Oku people
ATejanCole2013.JPG
Total population
25,000 (0.5% of population)
Regions with significant populations
Sierra Leone, Gambia, United States, United Kingdom
Languages
Religion
Muslim (90%), Christian (10%)
Related ethnic groups
Sierra Leone Creole people, Fula people, Mandinka people, Yoruba people
Oku costumes, Museo de Arte Africano, Valladolid
Oku costumes, Museo de Arte Africano, Valladolid

The Oku people or the Aku Marabout or Aku Mohammedans are an ethnic group in Sierra Leone and the Gambia, primarily the descendants of educated, liberated Muslim Yorubas from Southwest Nigeria, who were released from slave ships and resettled in Sierra Leone as Liberated Africans or came as settlers in the mid-19th century.[1] Some Oku historically have intermarried since then with the ethnic Creole people. The Creole are primarily descendants of African-American former slaves, as well as some from Jamaica, and slaves liberated from illegal slave trading in the 19th century. The Oku people primarily reside in the communities of Fourah Bay, Fula Town, and Aberdeen and the official cemetery primarily used by the Oku people is the Aku Mohammedan Cemetery.

The Oku people primarily reside in the communities of Fourah Bay or Aberdeen as well as Maryland, Virginia, and New Jersey of the United States. There is also a community in the United Kingdom. The official cemetery of Oku People from Fourah Bay is the Aku Mohammedan Cemetery on Kennedy Street as well as Circular Road Cemetery of Magazine. About 99% of the Oku are Muslim. A minority of Okus have recently converted to Christianity. They are known for their inquisitive nature, adventurous spirit, and valuable tradition primarily influenced by marabout and tariqah, and to a lesser extent griot folklore. They have practiced Sub-Saharan passages such as cliterodotomy since the late-19th century. A large number of them embraced Western education and other elements of Western culture prior to the Sierra Leone Civil War. The Oku people were able to translate ideologies recorded in Ajami script that spread throughout the Sahel in the 11th-century. The Atiq Mosque is the central mosque of the Fourah Bay Community, similar to the Conakry Grand Mosque and The Great Mosque of Touba.

During British rule, the colonial government officially recognized various Oku neighborhoods as historical communities in Sierra Leone. During the 20th-century a railway system provided agriculture and consumer goods to a newly independent Freetown. Since independence the national Sierra Leonean government has classified the Oku people as non-native 'Creoles' although the Okus are distinct from the Sierra Leone Creole people. Their nation's economy is developing with assistance from the European Union and the African Union. Newer relationships with the government of Korea and Kuwait, specifically various infrastructure supplied to the capital and different provinces. These alliances are providing employment and education while creating opportunities for the growing number of young people.

The Oku people have an extensive diaspora with Oku communities established in The Gambia and in Sierra Leone. The Oku people in Sierra Leone reside mainly in the capital cities of Freetown while the latter are in Banjul. In Sierra Leone the neighborhoods belonging to the Oku People are Aberdeen Village, Fula Town, and Fourah Bay. Oku people have mainly Arabic, and Nigerian names although some Okus have English names.

Origin

The Oku people are descended mainly from Liberated Africans who were resettled in Sierra Leone during the nineteenth century. These Liberated Africans formed a distinctive community that was settled at Aberdeen village, Fourah Bay, and Fula Town. As early as the 1840s, there were references to them in documents to 'Aku Mohammedans.'

Prominent Oku families include the Dahniya, Zubairu, Mahdi, Iscandari, Aziz, Mustapha, Rashid, Abdullah, Lawal, Bassir, Deen, Tejan, Othman Savage, Cole, Williams, Carew, Garber, Spilsbury, and Joaque.

Culture

The Oku people have a distinctive culture that has strong similarities to that of larger communities of Muslim who adhere to Ajami script. The Oku often have English or Arabic names. Some Oku people later adopted the names of prominent benefactors such as Carew, in addition to Nigerian names, which they thought aided admission into the missionary schools founded by Fula and Mandinka people in Freetown. While some elder members of the Oku community continue to speak a traditional language, the majority speak the Krio or English language.

Relationship with the Sierra Leone Creole people

Several scholars such as Ramatoulie Onikepo Othman and Olumbe Bassir classify the Oku as distinct from the Creoles because of their ancestry and strong Muslim culture.

In contrast to the Oku people, the Creoles or Krio are Christian and are a mixture of various ethnic groups including African Americans, Caribbeans, and Liberated Africans of Igbo, Fanti, Aja, Nupe, Bacongo, and Yoruba descent in addition to other African ethnic groups and European ancestry. Furthermore, the Creoles also do not practice cliterodotomy, engage in the Bundu society, and are monogamous.[2]

Some scholars consider the Oku to be a sub-ethnic group of the Creoles or Krio, based on their close association with British colonists and their adoption of Western education and other aspects of culture.[3] Those classifying the Oku as part of the Sierra Leone Creole people note their adoption of similar English or European surnames and cultural aspects such as Awujoh.

Community organisation

Oku communities in Sierra Leone are represented by an Alkadi, the community leader and Imam. Historically, the Okus have practiced cliterodotomy which alongside their adherence to the Islamic faith distinguishes the Okus from the Creoles.

Cultural associations

The Oku people are represented by cultural associations such as the Ebilleh Cultural Organization. It aims to preserve and enhance Oku Muslim cultural heritage in Sierra Leone and abroad.

Notable Oku in or from Sierra Leone

References

  1. ^ Pinnock, Samuel George (1917). The Romance of Missions in Nigeria. Educational department, Foreign mission board, Southern Baptist convention. p. 17. ISBN 9781981633142. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  2. ^ Bassir, Olumbe (July 1954). "Marriage Rites among the Aku (Yoruba) of Freetown". Africa: Journal of the International African Institute. 24 (3): 251–256. doi:10.2307/1156429. JSTOR 1156429.
  3. ^ Cole, Gibril R. (15 September 2013). The Krio of West Africa: Islam, Culture, Creolization, and Colonialism in ... ISBN 9780821444788. Retrieved 16 March 2015.