vessel during its journey towards New York, ensuring order remained and rationing supplies. Like a true captain the children were fed first and he always took the smallest ration. Today his likeness appears on the Sierra Leone's 5000 Leone bank note.

It's likely that many African-Americans can trace their ancestry to Sierra Leone as it was the departure point for thousands about to take the torturous middle passage to the Americas.

The actor Isaiah Washington investigated his ancestry and DNA tests revealed a link to the Mende and Temne peoples. Following a trip to the country Isaiah was granted full Sierra Leonean citizenship in 2006.

Used for many years by the British as a trading point for slaves Sierra Leone eventually became a focal point for the abolitionist movement. Freetown was first settled in 1787 by 400 black Britons sent from London. Dubbed the 'Black Poor' these included African-Americans loyal to the crown during the American Revolution seeking refuge, West Indians and Asians. Freetown was formally founded in 1792 by The Sierra Leone Company and a further 1100 former slaves settled in the fledgling town.

It's almost impossible to think about Sierra Leone without mentioning its gruesome 11 year civil war. Between 1991 and 2002 over 50,000 people were killed. A lasting feature of the war was the atrocities committed by the rebels, whose trademark was to hack off the hands or feet of their victims.

In September 2010, the UN Security Council lifted the last remaining sanctions against Sierra Leone saying the government had fully re-established control over its territory, and former rebel fighters had been disarmed and demobilised.

Sierra Leone boasts miles of unspoiled beaches along its Atlantic coast. It's hoped that this natural beauty will help boost tourism to Sierra Leone and the economy.

Four famous Brits and a Swede with Sierra Leonean heritage:

Idris Elba

Nigel Reo-Coker

Ryan Giggs

Rochelle Wiseman (from The Saturdays)

Neneh Cherry

Singer and presenter Anis Halloway on Sierra Leone 

Lime: This month Sierra Leone or Salone as it is affectionately known celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence. What does that mean to you? 

Anis Halloway: It means time to wake up. Nigerians are so driven. They turned 50 and compared to Sierra Leone they are doing so much better but still not complacent as they are hungry for more. That's what I want for Sierra Leoneans. We're too slow and need to build and invest. However I love my Sierra Leone. It'll get better. Two things we have that Nigeria doesn't have are good light and wait for it... Ginger Beer. I have searched the whole of Lagos and it's not there. 

Lime: Who do you think are the most influential Sierra Leoneans of our generation?

AH: Me, Gibril Donald Wilson of the NFL, Mohamed Kallon and Jimmy B.