Creoles of Sierra Leone

Location: Freetown and urban areas
Population: about 100,000
% of population: 3%
Religion: Christian
Language: English, Krio

The Creoles are the descendants of ex-slaves freed from Britain and the West Indies and who settled in Freetown after its establishment by British abolitionists in 1787. Freetown became a Crown Colony in 1808 and the interior was declared a British Protectorate in 1896. Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961.

The Creole community, descended from those ex-slaves, amounts to only about 3% of the population yet has formed the main elite group from colonial times. The Creoles are almost all Christians, with a culture that combines British and West Indian traditions with those of the indigenous groups. Although they initially intermarried with the indigenous population, they gradually acquired British education and culture and began to set themselves apart from the local majority.

Creoles are well educated professionals who have had a disproportionate degree of influence over government and the economy. The British were careful not to allow the Creole community to dominate colonial politics. The 1924 Constitution brought the tribal chiefs into the Legislative Council and in 1943 Africans were allowed into the Executive Council for the first time. The 1951 Constitution established the framework for independence ten years later but in 1964, following the death of Milton Margai, the first Prime Minister, his successor as head of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) Albert Margai began to replace Creoles with supporters from his own southern region, the Mende. Creoles shifted their support to Siaka Stevens’ All People’s Congress (APC) which narrowly won the 1967 elections but was prevented from assuming power by a military coup and only returned to government after another coup in 1969. Stevens’ regime, which gained the support of the Creole elite, instituted a repressive one party state, which has continued since under President Momoh. The Creoles have never had the monopoly of power of the Americo-Liberian elite in Liberia and have followed a lower profile; as a result they have retained far more influence, although this has also caused resentment and animosity from other groups.

The other major ethnic groups in Sierra Leone are the Mande and West Atlantic peoples. The Mande includes the Mende, almost one third of the total population, the Dyalanke, Koranko and Vai, whilst the West Atlantic group includes the Temne, almost about one third of the population, the Kissi and the Ballom. Other ethnic groups are the Mandingo and Peal (also called Fulani). Religions followed by these groups include Christianity, Islam and animism.

Sierra Leone also has small immigrant trading communities, mainly Lebanese and Indians. Many new Lebanese immigrants have moved to Sierra Leone following civil war from 1975 in the Lebanon.

(See also Americo-Liberians)