Sierra Leone Creole people

The Sierra Leone Creole people (or Krio people in the Krio language) is an ethnic group in Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone Creole people are descendants of freed African American, West Indian, and Liberated African slaves who settled in the Western Area of Sierra Leone between 1787 and about 1885. The colony was established by the British, supported by abolitionists, under the Sierra Leone Company as a place for freedmen. The settlers called their new settlement Freetown.[2] Today, the Sierra Leone Creoles comprise 1.3% of the population of Sierra Leone.[1]

Creole (Krio) people of Sierra Leone
Total population
Christianity 99%, with the Anglican Church holding the majority and also large minorities of various Protestant and Catholic denominations.
Related ethnic groups
African Americans, Aku people, Amaro, Americo-Liberian people, Black British people, Black Nova Scotians, Fernandino peoples, Gold Coast Euro-Africans, Saro, Tabom people, West Indian

Like their Americo-Liberian neighbors and sister ethnic group in Liberia, Sierra Leone Creoles have varying degrees of European ancestry due to the close historical relations between the ethnicities through decades of indenture, slavery and sexual abuse, and voluntary unions and marriages in North America. Some have Native American ancestry as well. In Sierra Leone, some of the settlers intermarried with other English or Europeans. Through the Jamaican Maroons, some Creoles probably also have indigenous Jamaican Amerindian Taíno ancestry.[3] The Americo-Liberians and the Sierra Leone Creoles are the only recognised ethnic group of African-American, Liberated African, and West Indian descent in West Africa. The Sierra Leone Creole culture is primarily westernized. The only Sierra Leonean ethnic group whose culture is similar (in terms of its integration of Western culture) are the Sherbro, who had developed close connections with Europeans and English traders from the early years of contact. The Creoles as a class developed close relationships with the British colonial power; they became educated in British institutions and advanced to prominent leadership positions in Sierra Leone under British colonialism. Due to this history, the vast majority of Sierra Leone Creoles have European first names and/or surnames. Many have both British first names and surnames.

The vast majority of Creoles reside in Freetown and its surrounding Western Area region of Sierra Leone.[4] They are also Christian.[citation needed] From their mix of peoples, the Creoles developed what is now the native Krio language (a mixture of English, indigenous West African languages, and other European languages). It has been widely used for trade and communication among ethnic groups and is the most widely spoken language in Sierra Leone.[5]

Scholars have debated whether the Oku people are Sierra Leone Creoles although some scholars consider the Oku people to be Creoles[citation needed]. However, Oku scholars such as Olumbe Bassir and Ramatoulie O. Othman distinguish between the Oku and the Sierra Leone Creoles: The latter are a mixture of various African ethnic groups with some European and Amerindian ancestry, who brought Western culture with them and absorbed more from British colonial officials. By contrast, the Oku are principally of Yoruba descent and have traditionally maintained strong Yoruba and Muslim traditions. They also have more traditional African culture, and widely practice formal polygamy and, to a significant extent, practice female genital mutilation.

The Sierra Leone Creoles settled across West Africa in the nineteenth century in communities such as Limbe, Cameroon, Conakry, Guinea, Banjul, Gambia, Lagos, Nigeria, Abeokuta, Calabar, Onitsha, Nigeria Accra, Ghana, Cape Coast, Fernando Pó. The Krio language of the Creole people influenced other pidgins such as Cameroonian Pidgin English, Nigerian Pidgin English, and Pichinglis. Thus, the Aku people of the Gambia, the Saro of Nigeria, Fernandino people of Equatorial Guinea, are partly descended from the Sierra Leone Creole people or their ancestors.[citation needed]


In 1787, the British helped 400 freed slaves, primarily African Americans freed during the American Revolutionary War who had been evacuated to London, and West Indians and Africans from London, to relocate to Sierra Leone to settle in what they called the "Province of Freedom." Some had been freed earlier and worked as servants in London.

Most of the first group died due to disease and warfare with indigenous peoples. About 64 survived to settle Granville Town. In 1792, they were joined by 1200 Black Loyalists from Nova Scotia; these were African Americans and their descendants. Many of the adults had left rebel owners and fought for the British in the Revolutionary War. The Crown had offered slaves freedom who left rebel masters, and thousands joined the British lines. The British resettled 3,000 of the African Americans in Nova Scotia, where many found the climate and racial discrimination harsh. More than 1200 volunteered to settle in the new colony of Freetown, which was established by British abolitionists. In 1800, the British also transported 550 Maroons, militant escaped slaves from Jamaica, to Sierra Leone.

After Britain and the United States abolished the international African slave trade beginning in 1808, they patrolled off the continent to intercept illegal shipping. The British resettled Liberated Africans from slave ships at Freetown. The Liberated Africans included people from the Yoruba, Igbo, Efik, Fante, and other ethnicities of West Africa.[6]

Some members of Temne, Limba, Mende, and Loko groups, indigenous Sierra Leone ethnicities, were also among the Liberated Africans resettled at Freetown; they also assimilated into Creole culture. Others came to the settlement voluntarily, seeing opportunities in Creole culture in the society.[7]

Black Poor and Province of Freedom 1787–1789Edit

The first settlers to find a colony in Sierra Leone were the so-called "Black Poor": African Americans and West Indians. 411 settlers arrived in May 1787. Some were Black Loyalists who were either evacuated or travelled to England to petition for a land of their own; Black Loyalists had joined British colonial forces during the American Revolutionary War, many on promises of freedom from enslavement.[8]

On the voyage between Plymouth and Sierra Leone, 96 passengers died.[9] However, enough survived to establish and build a colony. Seventy white women accompanied the men to Sierra Leone. Anna Falconridge portrayed these white women as prostitutes from Deptford Prison, but they were most likely wives and girlfriends of the black settlers.[10] Their colony was known as the "Province of Freedom" and their settlement was called "Granville Town"' after the English abolitionist Granville Sharp. The British negotiated for the land for the settlement with the local Temne chief, King Tom.

However, before the ships sailed away from Sierra Leone, 50 white women had died, and about 250 remained of the original 440 who left Plymouth. Another 86 settlers died in the first four months. Although initially there was no hostility between the two groups, after King Tom's death the next Temne chief retaliated for a slave trader's burning of his village.[11] He threatened to destroy Granville Town. The Temne ransacked Granville Town and took some Black Poor into slavery, while others became slave traders. In early 1791 Alexander Falconbridge returned, to find only 64 of the original residents (39 black men, 19 black women, and six white women). The 64 people had been cared for by a Greek and a colonist named Thomas Kallingree at Fourah Bay, an abandoned African village.[11] There the settlers reestablished Granville Town. After that time, they were called the "Old Settlers". By this time the Province of Freedom had been destroyed; Granville Sharp did not lead the next settlement movement.

Nova Scotians and the Freetown Colony 1792–1799Edit

The proponents and directors of the Sierra Leone colony believed that a new colony did not need black settlers from London. The directors decided to offer resettlement to African Americans from Nova Scotia, despite the failure of the last colony. These settlers were Black Loyalists, American slaves who had escaped to British lines and fought with them during the American Revolution, to earn freedom. The British had transported more than 3,000 freedmen to Nova Scotia for resettlement, together with white Loyalists. Some of the former African Americans were from South Carolina and the Sea Islands, of the Gullah culture; others were from states along the eastern seaboard up to New England.

Some 1200 of these blacks emigrated to Sierra Leone from Halifax Harbour on 15 January 1792, arriving between 28 February and 9 March 1792. On 11 March 1792, the Nova Scotian Settlers disembarked from the 14 passenger ships that had carried them from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone and marched toward a large cotton tree near George Street. As the Settlers gathered under the tree, their preachers held a thanksgiving service and the white minister, Rev. Patrick Gilbert preached a sermon. After the religious services, the settlement was officially established and was designated Freetown. The Settler men cleared the forest and shrub and built a new settlement on the overgrown site that had formerly contained the Granville Town settlement.

They had a profound influence on Creole culture; many of the Western attributes of Creole society were conveyed by the "Settlers", who continued what was familiar to them from their past lives. In Sierra Leone they were called the Nova Scotians or "Settlers" (the 1787 Settlers were called the Old Settlers). They founded the capital of Sierra Leone in 1792. The descendants of African Americans remained an identifiable ethnic group until the 1870s, when the Creole identity was beginning to form.

Maroons and other transatlantic immigrantsEdit

The next arrivals were the Jamaican Maroons; these maroons came specifically from Cudjoe's Town (Trelawny Town), one of the five maroon cities in Jamaica. The maroons mainly descended from highly military skilled Ashanti slaves who had escaped plantations and, to a lesser extent, from Jamaican indigenous people. The maroons numbered around 551, and they helped quell some of the riots against the British from the settlers. The maroons later fought against the Temne during the Temne Attack of 1801.[12]

The dispute with the Temne was over "rent" which the Temne felt they were owed by the colony. In a twist that became the hallmark of politics in the subregion, the Temne had indeed signed a treaty granting full sovereignty to the Colony but then turned around to say that this was not their understanding. This misunderstanding became violent, when in 1801, the Temne attacked Freetown. The assault failed, resulting instead in the expulsion of the Temne from the area.

The next migrations were smaller. West Indian soldiers from the 2nd and 4th West India Regiments were settled in Freetown and in suburbs around it. Thirty-eight African Americans (nine families) immigrated to Freetown under the auspices of African-American ship owner Paul Cuffe, of Boston. These Black Americans included Perry Lockes and Prince Saunders from Boston; Abraham Thompson and Peter Williams Jr. from New York City;[13] and Edward Jones from Charleston, South Carolina.

Recaptives or Liberated AfricansEdit

An 1835 illustration of liberated slaves arriving in Sierra Leone.

The last major group of immigrants to the colony was the Liberated Africans.[14] Held on slave ships for sale in the western hemisphere, they were liberated by the Royal Navy, which, with the West Africa Squadron, enforced the abolition of the international slave trade after 1808.

The Liberated Africans, also called Recaptives, contributed greatly to the Creole culture. While the Settlers, Maroons, and transatlantic immigrants gave the Creoles their Christianity, some of their customs, and their Western influence, the Liberated Africans modified their customs to adopt those of the Nova Scotians and Europeans, yet kept some of their ethnic traditions.[7]:5 Initially the British intervened to ensure the Recaptives became firmly rooted in Freetown society; they served in the army with the West India Regiment, and they were assigned as apprentices in the houses of Settlers and Maroons. Sometimes if a child's parents died, the young Recaptive would be adopted by a Settler or Maroon family. The two groups mixed and mingled in society.[15] As the Recaptives began to trade and spread Christianity throughout West Africa, they began to dominate Freetown society. The Recaptives intermarried with the Settlers and Maroons, and the two groups became a fusion of African and Western societies.[7]:3–4, 223–255


The Creoles are Christians, whether nominal or in practice, at over 98%. Some scholars consider the Oku ethnic group to be Creoles, although some scholars reject this premise given the differentiation in admixture, religion, and cultural practices between the Oku and Creoles, such as the practice of female genital mutilation among the Oku people. Like their Americo-Liberian neighbors, Sierra Leone Creoles have varying degrees of European ancestry because some of the settlers were descended from white Americans and other Europeans. There was considerable intermarriage between the Europeans who settled in the colony of Sierra Leone and the various ethnic groups that coalesced into the Creole identity. Alongside the Americo-Liberians, they are the only recognised ethnic group of African-American,[16] Liberated African, and West Indian descent in West Africa.


The national language of Sierra Leone is English. In addition to English, the Sierra Leone Creoles also speak a distinctive creole language[2]:xxi named after their ethnic group. In 1993, there were 473,000 speakers in Sierra Leone (493,470 in all countries); Krio was the third-most spoken language behind Mende (1,480,000) and Themne (1,230,000). Krio speakers lived principally in Freetown communities, on the Peninsula, on the Banana Islands and York Island, and in Bonthe. Speakers in other countries lived in Gambia, Guinea, Senegal, and the United States. Krio was strongly influenced by British English, Jamaican Creole, Igbo and Yoruba.[4] Krio is widely spoken throughout Freetown and the surrounding towns, such that Krio speakers are no longer presumed to be of the Creole ethnic group.


Creole culture reflected American and British cultures and values. The Creole held prominent leadership positions in Sierra Leone under British colonialism. The only Sierra Leonean ethnic group whose culture is similar (in terms of its embrace of Western culture) are the Sherbro people. Because many Sherbro interacted with Portuguese and English traders and intermarried with them (producing Afro-European clans such as the Sherbro Tuckers and Sherbro Caulkers), some of the Sherbro have a more westernized culture than that of other Sierra Leone ethnic groups. The Creoles intermarried with their allies the Sherbros from as far back as the 18th century. Since independence, all ethnic groups in Sierra Leone are inter-marrying increasingly.

The Creoles observe traditional dating and marriage customs, whereby marriage is viewed as a contract between two families and Creoles marry in church weddings. Relatives seek out prospective suitors for their kin from desirable families. When a suitor has been chosen, traditionally the groom's parents set a "put stop" day. After this day, the girl can no longer entertain other suitors. On the evening before the wedding, the groom's friends treat him to "bachelor's eve," a rowdy last fling before marriage.

Creoles live in nuclear families (father, mother, and their children), but the extended family is important to them. Family members who do well are expected to help those who are less fortunate. They assist poorer relatives with school fees and job opportunities. Women typically shoulder the greatest domestic burdens. In most families, women care for the children, clean house, do the shopping/selling, cook meals, wash dishes and clothes, and carry wood and water.

Historically Krio fashion consisted of a top hat and frock coat for men and a petticoat for women. Like their Americo-Liberian neighbors, Creole men were said to adhere to the "religion of the tall hat and frock coat". Today, teenage fashion—jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers—are very much in style among young people. However, older Sierra Leone Creoles still dress conservatively in Western-style suits and dresses.

Sierra Leone Creoles typically eat three meals a day, the largest in the morning or near midday. The noonday meal of some Creoles is rice and fufu, a dough-like paste made of cassava pounded into flour. Fufu is always eaten with a "palaver sauce" or plassas. This is a spicy dish consisting of spinach greens with tripe, fish, beef, and chicken. A West African one-pot meal, jollof rice, is generally a dish for festive occasions i.e feast days weddings etc. Other favorites include rice with various soup, rice bread, and salad. Creoles enjoy alcoholic drinks such as beer, gin, and palm wine.

Creole ceremoniesEdit

Some Creoles practice certain African rituals in connection with rites of passage. One such ceremony is the awujoh feast, intended to win the protection of ancestral spirits. Awujoh feasts are held in remembrance of deceased family members generally the first anniversary of their passing but may also be held on the occasion of the five, ten, fifteen years anniversaries, etc. A naming ceremony or "pull na doh" on the seventh day following the birth is held to celebrate the birth of a new born. Ashobis, (parties) at which every guest is expected to wear the same type of materials, are held on the day of the wedding or some days after, for newlyweds.

When someone dies, pictures in the house are turned toward the wall and all mirrors or reflecting surfaces covered. At the wake held before the burial, people clap and sing "shouts"(negro spirituals) loudly to make sure the corpse is not merely in a trance. The next day the body is washed, placed in shrouds (burial cloths), and laid on a bed for a final viewing. Then it is placed in a coffin and taken to the church for the service, and lastly to the cemetery for burial. The mourning period lasts one year. On the third, seventh, and fortieth day after death, awujoh feasts are held. The feast on the fortieth day marks the spirit's last day on earth. The family and guests eat a big meal. Portions of the meal are placed into a hole for the dead. The pull mooning day – the end of mourning – occurs at the end of one year (the first anniversary of a death). The mourners wear white, visit the cemetery and then return home for refreshments.

Creole folktalesEdit

Creoles have inherited a wide range of tales from their ancestors. They entertain and provide instruction in Creole values and traditions. Among the best loved are stories about Anansi the spider.[17] The following is a typical spider tale:

Once the spider was fat. He loved eating, but detested work and had not planted or fished all season. One day the villagers were preparing a feast. From his forest web, he could smell the mouth-watering cooking. He knew that if he visited friends, they would feed him as was the custom. So he called his two sons and told both of them to tie a rope around his waist and set off in opposite directions for the two closest villages, each holding one end of the rope. They were to pull on the rope when the food was ready. But both villages began eating at the same time, and when the sons began pulling the rope, it grew tighter and tighter, squeezing the greedy spider. When the feasting was over and the sons came to look for him, they found a big head, a big body, and a very thin waist![17][18][19]


Creole families typically live in one or two-story wooden houses reminiscent of those found in the West Indies or Louisiana. This style of housing was brought by the "Settlers" from Nova Scotia, and as early as the 1790s, the Nova Scotians had built houses with stone foundations with wooden superstructures, and American-style shingle roofs. Despite their dilapidated appearance, Creole houses have a distinctive air, with dormers, box windows, shutters, glass panes, and balconies. The elite live in attractive neighborhoods like Hill Station, above Freetown. A large dam in the mountains[20] provides a reliable supply of water and electricity to this area.


The Creole homeland is a mountainous, narrow peninsula on the coast of west Africa. The whole of Sierra Leone covers some 72,500 square kilometres. At its northern tip lies Freetown, the capital. The peninsula's mountain range is covered by tropical rain forests split by deep valleys and adorned with impressive waterfalls. White sand beaches line the Atlantic coast.

As a result of normal immigration patterns, the Sierra Leone Civil War, and some discrimination at home, many Sierra Leone Creoles live abroad in the United States and the United Kingdom. What has been called the "Creole Diaspora" is the migration of Sierra Leone Creoles abroad. Many Creoles attend formal and informal gatherings. A Krio Heritage Society is based in New York City, with branches in places like Texas. Historically, Krio spread Christianity and their lingua franca throughout West Africa, and because of this, Sierra Leone Creole communities existed in Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal, Equatorial Guinea and Liberia. Many Creoles traded throughout West Africa, and some settled in new countries. Krios who settled in Nigeria were known as Saros, and there is a thriving community there. Sierra Leone Creoles who settled in the Gambia became part of the Aku or Gambian Creole people; they make up an elite community in Gambia. Many recaptives returned to their original homes after being freed in Freetown, as most kept their anglicised names, they took partially new identities back to their homelands.

Related communitiesEdit

Notable peopleEdit

Thomas Frederick Hope O.B.E. (First General Manager/Engineer-in-Chief Guma Valley Water Company. A founding father and first Chairman Ecobank Transnational Incorporated.) Rt. Rev. Thomas Sylvester Johnson (Assistant Bishop of Sierra Leone), M.A. B.D. O.B.E. Omotunde E. G. Johnson, PhD (Economics). He taught at universities, including Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone and the University of Michigan, USA. He was an IMF Staff for some twenty years. He has published numerous economics papers in several academic journals, as well as academic economics books, especially on economic development and financial sector development.

Sierra Leone Creole-descended familiesEdit


Writers and activistsEdit


Other sportsEdit



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  8. ^ Cassandra Pybus, Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty, (Beacon Press, Boston, 2006); The Black Loyalist Directory: African Americans in Exile After the American Revolution. by Graham Russell Hodges, Susan Hawkes Cook, Alan Edward Brown (JSTOR)
  9. ^ Sivapragasam, Michael, 'Why Did Black Londoners not join the Sierra Leone Resettlement Scheme 1783-1815?’ Unpublished Masters dissertation (London: Open University, 2013), p. 36.
  10. ^ Sivapragasam, Michael, 'Why Did Black Londoners not join the Sierra Leone Resettlement Scheme 1783-1815?’ Unpublished Masters dissertation (London: Open University, 2013), pp. 40-3.
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External linksEdit