Creole 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
Igbo people, African Americans, Gambian Creole people, Fernandino peoples, Americo-Liberian people, Jamaican Maroons, Black British people, Black Nova Scotians, Gold Coast Euro-Africans, Saro, Tabom people, West Indian

The Sierra Leone Creole people (Krio: Krio people) 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 are 1.3% of the population of Sierra Leone.[1]

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 Creoles as a class developed close relationships with the British colonial administration; they became educated in British institutions and advanced to prominent leadership positions in Sierra Leone under British colonial rule. 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[4] and its surrounding Western Area region of Sierra Leone.They are also Christian.[5] From their mix of peoples, the Creoles developed what is now the native Krio language, a creole deriving from 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.[6]

It has been debated whether the Oku people are Sierra Leone Creoles. On one hand, scholars like Gibril Cole consider the Oku people to be Creoles,[7] while others such as Olumbe Bassir and Ramatoulie 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.[5]

The Sierra Leone Creoles settled across West Africa in the nineteenth century in communities such as Limbe, Cameroon; Conakry, Guinea; Banjul, Gambia; Lagos, Abeokuta, Calabar, Onitsha, Nigeria; Accra, Cape Coast, Ghana and Fernando Pó, Equatorial Guinea.[8] The Krio language of the Creole people influenced other pidgins such as Cameroonian Pidgin English, Nigerian Pidgin English, and Pichinglis.[9][10] As a result of their history, the Gambian Creole people, or Aku people of the Gambia,[11][12] the Saro people of Nigeria,[13][14][15] and the Krio Fernandinos of Equatorial Guinea,[16][17][18] are sub-ethnic groups or partly descended from the Sierra Leone Creole people or their ancestors.


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 of these early settlers 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 establish the second Granville Town following the failed first attempt at colonization between 1787 and 1789.

In 1792, 1200 Nova Scotian Settlers from Nova Scotia settled and established the Colony of Sierra Leone and the settlement of Freetown; these were African Americans and their descendants. Many of the adults had left Patriot 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 harsh and struggled with discrimination from white Nova Scotians. More than 1,200 volunteered to settle and establish the new colony of Freetown, which was established by British abolitionists under the Sierra Leone Company.

In 1800, the British government also transported 550 Jamaican maroons to Sierra Leone and subsequent waves of African American and Afro-Caribbean immigrants would settle in Sierra Leone throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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.[19]

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.[20]

Black Poor and Province of Freedom 1787–1789

Main article: Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor

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 forces during the American Revolutionary War, many on promises of freedom from enslavement.[21]

On the voyage between Plymouth and Sierra Leone, 96 passengers died.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[24] 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 1792–1799

Main article: Nova Scotian Settlers (Sierra Leone)

Freetown in 1803
Freetown in 1803

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 government had transported more than 3,000 freedmen to Nova Scotia for resettlement, together with white Loyalists. Some of the 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 immigrants

Main article: Jamaican Maroons in Sierra Leone

Captain Paul Cuffee transported 38 African Americans to Freetown in 1815
Captain Paul Cuffee transported 38 African Americans to Freetown in 1815

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.[25]

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 of transatlantic immigrants between 1800 and 1819 were smaller in comparison to the early Nova Scotian Settlers and Jamaican Maroon immigrants. West Indian and Liberated African soldiers from the 2nd and 4th West India Regiments were settled in Freetown and in suburbs around it in 1819. Barbadian rebels who participated in the Bussa Rebellion were transported to colonial Freetown in 1816 and included families such as the Priddy family.

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;[26] and Edward Jones from Charleston, South Carolina. Americo-Liberian merchants and traders also settled in colonial Freetown throughout the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Following the Jamaican Maroons and Barbadian rebels, Afro-Caribbean immigrants settled in Freetown, Sierra Leone and in settlements across the Freetown peninsula throughout the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as missionaries, artisans and colonial officials such as the Porter family from Jamaica.

Prominent Creole families of more recent Afro-Caribbean ancestry include the Farquhar family and their descendants such as the Stuart family and Conton family who settled in Sierra Leone from Barbados, the Bahamas, and Bermuda between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Recaptives or Liberated Africans

Main article: Sierra Leone Liberated Africans

An 1835 illustration of liberated slaves arriving in Sierra Leone.
An 1835 illustration of liberated slaves arriving in Sierra Leone.

The last major group of immigrants to the colony was the Liberated Africans or Recaptives.[27] 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.

Capture of slave ship El Almirante by the British Royal Navy in the 1800s. HMS Black Joke freed 466 slaves.[28]
Capture of slave ship El Almirante by the British Royal Navy in the 1800s. HMS Black Joke freed 466 slaves.[28]

The Liberated Africans were multi-ethnic and were largely Akan, Aja, Ewe, Bacongo, Angolan, Wolof, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Bambara, Nupe, and Fulani people who had been enslaved by illegal slave traders. The Liberated Africans also included Sherbro, Mende and Temne people who had been enslaved in territories neighboring the Colony of Sierra Leone.

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.[20]: 5 

Initially the British colonial administration 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.[29]

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.[20]: 3–4, 223–255 


St. John's Maroon Church in Freetown
St. John's Maroon Church in Freetown
Sacred Heart Cathedral in Freetown
Sacred Heart Cathedral in Freetown

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.

Creole denominations are mainly Protestant with the Anglican and Methodist churches having the largest Creole congregants. However, smaller denominations such as the Baptist church and Countess of Huntingdon denominations in places such as Freetown, and Waterloo, Sierra Leone also have Creole attendees, although these are smaller in number compared to Creole Anglicans and Methodists.

Creole church attendees congregate at traditional 'Creole' churches such as St. George's Cathedral, Freetown, Trinity Church, Freetown, St John's Maroon Church, Ebenezer Methodist Church, Rawdon Street Methodist Church, and Zion Methodist Church, Wilberforce Street.

Prominent Creole Anglicans include Edward Fasholé-Luke and included Creoles such as Arthur Thomas Porter, Canon Harry Sawyerr and Robert Wellesley-Cole. Well-known Creole Methodists include Sylvia Blyden, a newspaper proprietor and included Creoles such as Macormack Easmon, Edna Elliott-Horton, and George T.O. Robinson, the founder of the Krio Descendants Union.

Although Creoles are primarily Protestant, there are a small number of Creole Catholics who attend Catholic churches such as St. Anthony's Church in Brookfields and the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Freetown. Prominent Creole Catholics include Dr Monty Jones and Bertha Conton and included prominent Creoles such as Florence Dillsworth and in previous generations, James C.E. Parkes.


Main article: Krio language

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 called Creole or Krio. Krio was strongly influenced by British English, Gullah, African American Vernacular English, Jamaican Creole, Akan, Igbo and Yoruba.[30]

Krio speakers in other countries lived in Gambia, Guinea, Senegal, and the United States. 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.

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.


A Creole family, circa 1918.
A Creole family, circa 1918.

Creole culture reflects a fusion of African, American and British cultures and values and reflected both Victorian and Edwardian modes of Christianity, morality, and norms and values. The Creole were economically dominant in trade and held prominent leadership positions in Sierra Leone during the period of British colonial rule between the middle to late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Creoles observe dating and marriage customs that reflect their British oriented culture but also African American, Afro-Caribbean, and broader West African cultural retentions. Creoles marry in church weddings and in the Victorian and Edwardian era, relatives sought out and introduced prospective suitors from desirable families to their kin seeking a spouse. When a suitor has been chosen by the prospective groom or bride, traditionally the groom's parents set a "put stop" day. After this day, the girl is expected to 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.[citation needed]

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

Historically Creole fashion between the Victorian and Edwardian era 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" although some Creole women wore the Jamaican Maroon Kabaslot and Kotoku, the latter a Twi or Ga word for money bag. Today, teenage fashion—jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers—are very much in style among young Creole people. However, older Sierra Leone Creoles still dress conservatively in Western-style suits and dresses and some Creole women still wear the Jamaican Maroon Kabaslot, Kotoku, and carpet slippers and its derivative, the print which is a fusion of older African American, Afro-Caribbean and British dress styles.[citation needed]

Sierra Leone Creoles typically eat three meals a day, the largest in the morning or near midday. The Creole breakfast meal consists of porridge or English breakfast. Noonday meal of some Creoles include Western style and Afro-Caribbean derived cuisines and also African food such as rice and fufu, a dough-like paste made of cassava pounded into flour. Creole dinner items include Western style and Afro-Caribbean derived cuisines and African dishes such as fufu which 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.[citation needed]

Creole ceremonies

Creole ceremonies such as birth ceremonies, marriages, and funerals are a British oriented but are also a blend of both European and African cultural tenets. Creole wedding ceremonies involve the "Gej" or "Put Stop" an elaborate Shakespearean performance in which the hand of the bride is asked for, following the appearance of several 'roses.' Creole traditional wedding attire is a morning suit or lounge suit for the bridegroom and Creole women wear the traditional white wedding dress.

For example, Creoles practice combine British Christian cultural practices and certain elements of African rituals in connection with rites of passage such as the births and deaths. Creoles have christening and baptismal ceremonies but also have a naming ceremony or "pull na doh" on the seventh day following the birth, which is held to celebrate the birth of a new born.

For life cycle ceremonies related to death among the Creoles, one such ceremony is the babichu or barbeque of Jamaican Maroon and the subsequently more prevalent Liberated African awujoh feast, intended to celebrate the anniversaries of ancestors who have passed away.

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. 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.[citation needed]

Among some Creole families, 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.[citation needed]

Creole folktales

Creoles have inherited a wide range of proverbs and folktales, including Anansi stories, from their multi-ethnic ancestors including the Jamaican Maroons and the Akan and Ewe Liberated Africans. They entertain and provide instruction in Creole values and traditions. Among the best loved are Creole stories about Anansi the spider.[31] 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![31][32][33]

Creole culture and broader Sierra Leonean cultures

According to some scholars,[who?] the only Sierra Leonean ethnic group whose culture is similar (in terms of its embrace of Western culture) are Westernized members of the Sherbro people. Because some of the Sherbro interacted with Portuguese and English traders and intermarried with them in the mid-fifteenth to eighteenth centuries (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. As Creoles settled in places such as Bonthe for trading and missionary purposes, the Creoles intermarried with their allies the Sherbros from as far back as the 18th century. However, since the independence of Sierra Leone, all ethnic groups in Sierra Leone have been inter-marrying increasingly.[citation needed]


Creole style architecture, circa 1885.
Creole style architecture, circa 1885.
Old Fourah Bay College Building, circa 1930s.
Old Fourah Bay College Building, circa 1930s.

The Creole homeland[4] is a mountainous, narrow peninsula on the coast of west Africa. At its northern tip lies Freetown, the capital.[34][35][2] 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. The whole of Sierra Leone covers some 72,500 square kilometres.

Traditional Creole architecture in the colonial period included a variety of architectural styles ranging and consisting of English-style mansions, smaller to medium stone or brick houses, and traditional one or two-story wooden houses built on stone foundations reminiscent of those found in the Old South, West Indies or Louisiana.

The distinctive style of Creole wooden or board 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. However, subsequent African American and Afro-Caribbean settlers continued to influence Creole architectural styles.

Despite their dilapidated appearance, some of the remaining traditional Creole board 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[36] provides a reliable supply of water and electricity to this area.


Like their Americo-Liberian neighbours, 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,[37] Liberated African, and West Indian descent in West Africa.

Sierra Leone Creole Diaspora

Historic diaspora

Historically, Creoles 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.

Liberated Africans and their colony-born children in the early to middle nineteenth centuries and subsequently Creoles between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries 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.[citation needed]

Present-day diaspora

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 Creole or Krio Heritage Society is based in New York City, with branches in places like Texas.

Related communities

Notable people

Sierra Leone Creole-descended families


Writers and activists


Other sports



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