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28Black: Blood Diamonds of Sierra Leone

The name Sierra Leone was adapted from the Portuguese name for the country: “Sierra Lyoa,” meaning “Roaring Mountains” or "Lioness Mountains."

In 1787, Freetown (the country’s capital) was established to serve as a home for enslaved Africans who had fought in the American War of Independence.

Sierra Leone is rich in gem-quality diamonds and other natural resources. It’s popularly known for its blood diamonds, mined and sold for weapons during the country's violent civil war from 1991 to 2002.

Though rich in diamond, the country has historically struggled to manage the exploitation and export of this precious stone. Annual production estimates range between $250 and 300 million. However, not all pass through formal export channels.

That said, traditional diamond exports have dramatically improved since the civil war days.

Alluvial (surface) diamond mining is the primary source of hard currency income, responsible for nearly half of Sierra Leone's exports.

Mining remains the primary source of employment, but several other booming sectors – like the agricultural industry to mention a few – are fast-growing.

The largest city in Sierra Leone, Freetown is the country’s educational and commercial center.

Other notable Sierra Leonean cities include Bo, Kenema, Koidu, and Makeni.

One of the most historic and well-known symbols of Freetown is the Cotton Tree.

Cotton Tree, by Christian Trede - Transfered from de.wikipedia

Having fought for the British and moved to Freetown in 1792, a group of ex-slaves (or Black Loyalist settlers) from America gathered around the giant Cotton Tree, where they prayed and thanked God for helping them regain their freedom.

These formerly enslaved people were called “Nova Scotians” as before settling in West Africa, they had traveled to the eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia after leaving the southern United States.

The Cotton Tree is the oldest cotton tree in Freetown, but experts believe it may also be the world's oldest cotton tree.

Today, Sierra Leoneans still pray and make offerings to their ancestors under the Cotton Tree.

Natural Resources, Food, and Music of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is rich in history, culture, traditions.

Its history spanned the 1700s when Sierra Leone was an important center of the transatlantic slave trade. This was before Freetown was founded in 1787 as a home for enslaved Africans.

However, from 1991 to 2002, the country suffered greatly under the devastating effects of rebel incursions. UN and British forces disarmed 17,000 militia and rebels in the most significant UN peacekeeping act of the decade to end rebel activities.

According to reports on religion, Sierra Leoneans are 60% Muslim, 10% Christian, and 30% "indigenous believers."

1. Mineral Resources in Sierra Leone.

Diamond mining has been a big part of Sierra Leone's culture till date.

Mining is a significant job creator for Sierra Leoneans. The country’s mining industry accounted for 4.5% of the country's GDP in 2007, with minerals making up 79% of total export revenue and diamonds accounting for 46% of export revenue in 2008.

Minerals mainly mined in Sierra Leone include diamonds, bauxite, rutile, gold, limonite, and iron.

709-carat diamond found by a teenage miner in Sierra Leone and sold for $6.5 million at an auction.

Image source: TRTWORLD

That said, the Sierra Leonean mining sector faces many challenges, including weak laws and smuggling.

In fact, research suggests 50% of Sierra Leone’s diamonds were smuggled annually.

An-al of Sierra Leone – the largest diamond found in Sierra Leone – was discovered in 1972 and is the third-largest diamond globally. It was a 969.8 carat (194 g) rough diamond.

Sierra Leone is still recovering from the scars of the recent, brutal Sierra Leone Civil War, which was fueled by illicit diamond trading.

2. Rice and The People of Sierra Leone.

Rice is one of the significant staples in Sierra Leone.

There has been a consistent debate among several African countries on the originator of the Jollof rice.

With constant competitive food banters, majorly from Ghana and Nigeria, Sierra Leone often takes credit for having the best rice, popularly referred to as “Salone Rice.” Salone was coined from “Sierra Leone.”

It is often said in Sierra Leone that if a person has not eaten rice, then that person has not eaten that day.

Sierra Leoneans prepare rice in multiple ways, and often topped with sauces made from the combination of potato leaves, cassava leaves, hot peppers, peanuts, beans, okra, fish, beef, chicken, eggplant, onions, and tomatoes.

Chicken bones are a particular delicacy on their own due to their brittle nature and their protein-filled bone marrow. They are often cooked and served as a topping on the rice.

Rice and stew

Source: VR&CO 2014

To support the rice staple, locals take a lightly fermented palm wine. Often referred to as Poyo, this drink can be found in bars around towns in Sierra Leone. It is fondly referred to as Sierra Leone's adult favorite adult beverage.

A fresh jug is usually available in Poyo bars, especially early in the morning.

Pro tip: For the full Poyo experience, tourists should experience the drink in small towns and villages. The Poyo found in cities like Freetown is often watered down.

3. Gumbe Music of Sierra Leone

Music is a big part of expression in any part of the world.

Gumbe is one of the most influential music genres in Sierra Leone – closely associated with the Krio (Sierra Leone English patois). It can also be found in other West African countries (especially Guinea- Bissau) and in the Caribbean.

Gumbe has a rich history deeply intertwined with the formerly enslaved people who relocated to Sierra Leone in the 18th century.

The gumbe drum can be linked to the Maroons of Jamaica. The Maroons were once enslaved Africans who had escaped into the mountains. There, they preserved their culture for more than 200 years.

One of the most important cultural symbols preserved was the gumbe drum and its usage. It was played to enter a trance to connect with the ancestors. There is no information on the initial origins of the gumbe drum before Jamaica. After the Second Maroon War (1795-1796), a group of 550 Maroons was sent to Freetown, the safe haven for formerly enslaved people, and they arrived at the shores of Freetown with their gumbe drums.

In modern times, popular music is influenced by gumbe and milo jazz, especially in music by the New School artists.

Gumbe music has served as a remembrance of the culture of relocated enslaved people.

Sierra Leone’s Rich Cultural History

Sierra Leone has a rich cultural history, which has been preserved over the years. Despite being riddled with wars for years, the country continues to stand firm and thrive.

The people of Sierra Leone are also accommodating and friendly toward tourists who wish to explore and learn about the country’s culture and traditions.

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