Temne girl tossing grain,Sierra Leone. Courtesy Gay Pasley
According to Esu biyi (1913) "the Temnes (written by some anthropologist as Timanis) were the original owners of the tract of land now known as the peninsula of Sierra Leone, described by some ancient writers as "Hesperi Cornu," "Boure," etc. Some relics of Temne names still survive on the peninsula (Sierra Leone) in such names as "Rokel," "Pasande," "King Jimi," "Robis," and "Kisi." The name "Temne" is derived from the root "Otem," meaning "an old gentleman," to which reflexive "ne" is added as a suffix. The name would therefore mean "The Old Gentleman Himself," evidently in allusion to the antiquity of the tribe and nation."
Temne culture revolves around the paramount chiefs, and the secret societies, especially the men's Poro society and the women's Bondo society. The most important Temne rituals focus on the coronation and funerals of paramount chiefs and the initiation of new secret society members. During the 16th, 17th, and 18th century hundreds of thousands of Temne were shipped to the Americas as slaves.
Temne Poro Dance,Sierra Leone. Courtesy Anne-Sophie Cardinal
Before British domination, Temne were ruled by a king called the Bai or Obai. A famous Temne warrior and leader (King) Bai Bureh of Kasseh (c. 1840–1908) in 1898, led one of a brutal uprising against the British colonial power in what has become known as the ‘Hut Tax War’ (see Abraham 1974; Denzer 1971). The cause of the war was the perceived overtaxation of the Temne people by British tax-collectors.
King Bai Bureh
Employing guerrilla tactics against British troops inexperienced in bush warfare, Bai Bureh succeeded in evading capture for many months and was said to have supernatural powers, to be bulletproof and to have the ability to become invisible or stay under water for long periods (Kabba 1988:42).
The English word cola (as in Coca-Cola, which originally contained extracts of the kola nut), is said to derive from the Temne word aŋ-kola 'kola nut.'
Sierra Leone's national politics centers on the competition between the north, dominated by the Temne and their neighbour and allies, the Limba; and the south-east dominated by the Mende, who are a Mande people like the Mandinka, Bamana, and Malenke (of Guinea, Senegal, Mali, etc.). The current president of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma is the first Sierra Leonean .
Dr Kadi Sesay,Temne tribe woman, mother of Isha Sesay of CNN and Sierra Leone's minister of Trade and Industry from 2002–2007 and the current National Deputy Chairman of the SLPP
Temne people speak Temne (also known as 'Themne' t̪emnɛ). Temne is a language of the Mel branch of Niger–Congo, spoken in Sierra Leone by about 2 million first speakers. One of the country's most widely spoken languages, it is spoken by 40% of the country’s population. The Temne language, along with the creole Krio, serve as the major trading language in northern Sierra Leone. It also serves as a lingua franca for an additional 1,500,000 people living in areas near the Temne people. It is closely related to the neighboring Kissi language.
Temne woman In Makoloh Village, Bombali District Sierra Leone. Courtesy Lindsay Stark
It is related to the Baga languages spoken in Guinea and to Sherbro spoken in Sierra Leone. Temne speakers live mostly in the Northern Province and Western Area (Freetown and its environs) of Sierra Leone, Temne speakers can also be found in all 12 districts of Sierra Leone. Temne people can be found in a number of other West African countries as well, including Guinea and The Gambia. Some Temnes have also migrated beyond West Africa seeking educational and professional opportunities, especially in Great Britain, the United States, and Egypt. Temnes are mostly scholars, business people, farmers, and coastal fishermen; and most are Muslims.
Temne women plaiting hair
Temne is a tonal language, with four tones. Among consonants, Temne distinguishes dental and alveolar, but unusually, the dental consonants are apical and the alveolar consonants are laminal (and slightly affricated), the opposite of the general pattern, though one found also in the nearby language Limba. Click here:TemneManual.pdf to learn Temne language.
Temne tribe woman, Isha Sesay, is an ace journalist with CNN
The history of the Temnes' migration toward present day Sierra Leone was dated as far back as the 11th and 12th centuries, mainly due to the fall of the Jalunkandu Empire in what latter become Fouta Jallon, in the High Lands of present day Republic of Guinea. In fact most Temnes up till now acknowledged their ancestral home to Fouta. Like other minorities ethnic groups in Fouta such as the Yalunka, the Susu, the Kurankohs, the Temnes started to migrated from the Fouta into what is now Sierra Leone to secure a settlement along the salt trade route from the coast to the north and north east. On their way downwards, the Temnes fought and forced the Limbas northeast and the Bulloms southwards to secure the new trade route from Bakeh towards the northern part of the Pamoronkoh River which is today known as the Rokel River. They followed the Rokel River from its upper reaches to the Sierra Leone River, the giant estuary of the Rokel River and Port Loko Creek which forms the largest natural harbor in the African continent.
Temne tribe woman, Zainab Hawa Bangura, current Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone and her tribe women
Historians believe the Temnes were involved in the long-distance kola nut trade during the period of the Mali and Songai Empires when West African trade was directed north across the Sahara Desert, and that they used their commercial expertise gained during that earlier period into the new coastal trade when the Europeans arrived
There were Temne speakers along the coast in what is now Sierra Leone when the first Portuguese ships arrived, in the 14th century. Temne were indicated on subsequent Portuguese maps, and references to them and brief vocabularies appear in the texts. Trade began, albeit on a small scale, in the fifteenth century with the Portuguese and expanded in the late sixteenth century with the arrival of British traders, and later traders of other nations. Slaves, gold, ivory and local foodstuffs were exchanged for European trade goods—mostly cloth, firearms, and hardware.
Temne girl washing her slippers in water
As Temne traders were in contact with the permanent European factories in the river mouths, so did they establish and maintain relations with the settlement at Freetown after its founding in the late eighteenth century. This settlement, inspired by philanthropic abolitionists, was regarded ambivalently by Temne traders, who had long been involved in the profitable export slave trade. Between 1787 when Captain Thomas Bouldon Thompson of the H.M. Nautilus landed in Sierra Leone with the first batch of 550 freed slaves from England and 1807 when a Crown Colony was declared, a series of land agreements were negotiated by the British and the Temnes. The cultural chasm between the Temne and the British led each side to misinterpret the other side’s actions and intentions. The British never understood the elaborate customs that govern Temne land tenure. The Temne expected more from the British than they received.
Temne tribe man, Ernest Bai Koroma, is the current president of Sierra Leone
In an article titled “Temne Land Tenure” that appeared in the Journal of the African Society, Esu Biyi listed the gifts Capt. Thompson offered the Temne as “an old military cloak, an old beaver hat, some rum and salt and old iron pots and tobacco.” While Capt Thompson thought that these gifts were enough to purchase the land, the Temnes thought otherwise. Each time the British negotiated a treaty, they tucked in a few demands not made clear to the Temne and which were detrimental to their interests.
When the Temne started attacking the colony, the British retaliation resulted in the killing of Prince Tom, son of King Tom and the expulsion of the Temne from the peninsula. Esu Biyi writes: “In retaliation for this unjust transaction, by which their lands had been wrested from them, the natives are said to have, in accordance with their custom, consigned the place to a ban by burying an ass’s head on Fort Thornton. This according to the significance of native occultism, dooms the place to an ever retrograding progress.”
A renowned Sierra Leonean professor of history said he hadn’t paid much attention to the legend of the ass’s head and relegated it to the affinity of sub-cultures to attribute unexplained events to unseen human hands. “Mystical prognosis, even related to Christianity, like Governor Clarkson's prayer, still ring as gospel in the minds of some of the Freetown peoples, albeit older ones,”
(“Hollywood actor Isaiah Washington…(was) granted dual citizenship by Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma in 2008. This was after DNA technology proved that his ancestors on his mother’s side descended from Temne people, the two largest ethnic groups in the Country…….(Washington’s) celebrity status has enabled him to draw attention in the U.S. to one of the poorest countries in the world…The Mende people gave him the ancient title of Gondobay Manga II. The legend goes that the first Gondabay was a Mende chief who died defending his village in a battle in the 18th century….)
In the nineteenth century, following abolition, Freetown became the primate trade entrepot, attracting trade caravans from Temne and beyond. Creoles from Freetown moved progressively up-county to trade in the second half of the nineteenth century, and relations with the Temne and other ethnic group in the country were not always amicable. The British colonial government at Freetown followed a policy of "stipendiary bribery" punctuated by threats to use armed force in an attempt to prevent Temne and other chiefs from hindering trade from and with areas farther inland. When diplomacy failed, British expeditions invaded the Temne area of Yoni in 1889 and then at Tambi in 1891.
The Protectorate of Sierra Leone was proclaimed in 1896, and, subsequently, a colonial overadministration was instituted. The traditional Temne chiefdoms became units of local government, and a hut tax was levied to support the colonial administration. Armed rebellion broke out in 1898, when a Temne chief, Bai Bureh, led a successful campaigns and became an instant hero.
Temne tribe woman, Isha Sesay, is an ace journalist with CNN
The Temne rebellion of the Hut Tax War of 1898
The Hut Tax War of 1898 was a war initiated by Temne chief Bai Bureh against British colonialists. The cause of the war was the perceived overtaxation of the Temne by British tax-collectors.
Britain's imposition of a hut tax sparked off two rebellions in Sierra Leone in 1898, the most notable one led by Temne chief Bai Bureh. To pay for the privilege of British administration, the military governor, Colonel Frederic Carthew, had decreed that the inhabitants of the new "protectorate" should be taxed on the size of their huts. The owner of a four-roomed hut would pay ten shillings a year, those with smaller huts would pay five shillings. Colonel Cardew was not an administrator, but a professional soldier who had spent years in India and South Africa. First imposed on January 1, 1898, the hut tax aroused immediate and intense opposition, led in the first instance by the sixty-year-old Temne war chief Bai Bureh who was the top warrior of Northern Sierra Leone. The operations against him, from February to November, involved "some of the most stubborn fighting that has been seen in West Africa, that left several British troops dead.
When the British Governor to Sierra Leone Sir Frederic Cardew offered the princely sum of 100 pounds as a reward for his capture, Bai Bureh reciprocated by offering the even more staggering sum of five hundred pounds for the capture of the Governor. Bai Bureh had the advantage over the vastly more powerful British for several months of the war. By 19 February, Bai Bureh's Temne warrior fighters had completely severed the British line of communication between Freetown and Port Loko by blocking the road and the river from Freetown. Wrote Colonel Marshal, the British commander. "No such continuity of opposition had at any previous time been experienced on this part of the coast.
The colonial era began again after 1898, with a more effective administration and increased penetration of the hinterland. Railway construction and, later, feeder roads were pushed in an effort to increase exports. Towns developed to meet the needs of government and increased trade, and expatriate firms and Sierra Leonean-Lebanese and Krio traders expanded their activities throughout Temne areas. Schools developed slowly under Christian missionary.
Temne tribe woman from Sierra Leone, Isha Sesay, is an ace journalist with CNN
The Temne have long been predominantly farmers of dry rice, inter-cropped with a variety of secondary crops. Some of the Temne people have grown wet rice from at least the nineteenth century in inland swamps, seasonal ponds, and in cleared overflow areas along the lower Scarcies River, a development pushed by the colonial administration from the 1930s. Rice surplus to household needs was exchanged. Peanuts, cassava, and other crops were planted on the previous year's rice farm, and around and behind the house were gardens. Oil palms and fruit and other trees provided additional foodstuffs. Through most of the nineteenth century, wooden farming tools (hoes, digging sticks, and knives) continued to be used, although they were progressively being replaced by iron hoes, cutlasses, and knives made by local blacksmiths and, subsequently, imported.
Most village households keep chickens; some also keep ducks, sheep, goats, dogs, and cats. A few maintain cattle, at least part of the time. Nearly all of the cattle are bred outside the Temne area. Hunting, formerly of some significance, has decreased as the human population has increased. Fishing in the interior rivers and permanent ponds is more important, and a wide variety of techniques is used; off the coast, the Temne engage in fairly intensive fishing activity, dry the catch, and trade much of it inland.
Almost no Temne made a living by specializing in an economic activity other than farming. Some farmers, male and female, possessed one or more specialized skills and made some supplementary income from them. For men, the main specialized skills were those related to iron smelting and working, weaving, woodworking, leather-working, fishing, hunting and trapping, and drumming. The twentieth century brought new forms of specialized knowledge like carpentry, stone-masonry, sewing and tailoring and imported manufactured goods that precipitated the loss of some traditional craft skills.
Temne Kids carrying sack of farm loads In Makoloh Village, Bombali District Sierra Leone. Courtesy Lindsay Stark
Some Temne in the Western Area were involved in export trade from the late fifteenth century on, whereas many Northern and eastern Temne were little involved before the late nineteenth century. Trade operated on basically three levels in the nineteenth century: first, horizontal exchanges between households in a village or a group of neighboring villages; second, interchiefdom or regional trade; and third, long-distance trade. The latter two were usually bulking and break-bulking marketing chains. Spatially, long-distance trade patterns were usually dendritic in form. Nineteenth-century trade depended upon canoes and porters head-loading goods over footpaths. The colonial administration brought changes to facilitate a growing volume of trade goods. The construction of a narrowgauge railway (the SLGRR) brought the establishment of towns along the route, which served as bulking and break-bulking centers and locations for marketplaces. The building of feeder roads extended the areas served by the SLGRR; the completion of an integrated, nationwide road system subsequently led to the closing of the railway. Government programs to increase agricultural productivity were begun; the rice research station at Rokupr in Port Loko and government-run oil-palm plantations and oil mills were the most important of these efforts.
Isha Sesay,Temne tribe woman and Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim
The establishment of the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SLPMB) was of pivotal importance for exports and for income possibilities for the government. Gold, most of it produced further inland than the Temne are, had been traded from Sierra Leone since the fifteenth century but had its last peak in the 1930s; iron was first exported in 1933, from the mine at Marampa, by the Sierra Leone Development Company (SLDC/DELCO); and diamonds were exported after the formation of the Sierra Leone Selection Trust in 1935. Although the diamond areas were outside Temne country, large numbers of Temne migrated as wage laborers in this initially illegal business in the eastern Sierra Leone in Kenema, a predominant Mende land and Kono, an area largely inhabited by the Kono people.
Temne woman from Sierra Leone,Isha Sesay
Traditionally, Temne resided in villages that varied in size and plan. During the nineteenth century, the village of a Temne chief was larger and included people from several patricians; often it was either palisaded or had a walled fortress/redoubt built nearby, where the population could reside in times of emergency. Other villages in a chiefdom were built by those given land-use rights by the chief; subsequently, other patrikin groups settled if they were given land-use rights by the initial grantee. If a household farmed land at some distance, people would build a hamlet to reduce travel. Paths connecting villages were often paralleled by secret paths used only by local people. During the colonial era, public paths were cleared and secret paths fell into disuse; village palisades and mud walls were left to deteriorate. When the motor road system developed, villages cut paths to the roads, and some Temne villages, in whole or in part, relocated along them. The compact village plan gave way to a linear pattern along the roads, where larger garden areas separated houses.
Temne town of Port Loko,Sierra Leone
The traditional Temne house was round, of varying diameter, with walls of mud plastered over a stick frame; the roof frame, of wooden poles connected by stringers, was conical and covered with bunches of grass thatching. Rectangular houses with a gabled roof became more commonplace during the colonial era. Houses became larger—and also fewer—after the "Hut Tax" was instituted. Chiefs and some subchiefs had rectangular, open-sided structures with thatch roofs, which they used for hearing court cases and for various ceremonies. Some associations had small buildings for regalia. Adobe-brick and cement-block structures were introduced during the colonial era, along with iron-pan and tile roofs.
Division of labour
In farming, the traditional gender division of tasks, which never held for domestic slaves, has substantially broken down in the twentieth century, although men still do most of the clearing and hoeing, and women do most of the weeding. Basically, Temne have always had—and have today—a household mode of production: most farmwork is done by members of the household on the household's farmland.
At times of peak labor input, cooperative work groups are utilized when possible, for hoeing (Kabotho) harvesting (Ambira), and so on. Domestic slavery in Sierra Leone ended in 1926, but, before then, wealthier Temne used slave workers as well. A household's food and income production is augmented by selling or bartering surplus products locally, in the marketplaces of provincial towns, or to builders. Remittances from household members who have migrated also help. Little wage labor is used in agriculture.
The chief of each chiefdom is said to "own" the land comprising it, given that he "bought it" and the people on it during that part of his installation ceremonies usually called "Makane." The land or chiefdom was originally secured by the chiefly kin group by occupation of vacant land or by conquest.
Temne woman in her village
According to tradition, chiefs "gave" portions of land to farm, and the receivers reciprocated with a return gift, to the grantor-chief as seal on the agreement. The receivers, in turn, could reallocate portions of their land to others, receiving a lambe from them. Such transfers were regarded as permanent. After 1900, as the best farmland became shorter in supply, temporary land-use rights were negotiated with the chief to seal the deal.
Each Temne individual's surname indicates the patrician with which he or she is affiliated. There are twenty-five to thirty such patricians. The names are mostly of Temne origin and are also found among several neighboring ethnic groups, especially among their neighbors and close allies the Limba, Loko and Kuranko.
Temne woman with triplets,Sierra Leone. Courtesy Anne-Sophie Cardinal
Inter-ethnic marriages between the Temne, Limba, Loko and Kuranko are very common, but the child is considered a Temne if his or her father is a member of the Temne tribe. Most patricians have alternative names, and each is usually geographically concentrated, resulting from isolation during migration. In general, however, Temne patricians are dispersed and are neither ranked nor exogamous. Each patrician has several totems—usually of animals, birds, fish, or plants—and prohibitions on seeing, touching, eating, or using that vary considerably from one area to another. Penalties for violating a prohibition are mild, and many adults do not know what the prohibitions are until a diviner diagnoses the cause of a misfortune. Early sources and some contemporary Temne indicate that a common patrician bond was formerly of significant social importance, but that is not the case today. Each patrician consists of smaller, localized segments or patrilineages, each of which comprises a number of (usually extended) families, each of which in turn usually forms the core of a household. Temne kinship terminology is the type that Murdock calls "Eskimo," in which mother's brothers and sisters are not differentiated terminologically from father's brothers and sisters. In discourse, seniority is indicated more often than laterality. A person is usually closest to and receives most assistance from his or her own father's patrilineage, but often ties with the mother's patrilineage are nearly as important; Temne speak of their mother's patrilineage as their "second line of help and protection."
To be married is strongly desired by adult Temne, especially in the rural agrarian context, where subsistence is very difficult for a single adult, especially if that adult has children. In the traditional Temne marriage system, bride-wealth, composed of consumer goods especially kola passes from the groom's kin group to the bride's and or to guardians and is subsequently distributed more widely. The exchange of bride-wealth and dowry or counterpayment seals the transfer of rights and obligations from the bride's father or guardian; this transfer marks a true marriage from other forms, which may be equally permanent but not as acceptable to the kin groups concerned. The rights transferred are those with respect to domestic service, labor and the income from that labor, children, and sexual services. All subsequent major decisions are made by the husband, who may or may not consult with his wife. Marriage ceremonies differ between Temne Muslim, Christian or non-Muslim.
Although the incidence of polygynous marriages has declined since the 1950s, especially in urban areas, nearly four of every ten married men still had two or more wives, and six of every ten married women were part of a polygynous family. A polygynously married man's first wife becomes the head wife. Co-wife tensions can lead to discord but usually do not. The man is responsible to provide for his whole family.
Since the 1950s, divorce rates have increased in urban areas; There are generally accepted grounds for a husband, and also for a wife, to secure a divorce in the urban areas and among the Temne Christians, but a wife usually do not have the power to divorce her husband in the rural areas, particularly among Temne Muslims.
Temne woman holding her baby
The male or female-headed household is the primary residential unit. There are various types of households, but most have a family (husband, wife or wives, and their children) as the core. Some are complex (two or more married men, either father and son or two brothers), often with other, more-distant kin or even strangers in residence. The household head resolves disputes by mediation and moot proceedings and represents the household in village affairs.
Land-use rights and most portable forms of wealth are inherited patrilineally; women's jewelry, clothing, and rare other items pass from mother to daughter. Disputes occur between the deceased's brothers, between his sons, and between his brothers and his sons.
A child is socialized by a comparatively large number of people including parents, older siblings and elders in the household where he or she grows up. For a variety of reasons, fosterage is common; many children are raised outside the parental household.
Temne girl carrying her kid sister
Significant socialization formerly took place during a girl's initiation into the Bundu society and a boy's initiation into Poro society. Since about the 1940s, however, initiates into both societies have been younger and have spent little time receiving training in seclusion. Both societies helped prepare adolescents for their roles in adult life. Socialization continued intermittently throughout adult life as people learned from new experiences and patterned their behavior on role models who came to be widely respected and even revered.
Traditionally, chiefly kin groups enjoyed superior status, as elders, such as wealthier farmers and traders, successful subchiefs or village headmen, society officials, Muslim "holy men," prominent warriors, and the heads of large households. There were wealth differentials between households, based on size, access to farmland, numbers of domestic slaves, and people with specialized skills; the head's prestige was largely determined by his household's relative wealth. As the colonial era progressed and the urban population grew, a social-class system developed, based on wealth as traditionally defined, on money, on nontraditional occupations, and on literacy in English. Elderly males dominated traditional society, and there was a marked "upward flow of wealth" to such men. Slaves, children, junior males, and most females were largely powerless.
Heydon Adama Bangura, beautiful Temne tribe lady
The Temne were traditionally organized into fifty-odd chiefdoms, each lead a chief (called bai in the Temne language), whom the British would later call a paramount chief. Some of the larger chiefdoms were sectioned, but usually each large village or group of smaller villages had its own untitled subchief. Each village also had an elected headman. In the chief's village there usually resided four to six titled subchiefs, who served their chief as advisors and facilitators. One of these, usually titled kapr me se m, served as interim ruler after his chief's demise. A chief selected his subchiefs, and they were installed with him. Each subchief, titled or not, selected a sister's daughter as his helper (mankapr), and each chief selected one or more sister's daughters to help him. These "female subchiefs" had only ritual—not administrative—duties.
In the western and northern Temne chiefdoms, the chiefs and subchiefs are installed and buried with Muslim ceremonies and bear titles such as alkali, alimamy, and santigi. Elsewhere, the Ramena, Ragbenle, or Poro societies perform these rites; there is considerable variation. In the "society chiefdoms," the chief is divine; he has a mystical connection with the chiefdom and the line of previous chiefs. These chiefs have prohibitions—some on their own behavior, and others on the behavior of people toward them.
Chiefly succession systems are either alternating between two patricians or two lineages within one patrician, or rotating among three or more lineages of one chiefly patrician. The fixed rotational patterns were often abrogated. In the nineteenth century it was not unknown for a man who didn't want the job to be selected.
The intrachiefdom power game was primarily a struggle between the chief and those elders who supported him and those elders who opposed him. In some instances, the chief and his supporters ruled tyrannically; in others, the chief became a manipulated figurehead. Some chiefs were well liked and had a broad base of popular support; others were disliked, distrusted, and generally opposed.
Isaiah Washington,Temne man
With the proclamation of the Protectorate in 1896, the chiefdoms became units of local government, and the chiefs, on stipend, became low-level administrative bureaucrats. Some small chiefdoms were amalgamated to make fewer, economically more viable units. Each British district commissioner worked with and through the paramount chiefs of the chiefdoms comprising his district. As chiefly administrative responsibilities widened, nonliterate chiefs had to hire literate assistants, chiefdom clerks. After the Native Administration (N.A.) system was implemented, the chiefs' courts were more closely regulated, and, in the larger chiefdoms, N.A. messengers/police were hired. In 1951 a district council was created in each district, composed initially of the paramount chiefs and an equal number of elected members and chaired by the district commissioner. When political parties were first formed in the 1950s, they dealt with the chiefs and depended upon them as "ward healers" to turn out their voters for elections.
Former ruthless Sierra Leonean RUF leader and founder Foday Saybana Sankoh is Temne tribe man.
Among nineteenth-century Temne, the law did not have the preeminent place in the resolution of disagreements and conflicts in the way court systems do in twentieth-century democracies. There was no separate, largely independent judiciary; sociopolitical leaders tried certain cases as a prerogative of their positions. Rather than applying abstract ideals of justice, equity, and good conscience, these leaders made decisions in light of the particular political and social settings in each specific instance. Disagreements and conflicts between individuals and groups were adjudicated at, first, the kin-group and residence-group level; second, at the association level (especially the Poro and Bundu societies); and third, at the chiefdom and subchiefdom level (in a chief's court). The first level used primarily moot proceedings, the second usually inquisitory techniques, and the third, a kind of adversarial contest. In the colonial court system, only courts of those chiefs recognized as paramounts served as local courts. Somewhat modified, the system continues today.
Raiding and warfare among Temne and between Temne and people of other groups were long-standing. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries raids were carried out to steal foodstuffs and people, both disposed of in domestic and foreign trade. People on and near the coast tried to prevent inland traders from having direct contacts and thus preserve middleman profits for themselves. A period of "trade wars" occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century, and a body of professional warriors developed then. These were full-time, itinerant mercenaries, known for their cruelty and fearlessness, who inspired terror and specialized in quick, surprise raids. For defense, Temne surrounded larger villages with walls of tree trunks and mud and built separate fortresses, to which people from several smaller villages could retire in times of emergency. The establishment of the colonial over-government put an end to Temne raiding and warfare.
Temne people at the Kitchen
The Temne traditionally believe in a supreme Being or a creator God called Kurumasaba (meaning God in English). Kuurumasaba, in judging the Temne, is thought to be kind, generous, just, and infallible. Kurumasaba is never approached directly, only through patrilineal ancestors as intermediaries. These ancestors also judge their descendants. Sacrifices are offered to them to obtain help for the living. Various nonancestral spirits, some regarded as good and helpful, others as mischievous and even vicious, also receive sacrifices and make agreements to help or—at least not to harm—the living.
Temne also believe in witches (rashir), individuals, both male and female, who can make victims fall idle, have an accident, or even die. The identity of a witch may be determined by several divinatory techniques and, once identified, can be countered by magical medicines. Especially useful are "swearing medicines," which bring illness and death to an identified witch, thief, or other target. Borrowings from Islam and Christianity have altered many traditional beliefs during the twentieth century.
Traditional diviners used various methods and made protective charms for individuals to protect farms from thieves and to protect a house or farm from witches. These specialists paid for the necessary knowledge from established practitioners during an apprenticeship. Morimen, itinerant Muslims, provided the same range of services with different methods. Officials of the major associations (Poro, Ragbenle, Bundu, and so on) used techniques particular to their group. Confidence in particular practitioners and particular techniques varies over time.
Muslim contacts probably go back several centuries, and fifteenth-century Portuguese were cognizant of Muslim peoples. Early traders, holy men, and warriors brought Islam into the Temne area from the north by the Susu and northeast by the Fula and Mandinka. Through the nineteenth century, as the volume of trade grew, Muslim influences increased; in the late twentieth century a significant proportion of Temne claim to be Muslim converts.
Although 90 to 95% of Temne have converted to Islam, they still practice their traditional religion, as well. Many of the Temne are superstitious and believe in witches who can be either male or female. These witches are believed to derive pleasure from causing accidents and spreading sickness among the tribe. As a result, many fear the witches and carry charms or medicines with them to ward off their evil acts.
Missionary Effects; Portuguese Christian missionary efforts began before the Protestant Reformation but had no lasting effects on the Temne. The Protestant presence accompanied the founding of Freetown in the late eighteenth century; Church Missionary Society representatives were active up the Rokel River and elsewhere in Temne country throughout the nineteenth century. In the 1890s the Soudna Mission was the first American mission in the Temne area; American Wesleyans and the Evangelical United Brethren subsequently joined the field. Today, 5 to 10% of Temne are followers of Christianity.
Ceremonies are held for most life-stage transitions for both sexes. For women, circumcision, coming of age, initiation into the Bundu society, marriage, and giving birth are paramount. For men, circumcision, initiation into the Poro society, marriage, and fathering children are most important.
The primary public ceremonies are those that mark the end of initiation of groups into Bundu and Poro, both for ordinary initiates and the rarer initiation of officials, and those that are part of the installation or burial of a chief. The principal Christian and Muslim holidays are also marked by ceremonies (e.g., Christmas and the end of Ramadan).
Temne Bundo Nowo initiation Mask
Graphic and plastic arts are essentially limited to the adornment of utilitarian objects and the masks and other items used by the various societies. In the past, the Ragbenle masks, especially, were many and varied. The verbal arts are stressed, and Temne use riddles and proverbs in instruction, engage in storytelling that verges on dramatic performance, and employ vocal music and drumming on various occasions. Jewelry is becoming more popular.
Disease and ill health are viewed in terms of obvious surface symptoms (like fever, rash, swelling) and the "underlying causes" of those symptoms (e.g., witchcraft, being caught by a swearing medicine). Symptoms can be relieved by traditional or Western medicine, but these have no effect on the underlying cause(s), which require divination and the proper supernatural response.
Temne woman and her baby
Death and afterlife
Relatives assemble after a death, and the corpse is washed, oiled, and dressed in good clothing. Burial usually occurs in or near the deceased's house. Mourning periods and the number and form of sacrifices vary with the status of the deceased. Divination of the cause of death was usual in the past. Witches require special burial procedures, and society officials and chiefs are also prepared and buried in special ways. One common thread in all is the attempt to appease the spirit of the deceased and prevent disturbance of the living in the future.
Isha Sesay,Temne lady
KING BAI BUREH OF THE TEMNE PEOPLE: THE FAMOUS FREEDOM FIGHTER, ANTI-COLONIALIST AND SIERRA LEONE`S GREATEST WAR HERO
Bai Bureh (1840 – August 24, 1908) was a Sierra Leonean ruler and military strategist who led the Temne and Loko uprising against British rule in 1898 in Northern Sierra Leone.
Photograph: Bai Bureh, Chief of the Timini when a prisoner at Sierra Leone in 1898. An original photograph by Lieutenant Arthur Greer West India Regiment who died August 7, 1900, when storming a blockade after the relief of Kumasi.
Mr. Schulze is the co-discoverer of a remarkable historical discovery, a clear, face-on photograph of Bai Bureh, Sierra Leone’s greatest hero. The photo shows Bai Bureh sitting in a relaxed manner with his hands folded on his lap, looking slightly away from the camera. He’s wearing his trademark “ronko” gown (or war shirt) and a small embroidered Muslim hat. A Sierra Leonean policeman in uniform stands next to Bai Bureh keeping a watchful eye on his captive, and holding a large rifle with a fixed bayonet. But the soldier is also clearly relaxed. Click here:sierraexpressmedia.com/archives to read more about the discovery of the photograph.
Early life and ruler of Northern Sierra Leone
Bai Bureh was born in 1840 in Kasseh, a village near Port Loko in Northern Sierra Leone. His first name, Bai, means Chief in the Temne language. Bureh's father was an important Loko war-chief and his mother was a Temne trader from Makeni.
When Bureh was a young man his father sent him to the small village of Gbendembu in northern Sierra Leone, where he was trained to become a warrior. During his training at the village, he showed that he was a formidable warrior and was given the nickname of Kebalai which translates as ‘one who doesn’t tire of war’. When Kebalai return to his home village, he was crowned ruler of Kasseh.
During the 1860s and 1870s, Bureh had become the top warrior of Port Loko and the entire Northern Province. He successfully fought and won wars against other villagers and tribal leaders who were against his plan to establish correct islamic and indigenous practices throughout Northern Sierra Leone. In 1882, Bureh fought against the Susu people from French Guinea (now Guinea) who invaded Kambia, a town in northern Sierra Leone. Bai Bureh's fighters defeated the Susu, pushed them back into French Guinea and returned the land to the local Kambia people. After winning several major wars, his popularity spread. The people of the northern province felt they had found a warrior who would defend their land. In 1886, Bai Bureh was crowned as the chief of Northern Sierra Leone.
As a ruler, Bureh never wanted to cooperate with the British who were living in the capital city of Freetown. Bai Bureh refused to recognise a peace treaty the British had negotiated with the Limba without his participation; and on one occasion, his warrior fighters raided the British troops across the border into French Guinea. On January 1, 1893, the British colonials instituted a hut tax in Sierra Leone and throughout British-controlled Africa. The tax could be paid in either money, grain, stock or labor. Many Africans had to work as laborers to pay the tax. The Hut Tax enabled the British to build roads, towns, railways and other infrastructure amenities in British-controlled Sierra Leone.
Bai Bureh refused to recognise the hut tax that the British had imposed. He did not believe the Sierra Leonean people had a duty to pay taxes to foreigners and he wanted all British to return to Britain and let the Sierra Leoneans solve their own problems. After refusing to pay his taxes on several occasions, the British issued a warrant to arrest Bureh. When the British Governor to Sierra Leone, Sir Frederic Cardew, offered the princely sum of one hundred pounds as a reward for his capture, Bai Bureh reciprocated by offering the even more staggering sum of five hundred pounds for the capture of the governor. In 1898, Bureh declared war on British in Sierra Leone. The war later became known as the Hut Tax War of 1898.
Most of Bureh's fighters came from several temne and Loko villages under his command, but other fighters came from Limba, Kissi and Kuranko villages, sent to his aid. Bai Bureh's men not only killed the British soldiers but also killed dozens of Creoles who were living in Northern Sierra Leone because it was thought by the indigenous people of Sierra Leone that they supported the British. One of the most notable Creole people who was killed by Bai Bureh's warriors was a trader John "Johnny" Taylor, who was killed in his house in Northern Sierra Leone.
Bai Bureh had the advantage over the vastly more powerful British for several months of the war. By 19 February, 1898, Bai Bureh's forces had completely severed the British line of communication between Freetown and Port Loko. They blocked the road and the river from Freetown. Despite their arrest warrant, the British forces failed to defeat Bureh and his supporters. Hundreds of British troops were killed, and hundreds of Bureh's fighters also died during the war.
Capture and exile
Bai Bureh was finally tracked down in swampy, thickly vegetated countryside by a small patrolling party of the newly organised West African Regiment on November 11, 1898 in Port Loko. His Temne and Loko warriors resisted to the last, but they did not evade the troops for long. Bai Bureh was taken under guard to Freetown, where crowds gathered around his quarters day and night to gain a glimpse of the great man.
The British sent Bai Bureh in exile to the Gold Coast (now Ghana), along with the powerful Sherbro chief Kpana Lewis and the powerful Mende chief Nyagua. Both Kpana Lewis and Nyagua died in exile but Bai Bureh was brought back to Sierra Leone in 1905, reinstating him as the Chief of Kasseh. Bai Bureh died in 1908.
The legacy of Bai Bureh
The significance of Bai Bureh's war against the British is not a matter of whether he won or lost the war but that a man who had none of what could be called formal military training was able to show that for a significant number of months he was able to take on the British who were very proud of their great military successes across the globe. The British troops were led by officers trained at the finest military academies where war is studied in the same way that one studies a subject at university. The fact that Bai Bureh was not executed after his capture has led some historians to claim that this was in admiration for his prowess as an adversary to the British.
The tactics employed by Bai Bureh in his fight against the British are very much the forerunner of tactics employed by guerilla armies worldwide. At the time these tactics were very revolutionary and he "succeeded" for the good reason he had expert knowledge of the terrain across which the war took place. Bai Bureh had pursued the war not just with sound military brain but also a sense of humour. When Governor Cardew had offered the princely sum of 100 pounds as a reward for his capture, Bai Bureh had reciprocated by offering the even more staggering sum of five hundred pounds for the capture of the Governor.
Many Sierra Leoneans view Bai Bureh today as the greatest man to ever come out of the country. There is a very large Statue of Bai Bureh in central Freetown. He pictured on several Sierra Leonean paper bill. A Sierra Leonean professional football club called the Bai Bureh Warriors from Port Loko is named after him.
'De war done done' (said when Bureh was captured by the British) The British were well aware of Bai Bureh's folk hero status he had cultivated during the war, which made them less inclined to hang him. It was too much of a risk to take: by killing Bai Bureh they would have likely created a martyr. Such actions would have led to a battle cry for freedom against British rule in Sierra Leone and if the British were defeated there, then that would have emboldened their subjects in other regions to rebel, threatening their Imperial rule in West Africa.
Temne tribe woman, Zainab Hawa Bangura, current Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone with former US President Bill Clinton