Freetown / Republic of Sierra Leone
African Region’s Capital of Islamic Culture 2016
Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown is the major urban, economic and political centre of the country. Located in the Western Area of the country, it is a major port city on the Atlantic Ocean.
Timeline of the city
The territory of today’s Sierra Leone was a safe haven for many peoples such as the Kissi, the Sherbro and the Krim during West Africa’s pre-colonial political conflicts. These were later on joined by other peoples, including the Mandingo group in the 15th Century, namely Mende, Temne and Susu.
In 1787, the British took possession of the location of Freetown that would later become the capital of Sierra Leone. Its name (Freetown) is suggestive of the slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean in general, especially the arrival, at a first time, of a group of 400 formerly enslaved Black Britons from London, before others arrived in from the United States and Jamaica.
Freetown survived pillage by the French in 1794, and was rebuilt by the settlers in an Anglo-Saxon architectural style, namely American.
Under the British rule, the city of Freetown also witnessed Hindu and Creole settlements.
Aerial view of Western Freetown
The city’s administrative and economic profile
Freetown is one of Sierra Leone’s six municipalities and is governed by an elected city council headed by a mayor. It is divided into three areas: East End, Central End and West End.
The three wards of Freetown’s East End are very populated, and are generally home to the poorest population of the city.
The Central End is made of two wards, including the central business district where most of foreign embassies are based. It hosts the tallest and most important buildings of the city.
The West End of Freetown, made of three wards, hosts the city’s relatively affluent population. Most of the city’s luxury hotels and a number of casinos are based in the west end of the city. The West End is also home to the official residence of the President of Sierra Leone.
The city proper had a population of 951,000, according to the 2014 census.
It is worth mentioning that Freetown has an abundance of historical landmarks connected to particular points of its history, especially to the settlements of Afro-Americans, liberated African slaves, and West Indians. Most significant among such monuments is “King’s Gate”, built in stone with a statement inscribed on its pediment, which reads “any slave who passes through this gate is declared a free man”.
Freetown is the economic centre of Sierra Leone. The city abounds with headquarters of major national and international companies. The city’s economy revolves largely around its harbor, Queen Elizabeth II Quay, which is the largest natural harbor in Africa. Industries based in Freetown include food and beverage processing, chemical production and petroleum refining.
Population, culture and religions
Freetown showcases the ethnic diversity of Sierra Leone dominated by the Temne and Mende groups. Limba, Kono, Bullom, Kuranko and Krio are main groups among the country’s twenty ethnicities. The most widely spoken languages are Mende, Temne and Krio, but due to historical reasons associated with the British colonial rule, the official language of public administration is English. The Temne, along with the creole Krio, transcend ethnic divisions and serve as the major trading languages.
The staple food is rice. It is omnipresent in the menus of major wedding ceremonies, funerals, initiation rites etc. Rice grains and the palm tree are national symbols par excellence. They are immortalized in the national currency. An instance of the importance of rice is that the Mende people, for example, have over 20 different words to describe it.
In the wake of the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence, the Cultural Festival of Freetown was launched by the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs under the theme “Celebrating Our Cultural Diversity.” The festival is the first of its kind since the country’s independence in 1961. On that occasion, the Mayor of Freetown City stressed the need for the country to reposition itself culturally. Now this festival should contribute to promoting cultural heritage cultural and diversity in Sierra Leone.
In education, Freetown is home to the famous Fourah Bay College, the first university in West Africa, which was founded in 1877.
A carnival – Freetown
A folk dance – Freetown
Islam and Christianity are manifest in the daily life of the population of Freetown. But some of them continue to practice cults of their ancestors despite the expansion of the two monotheistic religions.
Central Grand Mosque – Freetown
Indeed among the followers of the two revealed religions, and in the absence of statistical data in the territorial limits of Freetown, one may say that Islam has grown steadily since the independence of Sierra Leone. Introduced and spread by the Mande, Peul and Hausa groups, Islam was practiced by 35% of Sierra Leoneans in 1960, 60% in 2000 and 71% in 2008. Most Sierra Leoneans are Sunni Muslims, while a minority is reported to be Shia or Ahmadiyya.
On the other hand, Christians represent 10% of the population of Sierra Leone, with a majority of Protestants. But other sources estimate that the Christian population is 21%. Islam and Christianity coexist peacefully, and mixed marriages illustrate such a harmonious coexistence. Syncretic practices are also part of the religious life of the population of Freetown as elsewhere in Sierra Leone.