Happy Birthday “Freetown” – but don’t corrupt history

Abdulai Mansaray: 12 March 2021:

History teaches us that on March 11, 1792, on a small patch of bushy land that was bought for the Nova Scotian Settlers, a thanksgiving service was held under the now famous Freetown Cotton Tree to christen our city known as Freetown. Happy Birthday Freetown.

The name “Freetown” is self-explanatory – a landmark used to demonstrate the freedom of slaves once they set foot on this soil. Freetown is now 229 years old. However, in celebrating this landmark, it is worth noting that the significance of “Freetown” does not only lie around the shores of Freetown and Sierra Leone.

The significance stretches to all of Africa, the Caribbean, Nova Scotia, and the Americas and to all Africans, whose history will never be complete without a chapter on slavery.

Slavery ranks as the biggest single violence, evil and injustice that humankind has ever committed on its own.  Therefore, to be part of, or to come from a country that was designated as the symbol to end such barbaric practice is worth celebrating in all its glory. Once again, Happy Birthday Freetown.

However, in celebrating the birth of Freetown, we should be careful not to corrupt our history unintentionally. We know that “Until the lions have their own historians, the hunt will always glorify the hunter” (Chinua Achebe).

Our history did not start with Freetown, and nor is this celebration implying such. Equally, by capturing one specific event even in celebration, without at least a cursory mention of the background, setting or otherwise, may unintentionally give the impression the existence of this place started on this day.

Our history did not start on the say so of our oppressors. There was history before slave masters.

The tendency for the hunter to glorify the hunt, in the absence of the lion’s historian is evident in most history books. Christopher Columbus claimed to have discovered America, ignoring the fact that Indians were already there by the time he landed; hungry and gasping for breath.

So how could you have discovered something that was already there?

Let us have a brief rummage into the back of beyond. Some historians note that the Limba, Sherbro, Bulom, Loko and Temne first inhabited Sierra Leone at least 2500 years ago. They occupied the coastal areas and were collectively known as the “Sapes”.

The area became a good hiding place for those escaping wars, jihads and invasion from the Mane, etc., the latter who many believe turned out to be our “Ndaymia”.

Our acquaintance with the West is noted as started in 1462 with Pedro De Sintra – the man accorded with the honour of naming our country. Thanks to our natural harbour and proximity to the sea, and with the British perfecting their art of seafaring, our country became a magnet, not only as a stopover or transit point, but also a major embarkation station for the later to flourish slave trade.

It is ironic that one of the earlier points of forceful emigration could turn out to symbolise the point of “repatriation” and end of slavery – the Province of Freedom – Freetown.

We should recall that after proclaiming the end of slavery, many freed Africans became destitute on the streets of England and especially London. Humanitarians like Granville Sharp, Henry Smeathman, and others founded the idea of the “Province of Freedom”, through the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor.

Though humanitarian in origin, the British Prime Minister and Tory Leader supported the scheme to repatriate the Black Poor to Africa, instead of leaving them to infest the streets of London.

The “birthday boy” Freetown was sold by the Koya Temne subchief – King Tom, and Regent Naimbana for the resettlement. That is what history tells us and that is how we got our Creole cousins.

Therefore, as we celebrate this epoch making event for all its glory, the fact should not escape us that in spite of the new tensions arising between the arrival of the then new re-settlers and their Sapes hosts, let us not forget, if not acknowledge the landlords who were also partners of this landmark.

Lieutenant John Clarkson, who had travelled with the settlers and involved in the purchase of the land, told his men to clear the land from Fourah Bay until they reached a large cotton tree. On disembarking, they marched towards the thick forest and to the cotton tree, and began singing:

Awake and Sing Of Moses and the Lamb
Wake! Every heart and every tongue’
To praise the Saviour’s name
The day of Jubilee is come;
Return ye ransomed sinners home.

On that glorious day, 11 March 1792, that “day of jubilee” was celebrated, and the land was dedicated and christened – “Free Town”.  (Photo: Abdulai Mansaray).

If history is who we are and why we are the way we are, perhaps our schools can dedicate this moment to teach our children about this specific event, making part of our history, as we celebrate the birthday of Freetown.

A people without the knowledge of their past, origin and culture is like a tree without roots (Marcus Garvey).

Just a quick word to the Association of Land Grabbers. Freetown was not yours, never is and never will be yours.  In addition, do not forget that Freetown did not begin with Free Town.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY FREETOWN.

Do not forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.

13 Comments

  1. Mr Mansaray – I was firmly convinced your article was well received by many astute minds on this forum but I sincerely did not understand why you felt it was necessary to add these few baffling words;” In case you may like to know, my best friends are Creoles” Really? Truly? Then why offer such an abstruse tactic of defense when you are heavily under attack? Why didn’t you boldly stand your ground and refuse to yield or surrender on your values of credibility and authenticity Sir? Those few lines of yours threw me completely way off because they quite easily reminded me of some of my White Colleagues who when they mistakenly get caught saying something racist end up using the line – “I have many friends who are black so don’t even think I am racist.”

    Mr Mansaray whenever I hear these words – I am not anti-Semitic or Tribalistic I become suspicious that someone is trying to hide something; You don’t have to go the extra mile to prove what your real inclinations are to anyone if you are really self-assured and confident of who you are as a person. Forgive me, those lines were a bad decision Sir, a man of respectable abilities must think properly before uttering any words that will create doubts and raise eyebrows about his perceptivity, integrity and sense of good judgment. I thank you once again sincerely for your attention Sir.

  2. Mr Jalloh, you have raised salient points, however, that is the official history. This study on the Arawak origins of the Maroons: Investigating the “Taíno” ancestry of the Jamaican Maroons: a new genetic (DNA), historical, and multidisciplinary analysis and case study of the Accompong Town Maroons Harcourt Fuller and; Jada Benn Torres.

    The above study shows that the genesis of Maroon culture was the Taino/Arawak. There was also an admixture of Spanish Moors from Andalusia, which is buttressed by the fact that in today’s cockpit country,which is still the home of the Maroons,there are Islamic references. These people were augmented by runaway Coromantee slaves, no doubt. Finally, the British invaded Jamaica in 1655 and the notes of the British commander indicated that the Maroon headman was Juan Pedro de Bolas.

    To conclude, if the Maroons were free in 1655,and up till now in Jamaica, still live in reservations that are autonomous and not subject to Jamaican laws, therefore, one must conclude that the Trelawny town Maroons deported to Sierra Leone were indeed free and indigenous men.

    • Thanks Mr. Leo Africanus. And thanks to Mr Mansaray for his provocative and educational opinion piece about Freetown.And it relationships with the abolition of the barbaric slave trade, and the resettlement our free Africans that were held in bondage. No one can deny the fact, you can’t talk about Freetown without talking about the abolition of the slave trade. And you can’t talk about the Trans Atlantic slave trade without talking about Sierra Leone.

      So Freetown as the name suggests has become the melting pot of all people and of all creeds. In other words the city is made up of – the first descendants of the slave trade that were repatriated from the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe and the United Kingdom. And those slave ships that were intercepted by the British Navy in the High seas, as they enforced the laws against the slave trade.

      One cannot even compare it with what is happening off the coast of Libya and the Mediterranean with peoples smugglers. The scale is unfathomable. So one could imagine the difficult task facing the British navy back then. Not even the sort of technology we have today. In terms of maritime location and navigation. Unfortunately, those that were intercepted in the high seas were taken back to Freetown, not the other part of Africa they were stolen from. That’s why we are blessed to have the Krio language. Our country has a great history. And we should celebrate it with the Krio people.

  3. The title of this article really sucks! Mr Mansaray you are a party-pooper!Lol. On a serious note, let us all enjoy the diversity of our national and tribal heritage. Lets leave all the diverse storytelling about how Freetown and inded Sierra Leone came into being behind. Historical facts are fraught with differences. Thats history for you. There is never one single fact. We are now one big melting pot called Sierra Leone. Let us try to be sensitive.

    What I want to see happen in my lifetime though, is for the Laws to be changed so that our Creole brothers and sisters can own land in our provinces. For now they are tribalistically excluded by Law. Shameful that I, a northerner, can come to Freetown and own a piece of land and yet my St. Edwards school mate who is Creole cannot go to Bombali or Kaillahun and own a piece of land without leasing it from the chief. Let us change the Law Mr president! We are all One People One Country!

    • I agree Mr sesay. Any law that prohibits a citizen from owning land in any part of their own country, is plain wrong and must be changed. It is discriminatory and should never be allowed. If I should confess, I never knew we had such a law. On the subject of the title, I agree and hold my hands up, the title was deceptive. It was in response to articles I read, which seemed to give the impression, as if the place only came into existence when the re-settlers came from abroad. I just wanted to highlight that there was a place before that, which seemed to fit into this myth that until a white person says so, something does not exist. That was the thrust of the article.

      Unfortunately, my cousins seem to unintentionally take the heat. Perhaps, I failed to make the point clearer. This was not intended for any divisive purpose. In case you may like to know, my best friends are Creoles. But again, I take responsibility for what I write. I do not take responsibility for how someone interprets or translates it. Happy birthday Freetown. Let us work now to get that law changed. I never knew that and thanks for the lesson. You see, if it was not for this article, I would not have known. Thanks Mr Sesay. Don’t stop the party. The show must go on.

  4. The Op has made some salient points, however, history is written by the victor, therefore, there are inconsistencies in the above narrative. Firstly, a study of world history indicates that slavery per se was not abolished till the 1840’s by the British and much later by other powers. Therefore, the question historians have to ask themselves is: Why were these people settled in Sierra Leone? They were battle hardened troops of the pioneer regiment in the American war of independence.

    Thomas Peters was a Sergeant in the British Army, no mean feat at the time. With the outbreak of the Haitian revolution, such people were feared, therefore, they were sent to Africa. The maroons as well were not slaves, as any study of Jamaican history would reveal. Finally in relation to the Temne or Loko King, who gave the land. Has it ever occured to people that, the King gave the land to his brethren who had come home?

    I am sure that the chief was well aware of the depredations of slave raids on the African coast. Furthermore, some may have retained their tribal languages and were able to convince the King for a grant. So when someone hates or despises the Creoles, remember this: your ancestor might be crying in his grave, when he sees how his great grand child treats his brother who was captured by the slaver’s, own grandchildren. The Creole might be your own family.

    • Mr Africanus – a point of correction. The Maroons of Jamaica were captured and enslaved Africans that were taken to that Island between the 15th and 16th century by the Spanish. Later the Spanish were defeated by the British that took over the Island. In fact the original inhabitants of Jamaica are believed to be a group of people known as the Arawaks, also commonly known as Tainos. They migrated from South America more than 2500 years ago to the island. And they named the island Xaymaca.

      So the idea – that the Maroons were never enslaved is wrong. In fact it was on the 31st of July 1690, a rebellion of five hundred slaves from the Sutton estate in the Claremont Parish ofJamaica, was the first organised mass slave revolt organised by the Maroons. The rebellion was brutality suppressed in which many were either killed or recaptured. More than two hundred including men, women and children took to the mountains and remain free men and women. Until later years, some were repatriated to Freetown Sierra leone. That’s why you will find Jamican krio is similar to ours.

  5. The indigenes called the place ROMARONG, meaning the Land of Tears, probably because of the danger involved in crossing the river to get there. So the place had a name after all, prior to the arrival of black settlers. Mr Mansaray’s analysis clearly underlines the problematic and indeed contentious nature of certain place names and the multiple, complex and complicated histories those places names often carry.

    To whom does FREETOWN belong? To the Creoles – descendants of those late eighteenth-century black settlers shipped from Canada, England and elsewhere in the name freedom, or to the descendants of those indigenes to whom the peninsula was known as ROMARONG? Should one historical consciousness supplant and supersede the other, thereby laying claim to ultimate validity, authenticity and primacy and by implication final ownership of the land? On one level, ROMARONG/FREETOWN constitutes a palimpsest, where one strand of history strives to claim primacy and in the process attempts to write itself over an opposing historical claim.

    Perhaps a way forward is to accommodate and reconcile the two competing claims and to see ROMARONG/FREETOWN as an ever evolving narrative, that in the twenty-first century has become part and parcel of a larger narrative of a Sierra Leonean melting pot. Our nation’s chief city – a kaleidoscope of languages, ethnicities and cultures which for all their differences and diversity, share an overarching sense of national belonging and sameness. In the final analysis, FREETOWN’s 229th birthday is just one facet of that rich historical and cultural mosaic that makes up the Sierra Leonean national fabric. In celebrating this specific slice of our complex history, we are all Creoles, whose language, Krio, is as it happens, our national lingua franca – our key unifying force.

  6. Adewale John, i think you are misconstruing Mr. Mansaray’s central message. By all indications, he never stated ‘Freetown existed before the free slaves arrived’, on the contrary, all he is saying, there were already indigenes before the arrival of freed slaves. Ironically, you are even admitting that there were a sect of Temnes residing along the coastline, nearby where Freetown is today, so I am not really sure the crux of your argument.

    • Young4na – I dont expect you to see what I see in that story, but please allow me to reply to someone who I think is trying to rewrite my history. Me nar Krio – this is my history. So do ya allow me to correct my brother Mansaray, with all due respect.

      Apart from the title of his piece which I find really appalling, I take exception to the suggestion that the land bought by the British for the settlement of our Krio ancestors was an inhabited land. No – it was not. No one was displaced by the Krios; nor have we the Krios ever said that we discovered that land and named it Freetown. Lets get our history right. Thats all. Too many holocaust deniers in this world – we dont want to see Krio deniers!

  7. The history of our country has to be told and retold. Otherwise, our fellow Sierra Leoneans will never know why our country is what is it today. Without knowing our history, is akin to driving in the Freeway blindfolded, and destination unknown. Today both tbe political, and economic rat race that we find ourselves demands we know our past, just as we want to shape tbe future of our country. Thanks to Mr Mansaray, for what he is doing for all of us. Before that, I don’t think enough of it has been told in the context of our rich history. The good news he is able to synchronise it, and break it down, so every one intrested in our history can learn from it. We spent a lot of time learning European history, less so of our own history.

    Now is the time to set the historical record straight, so we know how our past is influencing our future. Yes in School we were thought west African history, but when it comes to Sierra Leonean history, it was just given a brush paint stroke. Not enough details, to give you a clear understanding of how our country came to be, pre the Trans Atlantic slave trade. For many they will say the socalled 1462 discovery of Sierra Leone by the Portuguese sailor Pedro De Sintra, who originally named tbe Country Sierra Lyoa, meaning lion Mountains because of the mountains surrounding the Freetown peninsula, is itself a historical fact that had consequences that helped shape how our country was to later on become one of the main hub of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.

    Surely there were people and civilization in existence long before this Portuguese Navigator reached our shores. One historical fact I know, Fulani people have been roaming west Africa with their cattle, and jihad they waged in west Africa for thousand years.

  8. Mr Mansaray stop trying to rewrite history. This is falsehood my dear brother. There was no such place as Freetown prior to the arrival of the freed slaves, only an uninhabited bushland which was then cleared by the settlers to make way for their new home they then named Freetown.

    People like you are trying hard to deny the fact that when the freed slaves arrived there was no human settlement in that part of the country that became known as Freetown. Yes a small temne commune existed nearby, towards the shoreline, and their chief claimed that he owned the parcel of land that was then sold to the British for the settlement of the Krios. But to suggest that Freetown was already there is a poor attempt to rewrite history my brother. Please take this reply in good faith.

    What is very dangerous about your line of thought is that there are many from the hinterland of Sierra Leone who think like you and are now dispossessing the Krios of their lands claiming that the Krios do not own lands in Freetown. This is very dangerous indeed and is setting our country up for a massive disaster.

  9. “ A people without the knowledge of their past, origin and culture is like a tree without roots (Marcus Garvey).” Indeed!! Thanks honorable Abdulai Mansary, for piecing together another epic historical lecture, pertaining to the land that we call home. We are surely learning some nuances, compared to what we may have been taught in primary school.

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