From Sierra Leone Studies, No. 2, June, 1954
The Origins of Tribal Administration in Freetown,
 (part 2)

By Michael Banton

...Back to Part 1


they were turned out into the streets of the town. The Vagrancy Ordinance met this sort of complaint by giving Tribal Rulers power to inquire into what members of their tribes were doing in Freetown. If they were without employment for three weeks or more the Tribal Ruler could bring them before the Police Magistrate, have them declared “ idle and disorderly persons” and send them back to their Chiefdoms. The Manual Labour Ordinance changed the position of the Tribal Ruler with regard to employment. The Governor had minuted: “The Mende and Temne Headmen ought not to be called upon to act as labour contractors. They were appointed partly for the purpose of representing to the Government Mende or Temne grievances. If a labourer thinks he is unjustly treated he ought to feel that his headman is his natural protector.” Accordingly it was made lawful under the new Ordinance for a Tribal Ruler to "inquire into any complaint made by a labourer being a member of his tribe, against his employer ", and if necessary to take the matter further.
   The first tribe to have a Tribal Ruler appointed under the 1905 Ordinance was the Kru. The Governor was in a hurry to get someone gazetted as soon as possible because he was at the time trying to sort out a tangle relating to the ownership of land in the Kru Reservation. He was confused by some representations made to him by a dissident section of the tribe and, rather impatiently, ordered that an election be held. Thus he departed from his own principle that Government action should be limited to recognizing an existing administration. In his Report, Mathews criticizes this practice of holding elections which afterwards became common, and that of appointing a Tribal Ruler for five years instead of for life. A similar criticism was made at the time by some Krumen who petitioned: “We do earnestly beg of Your Excellency to still retain Sgt. Jack Savage as our chief until his death, and not appointing a second one, while he is still living—which has never been done, and we are afraid will bring a never-ending confusion in Kru Town and elsewhere.” The candidate put up by the dissident section was disqualified because he had served a prison sentence for theft and the election went to a third man who proved himself an excellent Tribal Ruler.
   Next came an application from the Fula for the recognition of Jamburia.  Then in 1906 Governor Probyn became anxious to extend the system to the Mende. In the meantime “King George”



had lost favour, so Madam Yoko, Paramount Chief of Moyamba, was approached and asked to suggest someone who would be both suitable and acceptable. She nominated Bokari, and after an election he was appointed to the post. Probyn wrote to the Secretary of State explaining that he had to be careful over this as “it was obvious that the Mendes in Freetown were to some extent affected by the schemes of a person named George Cummings.... This person styled himself King George, but added to the fact that he was not pure Mende, there was the objection that great complaints had been received with respect to his dealings with the Mendes in his capacity as 1abour contractor.”1 The Governor expedited the establishment of Tribal Administration among the Mende in Freetown because he wished to create a reservation for them also. Land known as the Ginger Hall Estate, which the Government had originally acquired for other purposes, was in 1906 turned into a reservation where Mende people might settle and buld themselves houses. The reasons for this move were, firstly, the need to improve municipal planning and sanitation, and secondly, to give the Government a better hold on the Mende labour market. But the scheme did not meet with success and was not popular with the Mende. In either 1911 or 1926 (the reports are conflicting) it ceased to be a reservation. Owners of houses built on this land were allowed to remain as tenants-at-will of the Crown without paying any rent.
   No direct evidence of what members of the City Council thought of this new system of Tribal Administration has come to light, but it is probable that they did not view it with favour. The question of Tribal Administration in the city has several times shown the existence of tension between the Creoles and the tribal population. When Alimamy Momo 2 was recognized as Tribal Ruler of the Temne in 1906 and submitted his proposed rules, it was found that these included a proposal that “the Creoles should not unnecessarily tamper with the Temne man or otherwise annoy him", which the Government promptly deleted as ultra vires. Another rule was intended to enforce the return of the marriage payment when a husband and wife separated, to which the City Council objected


1 Probyn to Crewe, 10th June, 1909.
2 A portrait of Alimamy Momo mounted on the pony on which he used to ride round Freetown appears in A Transformed Colony, by T. J. Alldridge, London, 1910, facing p. 50.


that “the operation of Native heathenish customs of marriage should be confined to the Protectorate and be not encouraged




nor receive the support of the laws of the Colony ". The Government upheld their objection but the Colonial Secretary left his private opinion on record. He minuted: “I am afraid that the Native heathenish customs of marriage are by no means confined to the Protectorate. It might be as well if some of these rules were enforced in so-called Christian communities.”
   In 1908 Alimamy Kangbwe was appointed Tribal Ruler of the Loko. After this date there was a gap of four years before the next tribe (Limba) applied to have their Alimamy recognized. The reader who wishes to study the extension of the system to the other tribes will find much of the relevant information in Mathews’ admirable report.
   In the same year, 1908, Governor Probyn called upon the Acting Commissioner of Police for a report on how Tribal Administration in Freetown was working. The system was Probyn’s own creation and he must have felt some satisfaction when he was able to forward this very favourable report to the Secretary of State. The Acting Commissioner of Police had written that the Tribal Rulers adjudicate tribal cases, saving time and giving men an easier hearing than they would otherwise obtain. They are useful as the mouthpieces of the Government in conveying orders to the people. “They are of the greatest assistance,” he said, “in inquiring into matters for the Police when occasion demands, and in helping to bring fugitives to justice by keeping on the lookout and informing their ‘Santiggis’. The fact that there are representative men for each tribe, I am sure, is a great factor in the reduction of crime as each headman is naturally anxious to stand well with the Government. . . . The Tribal Ruler is also a local agent for members of the tribe who come down from the Protectorate and a medium for inter-tribal palavers in Freetown.”
   What then caused the decline of a system which began so well? Although the Ordinance was suited to the circumstances and the personalities of its day, it was not adapted to meet the changes which followed. Formerly there were many personal acquaintanceships and ties between those who governed and those who were governed. When the Kru Tribal Ruler had a difficult problem he would go round to the Commissioner of Police in the evening and ask his advice The creation of a European Reservation (for such


it legally was) at Hill Station had a beneficial effect upon the health of officials but it broke these personal ties. When, after the 1914 war, the Tribal Administration Ordinance ceased to be used for the positive purposes for which Probyn had intended it, it was not surprising that abuses crept in. To lay the whole blame for this upon the Tribal Rulers (as has been done) is hardly fair.



APPENDIX: CHIEFS AND ALIMAMIES IN FREETOWN
From 1850 to the passing of the 1905 Ordinance
   About 1852 Mahdi Janwara of the Sarakule was elected Alimamy over the Maninka, Fula, and Sarakule tribes in Freetown because of the need to have someone with authority to arrange for the reception of trading caravans coming down from the interior. After his death about eight years later jealousies prevented these tribes from agreeing upon a successor and the deadlock continued for many years until the Maninka appointed a Chief for themselves alone. The Liberated African tribes used at first to recognize headmen and it was Atagpa Macauley, the “King” of the Akus, who was brought in to preside over the “coronation” of Sorie Sillaba as Alimamy of the Maninka. Shortly afterwards the Sarakule “crowned” Alimamy Barraka, and the Soso Alimamy Moriba. Successive appointments among the Maninka were: Foday Silla (c. 1882), Ali Swari (c. 1883), Amara Silla (c. 1893), Sanussi Daramy (c. 1897), Cabba Salu (c. 1898). Among the Sarakule: Sana Janwara (c. 1900), and from 1904 Kemo Samba acted as Headman. Among the Soso: Musa Baia Baia (c. 1904).





   It was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that members of the Kru tribe began to settle permanently in Freetown. Previously they came to the Port in bands, each with its own headman. The first resident Kru Chief may have been Jim Boy (c. 1850) but it is more likely to have been Prince Albert (c. 1860). He was succeeded by King William (c. 1870), Tom Peter (c. 1880), and Jack Savage (1886).   

   Members of the Temne tribe in Freetown to-day remember no Headman before Alimamy Borbor (c. 1900) but he seems to have had one predecessor at least, for a Freetown newspaper called The Artisan in its issue of 14th October, 1885, refers to the celebration of the festival of Greater Bairam by the Muslims and says that it was followed by "the election by the Temne population of a headman to direct their interests in the Colony. The Limba population on Saturday last had a grand turn out on the occasion of a similar election in their interests. We may hope there is no political significance in these novel movements ". Similarly Alimamy Foday Yaka claimed in a letter written to the Governor in January, 1903 "since Pope Hennessy’s time [i.e.1872—3] the Limba’s King and the Temne King have been the first kings in the Colony..." The only predecessor to Alimamy Foday Yaka as Headman of the Limba who is remembered today is Alimamy Konte.

After the passing of the Ordinance in 1905

   Note: A. denotes the title of Alimamy. Kande is a title taken by some Paramount Chiefs; after succession they renounce their former name. indicates persons said to have been or to be literate in English, and * in Arabic. The standard of literacy has been taken as that required to write a letter in the language—in some ways a more exacting standard in Arabic than in English as many Muslims become proficient in reading Arabic but have no cause to write in it.

Freetown tribal rulers since 1905

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