Reproduced from Sierra Leone Studies, December 1958 - Editor







Miss Hirst’s interesting article about the Lokos in Sierra Leone Studies, No. IX, has set me thinking about the origin of the name “Port Loko”. It seems obviously to be connected in some way with the Loko people. Schlenker wrote in his Collection of Temne Fables (published 1861) that “Port Loko is in Temne called Baké Loko, which signifies literally ‘wharf of the Lokos’ The Lokos were formerly inhabiting Port Loko, from whence they were driven by the Temnes . .” T. G. Lawson, for many years Government Interpreter, explained it in his account of the peoples near Sierra Leone (printed as a Colonial Office Confidential print in 1887—Public Record Office reference C.O. 806/ 279) as being the port where many Lokos were shipped as slaves. In the l8th and early 19th centuries it was often written Port Logo ”—and “Logo ”, Miss Hirst explains, is the original pronunciation of Loko.

What is plausible is not necessarily correct. Here is another alternative possibility :—

Port Loko was one of many towns where Portuguese traders settled in the 16th and 17th centuries: as late as 1821 Dr. O’Beirne found their descendants there in a village on the south bank of the Port Loko Creek (see his account in C.O. 267/53). John Ogilby in his Africa, published in 1680 (translated from Olphert Dapper, published 1670) wrote of a village on the south bank of the Mitombo River (as he called the Port Loko Creek) called “Os Alagoas” (“whither the Blacks will let no White People (besides the Portugals)  come”). The name is included in contemporary maps: Schenk and Valk’s published in Amsterdam about 1680 marks “Alagoas”; Val d’Abbeville’s (Paris 1679) “Os Alagoas”; Anville’s dated 1729 (the frontispiece to Labat’s Voyage) “Alagoas aux Portugais”.

As it was a Portuguese settlement, “Alagoas” is presumably a variant of the Portuguese word “lagoa”, a swamp, from which the English word “lagoon” derives – and the name Lagos in Nigeria.

The writer of a diary preserved in the Royal African Company Records at the Public Record Office (T. 70/1465) mentions on the 3rd of June 1728 “the Logos”, another version of the name.

A description of the Bance Island slave factory in 1769 (in C.0. 267/14) shows a depot at “Portologo”. May it be that here “Porto” means not port” but Portuguese—“ Portuguese Logo”, as in Anville’s Alagoas aux Portugais ”?

The form Porto Logo ” (usually two words) was still current in the Sierra Leone Company’s time: John Clarkson so writes it in his diary. His brother Thomas, in a report on African produce (in the British Museum, Add. MS 12131 f. 17) has Potologo ”. But “Port” Logo became more usual Zachary Macaulay so wrote it in his journal. Dr. Winterbottom in his Account published 1803, Vol. I, p. 3, has “Port Logo or Baga Logo” ; “Baga” seems to anticipate Baké ”.

“Port Logo ” remained the usual form till 1821 when Dr. O’Beirne wrote the g” as a c”—Loco. Bakka Loco,” he wrote, “is the native name for Port Loco. I have been since informed it signifies landing place.” Thus we come to our familiar derivation.

Perhaps, however, though familiar it may be mistaken, and the name Port Loko be yet another of the names of Portuguese origin which survive in West Africa, so many of which were traced by Commander Texeira da Mota in his Toponimos de Origem Portuguesa na Costa Occidental de Africa published in Bissao in 1950.


Yours faithfully,

C. H. Fyfe