"Daily Life in Sierra Leone: the Sherbro in 1936-37"

..> Sierra Leone + the Sherbro Peoples
..> Economy in the 30's
..> Architecture + Construction in the 30's
..> Villages + Towns in the 30's
..> Maps + Notes
..> Site Map
Sierra Leone and the Sherbro Peoples
H. U. Hall made his research trip to Sierra Leone when it was a colony of the United Kingdom. This small West African country--about the size of South Carolina--did not become independent until April 1961. In 1999 the population of the entire country was just over five million people. By contrast, the two areas where Hall worked, Sherbro Island and Shenge (Shengge) Chiefdom, had populations in 1931 of 15,571 and 15,200 people respectively, while the total Sherbro population was thought to be 139,101 (see map).

Sierra Leone borders the Atlantic Ocean and is situated between the countries of Guinea and Liberia. It was mentioned in Greek and Carthaginian travellers' accounts as early as the 2nd century A.D. Much later, in the 18th century, it became a destination for black settlers. The capital city, Freetown, was founded by people sent there from England in 1787 and by former slaves from Jamaica and Nova Scotia. In the early 19th century, some 40,000 captives were liberated from slave ships along West Africa's coast and taken to Freetown.

The Sherbro (also known as Bullom-speaking) peoples believe they have always lived in the coastal regions where Hall visited them. Their homelands occupy most of the low-lying southwestern coast of Sierra Leone, from the Ribi to Bum Rivers, including the Turtle, Sherbro, and Plantain Islands, and extending inland for some 15 to 30 miles (see map). The climate is hot--annual temperatures average 88 degrees fahrenheit--and the area is covered with mangrove forests that are dotted with lagoons and rivers.

Hall described the administration of Sherbro territory as being "subject to the rule of their own Chiefs, under the general supervision of a Provincial Commissioner, a District Commissioner and his Assistant, who are British. The Chiefs have their own courts with jurisdiction over most cases...which they decide according to customary law." In taking decisions, Hall wrote, the chief is expected to take into account the advice of the native administration which includes a Speaker and Elders.

Two distinctive features of Sherbro political life were its secret societies and women paramount chiefs. Hall captured these aspects of Sherbro society in photographs, a few of which were published in his book. This exhibit, however, focuses on Sherbro daily life and built environment.

African Studies Homepage    Sherbro Sitemap    Copyright Info    For Inquiries