Creole people of Sierra Leone
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Total population
94,593 (2015)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Sierra Leone, Gambia, United States, United Kingdom
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Christianity 99%, with the Anglican Church holding the majority and also large minorities of various Protestant and Catholic denominations.
Related ethnic groups
African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, Americo-Liberians, Black Britons, Black Nova Scotians, Creole peoples, Gambian Creoles, Gold Coast Euro-Africans, Igbo people, Jamaican Maroons, Krio Fernandinos, Saro people, Tabom people.

The Sierra Leone Creole people (Krio: Krio people) are an ethnic group of Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone Creole people are descendants of freed African American, Afro-Caribbean, 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. In Sierra Leone, some of the settlers intermarried with English colonial residents and other Europeans.[3][4] Through the Jamaican Maroons, some Creoles probably also have indigenous Amerindian Taíno ancestry.[5][6] The mingling of newly freed black and mixed heritage Nova Scotians[7] and Jamaican Maroons from the 'New World' and Liberated Africans - such as the Akan, Bakongo, Igbo, and Yoruba - over several generations in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, led to the eventual formation of a Creole ethnicity.[8][4]

The Americo-Liberians and the Sierra Leone Creoles are the only recognised ethnic group of African-American, Liberated African, and Afro-Caribbean descent in West Africa.[9][1] Thoroughly westernized in their manners and bourgeois in their methods, 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 and British West Africa during the colonial era.[10] Partly due to this history, many Sierra Leone Creoles have first names and/or surnames that are anglicized or British in origin.

The vast majority of Creoles reside in Freetown[11] and its surrounding Western Area region of Sierra Leone. They are also Christian.[12] 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 is the most widely spoken language in virtually all parts of Sierra Leone. As the Krio language is spoken by 96% of the country's population,[13][14] it unites all the different ethnic groups, especially in their trade and interaction with each other.[15][16]

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, Onisha (Nigeria); Accra, Cape Coast (Ghana) and Fernando Pó (Equatorial Guinea).[17] The Krio language of the Creole people influenced other pidgins such as Cameroonian Pidgin English, Nigerian Pidgin English, and Pichinglis.[18][19] As a result of their history, the Gambian Creole people, or Aku people of the Gambia,[20][21] the Saro people of Nigeria,[22][23][24] and the Krio Fernandinos of Equatorial Guinea,[25][26][27] are sub-ethnic groups or partly descended from the Sierra Leone Creole people or their ancestors.

Etymology and overview

The English word creole[a] derives from the French créole, which in turn came from Portuguese crioulo, a diminutive of cria, meaning a person raised in one's house. Cria derives from criar, meaning "to raise or bring up", itself derived from the Latin creare, meaning "to make, bring forth, produce, beget";[28] — itself the source of the English word "create". The word Creole has several cognates in other languages, such as criol, crioulo, criollo, creolo, créole, kriolu, kreyol, kreol, kriol, krio, and kriyoyo.

In Louisiana, the term Creole has been used since 1792 to represent descendants of black or mixed heritage parents as well as children of French and Spanish descent with no racial mixing.[29][30][31] Its use to describe languages started from 1879, while as an adjective, from 1748.[28] In some Spanish-speaking countries, the word Criollo is used today to describe something local or very typical of a particular Latin American country.[32]

In the Caribbean, the term broadly refers to all the people, whatever their class or ancestry — African, East Asian, European, Indian — who are part of the culture of the Caribbean.[33] In Trinidad, the term Creole is used to designate all Trinidadians except those of Asian origin. In French Guiana the term refers to anyone, regardless of skin colour, who has adopted a European way of life, and in neighbouring Suriname, the term refers only to the descendants of African slaves.[34][33]

In Africa, the term Creole refers to any ethnic group formed during the European colonial era, with some mix of African and non-African racial or cultural heritage.[35] Creole communities are found on most African islands and along the continent's coastal regions where indigenous Africans first interacted with Europeans. As a result of these contacts, five major Creole types emerged: Portuguese, black American, Dutch, French and British.[35]

The Crioulos of black or mixed Portuguese and African descent eventually gave rise to several ethnic groups in Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé e Príncipe, Angola and Mozambique.[36] The French-speaking Mauritian and Seychellois Creoles are both either black or racially mixed and Christianized. On Réunion, the term Creole applies to all people born on the island,[37] while in South Africa, the blending of East African and Southeast Asian slaves with Dutch settlers, later produced a creolized population.[38] The Fernandino Creole peoples of Equatorial Guinea are a mix of Afro-Cubans and English-speaking Liberated Africans,[39] while the Americo-Liberians and Sierra Leone Creoles resulted from the intermingling of African Recaptives with Afro-Caribbeans and African Americans.[40][41]

Perhaps due to the range of divergent descriptions and lack of a coherent definition, Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen concludes:

A Creole society, in my understanding, is based wholly or partly on the mass displacement of people who were, often involuntarily, uprooted from their original home, shedding the main features of their social and political organisations on the way, brought into sustained contact with people from other linguistic and cultural areas and obliged to develop, in creative and improvisational ways, new social and cultural forms in the new land, drawing simultaneously on traditions from their respective places of origin and on impulses resulting from the encounter.[34]

Today, Creole communities have more in common with each other than they have with any African ethnic groups. On the islands of Africa, creole languages predominate while on the mainland, creole languages are lingua franca or national languages in Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and South Africa. In island communities, Creoles are found in many occupations ranging from agricultural workers to members of society's elite. In the coastal areas of mainland Africa, Creoles acquired economic and political leverage due to their education and close relationships with the colonial administration. They developed a strong sense of ethnic identity and formed their own political organisations. During the independence era of the mid-1900s, some Creoles supported colonial rule but many fought for independence and held positions of power afterwards. In most countries however, Creole political influence gradually gave way to ethnic groups from the interior that were considered more African.[35]

Creole communities in Africa have grown in several ways. Elements of their culture, including language and music, have come to dominate popular culture on the islands. In Creole-established cities on the African mainland, some non-Creoles have assimilated into Creole societies, which are perceived to enjoy privileged status. People seeking membership into a Creole community usually converted to Christianity, the religion shared by nearly all Creoles.[35]


In 1787, the British helped 400 freed slaves, primarily African Americans freed during the American Revolutionary War who had been evacuated to London, and Afro-Caribbeans 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.[8]

Some members of 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.[42]

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 Afro-Caribbean. 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.[43]

On the voyage between Plymouth and Sierra Leone, 96 passengers died.[44] 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.[45] 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.[46] 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.[46] 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.[47]

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. Afro-Caribbean 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;[48] 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.[49] 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.[50]
Capture of slave ship El Almirante by the British Royal Navy in the 1800s. HMS Black Joke freed 466 slaves.[50]

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.[42]: 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.[51]

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.[42]: 3–4, 223–255 


In Sierra Leone, the majority of Creoles reside in Freetown and along the surrounding Western Area peninsula[11] where their language and culture have a disproportionate influence relative to their population.[14][13] The Creole people acted as colonial administrators, traders and missionaries in other parts of West Africa during the 19th century, and as a result, there are also Creole communities in The Gambia, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea.[17][52] Due to normal migration 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. In the United States, Creoles are mostly settled in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, Texas, New York, Georgia, California and North Carolina.[16]


St. George's Cathedral, Freetown
St. George's Cathedral, Freetown
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,[53] although others 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 and polygamy among the Oku people.[54]

The Creoles were instrumental in the establishment of Pan-African Christianity.[55] A large proportion of the settlers from Nova Scotia and the Caribbean were Christians. Many liberated Africans also converted to Christianity.[56] Between 1840 to 1900, at least six out of every ten black African clergy in the Anglican Church across West Africa was a Creole.[57] By the 1820s, Sierra Leone already had more Christians than the entirety of tropical Africa.[58] Institutions such as Fourah Bay College were initially established with the objective of training Christian clergy and educators who were later dispatched across West Africa to spread Christianity.[59][60]

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.[61]

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.[60]

The Creole people acted as traders and missionaries in other parts of West Africa during the 19th century.[52] As a result of Sierra Leone Creole migratory patterns, in the Gambia, the Gambian Creole or Aku community speak a dialect called the Aku language that is very similar to Krio in Sierra Leone. Fernando Po Creole English is also largely a result of Sierra Leone Creole migrants. A small number of liberated Africans returned to the land of their origins, such as the Saros of Nigeria who not only took their Western names with them but also imported Krio words like sabi into Nigerian Pidgin English.[20][23][24][27]

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). Today, Krio is the most widely spoken language in Sierra Leone utilized by 96% of the country's population.[13][14] It unites all the different ethnic groups, especially in their trade and interaction with each other.[15] Krio is also the primary language of communication among Sierra Leoneans living abroad.[60]

Native Krio speakers of the Creole ethnicity 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 is a fusion of African, North American and British cultures reflected in both Victorian and Edwardian modes of Christianity, morality, norms and values. The Creole were economically dominant in trade and held prominent leadership positions in Sierra Leone during the British colonial era between the middle to late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Marriage and family

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.

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.[62]

Creoles live in nuclear families (father, mother, and their children), but the extended family is important to them as well. More affluent family members 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 who in turn, are expected to complete the household chores.[63]

Twins in Creole society

Twins are important for the Creole and they usually tend to give special names to each one. The naming convention used by the Creoles comes from their Yoruba Liberated African ancestry.[64] The first of the twins to be born is traditionally named Taiyewo or Tayewo, which means 'the first to taste the world', or the 'slave to the second twin', this is often shortened to Taiwo, Taiye or Taye.[65] Kehinde is the name of the last born twin and it means, 'the child that came behind gets the rights of the elder'.[66]


Main articles: Gumbe and Gumbe (drum)

Sierra Leonean gumbe music originates from the Jamaican Maroon ancestors of the Creole people. It is primarily a vocal and percussive musical genre that has been associated with nationalist thought since colonial times.[67]

The gumbe drum is an important cultural symbol played to induce a trance-like state which connects the Creoles with their ancestors.[68] Generally, the music is produced using the gumbe drum, the maracash and the saw. The maracash is a glass bottle and metallic object played together to produce a desirable rhythm. The jagged edge of the saw is rubbed against another sharp object to produce a rasping sound.[69]

In modern times, gumbe music has become a key feature in Sierra Leone's musical landscape. It is often mixed with other more contemporary musical genres to create an authentic local sound.[70]


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.

Portrait of a Creole family in Sierra Leone, early 1900s.
Portrait of a Creole family in Sierra Leone, early 1900s.

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.[62]


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.

Creole meals often coincide with specific days of the week. On Saturdays, fufu a dough-like paste made of cassava pounded into flour and a type of palaver sauce or plassas (leafy vegetable sauce) is often eaten. This is a spicy dish consisting of spinach greens with tripe, fish, beef, and chicken. If is often made with palm oil except for wayt soup (white soup). Additionally, other types of typical Creole plassas may be eaten with fufu, such as shakpa, okra, egusi, bologie, krain krain, bittas and sawa sawa among others.[16]

Sunday dinner is a West African one-pot meal, jollof rice or couscous and stew or peanut soup, including some plantains and salad. Awujoh meals on Fridays or other festive occasions are usually accompanied by sweet potato cooked in palm oil, black-eyed beans, olele, plantain and akara. On other days, a variety of local dishes may be consumed.[16]

Rites of passage

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.[62]

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.[62]

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.[71] 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![71][72][73]

Creole culture and broader Sierra Leonean cultures

Oku people

Although the Oku have origins among the Liberated African community of settlers in Sierra Leone and have historically intermarried with some 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 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.[8][4][74] Furthermore, the Creoles also do not practice cliterodotomy, engage in the Bundu society, and are monogamous.[54]

Some scholars consider the Oku to be a sub-ethnic group of the Creoles, based on their close association with British colonists and their adoption of Western education and other aspects of culture.[53] 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.

Sherbro people

According to Anaïs Ménard, 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.[75]

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 the Sherbros from as far back as the 18th century.[75]


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[11] is a mountainous, narrow peninsula on the coast of west Africa. At its northern tip lies Freetown, the capital.[76][77][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[78] provides a reliable supply of water and electricity to this area.


Creole ethnicities were formed during the European colonial era, from the mass displacement of peoples brought into sustained contact with others from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, who converged onto a colonial territory to which they had not previously belonged.[79][34] Often involuntarily uprooted from their original home, the settlers were obliged to develop and creatively merge the desirable elements from their diverse backgrounds, to produce new varieties of social, linguistic and cultural norms that superseded the prior forms.[80][34][79] Sociocultural processes characterized by rapid social flux, such as creolization,[81][82] define the ethnogenesis of Creole self-identification.

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.[3] After the Revolutionary War, the Book of Negroes listed approximately 3000 "black and mixed-race" loyalists who sailed from New York City to Nova Scotia in 1783.[7] The great majority of families of black people recorded in the US census in the immediate aftermath of the war have been found to have descended from unions between white women (indentured servants or free) and black men (indentured servants, slave or free) in colonial Virginia and other Upper South colonies.[83] Sixty-five percent of those evacuated were from the American South.[84]

Through the Maroons, some Creoles probably also have indigenous Amerindian Taino ancestry. Spanish Jamaica consisted of Spaniards, "natives", African slaves, "black freedmen", mixed-race mulattoes, and those born on the island known as "creole Africans".[5] Genetic studies on the Jamaican Maroons suggest that their ancestry extends beyond Africa, to include Amerindian, European and East Asian progenitors.[5][6]

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.[4] Although the settlers generally married endogamously, individuals from mixed and European groups recorded a much higher proportion of women and men engaged in exogamous marriages. Mixed-race individuals intermarried with Europeans and black colonial residents at the same rate as they married their own.[4]

Alongside the Americo-Liberians, the Creoles of Sierra Leone are the only recognised ethnic group of African-American,[9] Liberated African, and Afro-Caribbean 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.[20][23][24][27]

Present-day diaspora

As a result of normal immigration patterns, the Sierra Leone Civil War, and some discrimination at home,[85][86] 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 of Sierra Leone Creole descent

Main article: List of Sierra Leone Creole people

See also


  1. ^ Webster's online etymological dictionary states the meaning of creole as a "person born in a country but of a people not indigenous to it," but also notes that the meaning varies according to local use.


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