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Temne people

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Title: Temne people  
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Subject: Demographics of Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone, Bai Bureh, History of Sierra Leone, Northern Province, Sierra Leone
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Temne people

Total population
35% of Sierra Leone's population [1]
Regions with significant populations
 Sierra Leone
(Port Loko District, Tonkolili District, Bombali District, Kambia District, Kenema District, Western Area)
Temne, Sierra Leone English, Krio
Islam (85%), Christianity (10%)
Related ethnic groups
Limba, Loko

The Temne people are currently the largest ethnic group in Sierra Leone, at 35% of the total population[1] The Temne are predominantly found in the Northern Province and the Western Area, including the national capital Freetown.

The Temne are rice farmers, fishermen, and traders. Traditional Temne culture revolves around the paramount chiefs, and 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 centuries, hundreds of thousands of Temne were captured and shipped to the Americas as slaves.

Today the Temne are mostly Muslim at about 85% of their population; they interweave Islamic beliefs with traditional African practices (syncretism). About 14% of Temne are followers of Christianity.

Before British domination, Temne were ruled by a king called the Bai or Obai. In 1898, the Temne fought against British rule, in what is known today as the Hut Tax War of 1898.

The Temne people speak Temne, a language in the Mel branch of the Niger–Congo languages. The Temne language, along with the creole Krio, serve as the major trading languages in northern Sierra Leone. As well as being spoken by the Temne people, Temne is spoken by other Sierra Leonean ethnic groups as a regional lingua franca, especially in Northern Sierra Leone; the language is spoken by around 40% of Sierra Leone's population.

Sierra Leone's national politics centers on the competition between the north, dominated by the Temne and their neighbour and political ally, the Limba; and the southeast, 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 president from the Temne ethnic group; he receives most of his support from Temne-dominant areas in the north and western regions of Sierra Leone.


Most Temne acknowledge their ancestral home as Fouta Jallon, in the territory of present-day Guinea. Like other minority ethnic groups in Fouta, such as the Yalunka, the Susu, the Kurankoh, the Temne started to emigrate 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, the Temne fought and forced the Limba to the northeast and the Bullom southwards to secure the new trade route. It reached from Bakeh towards the northern part of the Pamoronkoh River (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. Historians believe the Temne 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. They used their commercial expertise gained during that earlier period when they embarked on the new coastal trade with European traders, beginning in the 15th century.

They migrated to Jalunkandu Empire in 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.

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 traders had relationships with representatives at the permanent European "factories" in the river mouths. Similarly, they established trading relationships with the settlement at Freetown after its founding in 1792. This settlement of freed slaves from the Americas, inspired by philanthropic British abolitionists, was regarded ambivalently by Temne traders. The freedmen developed a different culture, incorporating their traditions from lives in the American colonies and Caribbean; they became known as Creoles or Krios, after the language they developed. The Temne had long been involved in the profitable export of people for the slave trade, typically taken as captives in warfare or from competing groups. During the early years, they sometimes raided Freetown trying to take back slaves.

In the nineteenth century, following British abolition of the African slave trade, the British took slaves liberated from the slave ships it captured to Freetown for resettlement. This added new African groups to the culture of the Creoles. Freetown became the primate trade entrepot on the coast. It attracted trade caravans from Temne and beyond. Creoles (Krios) from Freetown moved progressively up-county to trade in the second half of the nineteenth century. Their relations with the Temne and other indigenous ethnic groups in the country were not always amicable, as they had competing cultures.

In addition, 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 British proclaimed the Protectorate of Sierra Leone in 1896, which annexed the interior territories. Colonel Frederic Cardew was appointed as military governor, but all his experience was in the armed forces. Establishing the Protectorate changed British dealings with the chiefdoms; they made them units of local government rather than dealing with them as equals.

Temne rebellion/Hut Tax War of 1898

In 1898 Colonel Cardew instituted a hut tax and requirement that chiefs put together work crews to maintain roads. This threatened the local subsistence culture.

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. the military governor, Colonel Frederic Cardew, 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.

Bai Bureh, a Temne war chief, and 23 other chiefs unsuccessfully petitioned the governor for relief from the tax, demonstrating its adverse effects on their societies.[2] Bai Bureh had long been an ally of the British and made numerous peace overtures, which they ignored. The colonial authorities reacted to rumours and suspicions, firing the first shots at his followers in an attempt to arrest him. After that, Bai Bureh led the defense against the British colonialists.[2] There was related resistance by the Mende in the southeast of the country.

The operations against Bai Bureh, from February to November, involved "some of the most stubborn fighting that has been seen in West Africa," according to a British commander. Several British troops were killed. .

When the British Governor to Sierra Leone Sir Frederic Cardew offered the sum of 100 pounds as a reward for his capture, Bai Bureh reciprocated by offering the 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 warriors 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."

After 1898, the colonial government expanded its 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. Expatriate firms, Sierra Leonean-Lebanese and Krio traders expanded their activities throughout Temne areas. Schools developed slowly under Christian missionaries.


Temne children in Koinadugu District in 1968

The Temne have long been predominantly farmers of dry rice, intercropped with a variety of secondary crops. Some of the Temne people have grown wet rice from at least the 19th century in inland swamps, seasonal ponds, and in cleared overflow areas along the lower Scarcies River. Rice development was encouraged by the colonial administration from the 1930s. Rice surplus to household needs was exchanged. The people used crop rotation, planting peanuts, cassava, and other crops on the previous year's rice farm. Areas near the house were used as gardens. Oil palms and fruit and other trees provided additional foodstuffs. Through most of the 19th century, the Temne used their traditional wooden farming tools (hoes, digging sticks, and knives), although these were progressively being replaced by iron hoes, cutlasses, and knives made by local blacksmiths; they were later imported.

Today most village households continue to 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. The people use a wide variety of techniques. 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 related to iron smelting and working, weaving, woodworking, leatherworking, fishing, hunting and trapping, and drumming. In the 20th century, men developed new skills in carpentry, stonemasonry, and tailoring; women also did sewing. Gradually imported manufactured goods replaced those made locally and caused the loss of some traditional craft skills.


Some Temne in the Western Area were involved in export trade from the late 15th century on, whereas many Northern and eastern Temne were little involved before the late 19th century. Trade operated on basically three levels in the 19th 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 the use of canoes on the waterways and porters head-loading goods over footpaths.

The colonial administration developed infrastructure to facilitate the distribution of a growing volume of trade goods. The construction of a narrow-gauge railway (the SLGRR) stimulated the development of towns along the route. These served as bulking and break-bulking centers, as well as sites of local 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.

The government established the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SLPMB) for exports, to increase revenues. Gold, most of it produced further inland than the Temne territory, had been traded from Sierra Leone since the 15th century. It reached its last peak in the 20th century in the 1930s. British groups discovered new resources; the Sierra Leone Development Company (SLDC/DELCO) exported iron for the first time in 1933, from the mine at Marampa.

Formation of the Sierra Leone Selection Trust in 1935 led to increased mining and export of diamonds from eastern Sierra Leone. The number of jobs attracted large numbers of Temne as wage laborers. Initially the business was illegal, conducted in Kenema District, a predominantly Mende land, and Kono District, an area largely inhabited by the Kono people.

Division of labor

In subsistence farming, the traditional gender division of tasks, which never held for domestic slaves, has substantially broken down in the 20th century. 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 augmented what it could produce directly 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.

Land tenure

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. According to tradition, chiefs "gave" portions of land to people to farm. They reciprocated with a return gift to the grantor-chief as the seal on their agreement. The grantees could reallocate portions of their land to others, receiving a lamb 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.


The Temne are largely occupied as rice farmers, fishermen, and traders. 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. Most Temne are staunch Muslims, although like other West Africans, they combine their Islamic faith with a strong adherence to traditional African religious beliefs and practices.

Temne culture places great emphasis on individualism, hard work, and personal initiative. Sierra Leoneans sometimes refer to their Temne neighbors affectionately as "Germans" because of their reputation for aggressiveness.


Sierra Leone's national politics centers on the competition between the north, dominated by the Temne and their neighbors and allies, the Limba, Loko and Kuranko and the south-east dominated by the Mende and their political allies, the Sherbro, Kissi and Kono, etc. The current president of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma (2007-present) is Temne.


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 clans, which were patrilineal in terms of kinship. 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. The initial grantee could give land-use rights to other patrikin groups as well.

If a household farmed land at some distance, people would build a hamlet near the land to reduce travel. the main 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.

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.



Muslim contacts probably go back several centuries. The 15th-century Portuguese explorers and traders recorded contacts with Muslim peoples. Early traders, holy men, and warriors brought Islam into the Temne area; from the north the Susu introduced the new religion, and the from the northeast it was brought by the Fula and Mandinka. Through the 19th century, as the volume of interior trade grew, Muslim influences increased. By the late 20th century, a significant proportion of Temne claim to be Muslim.

The Temne have combined Islam with their traditional religion in syncretic practice. Many of the Temne 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 people fear the witches and carry charms or medicines to ward off their evil acts.


Portuguese Christian missionary efforts began before the Protestant Reformation but had no lasting effects on the Temne. Protestant missionaries accompanied the founding of Freetown in the late eighteenth century, and most of the new settlers were Protestant Christians. Church Missionary Society representatives were active up the Rokel River and elsewhere in Temne country throughout the 19th century. In the 1890s the Soudna Mission was the first United States mission in the Temne area; American Wesleyans and the Evangelical United Brethren subsequently joined the field. Gradually, some Temne adopted Christianity. Today, 5 to 10% of Temne are followers of Christianity.

NAZARENES: These group of Salone Jews who some would label Messianic Jews, are a small minority in Sierra Leone, but are rapidly growing in numbers. "The Congregation of YAHUAH in Sierra Leone" was founded by a Temne descendant from the U.S.A., Yahshurun Obai Agyemang. When interviewing Temne elders, chiefs, and elders Yahshurun discovered that the Temnes and other tribes in Salone, were Jews that were in the diaspora who had lost there identity. This led him to write a book titled: "The Hebraic Origins of the Temne: According to Biblical and Oral History". Yahshurun, Samuel Turay, Abu Fofana, Gideon, Ugochukwu Timothy, Gideon, and others have established the Israelite culture back to the people of Salone.

Traditional beliefs

The traditional Temne creator God is Kurumasaba (meaning God in English), who, 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.


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).

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. If witches were suspected to have caused the death, special burial procedures were required. The elite, society officials and chiefs, are also prepared and buried in special ways. A common belief thread of these practices is that appropriate ritual will appease the spirit of the deceased and prevent disturbance of the living in the future.


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 (such as 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. The people believe that symptomatic relief does not affect the underlying cause(s) of illness, which require divination and the proper supernatural response.


The Temne have a patrilineal kinship system, with inheritance and descent through the paternal line. 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. 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 concentrated in a geographic region, 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. In addition, each clan has specific prohibitions on seeing, touching, eating, or using, which 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, descendants use the same terms for the mother's brothers and sisters as for the 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. Often ties with the mother's patrilineage are nearly as important; Temne speak of their mother's paternal kin 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.

Domestic unit

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. 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.

Social organization

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.

Political organization

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.

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.

Social control

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 overgovernment put an end to Temne raiding and warfare.

Notable Temne people


  • Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, Former Minister of Information from 2007-2012
  • Shahineh Bash-Taqi, Former acting chief justice of Sierra Leone and wife of the late Ibrahim Bash-Taqi
  • Francis obai Kabia, Sierra Leone politician and member of the SLPP and brother of Soccoh Kabia
  • Mohamed Sorie Forna, Former member of the APC
  • Ibrahim Bash-Taqi, Former Sierra Leonean
  • King Tom, negotiated the settlement of the Province of Freedom with the British
  • Bai Bureh, Sierra Leonean ruler and military strategist who led the Temne uprising against the British in 1898.
  • Ernest Bai Koroma, current president of Sierra Leone
  • Kande Bureh, Sierra Leone minister of Transportation and Communications from 1962–1967 and one of the founded members that guided Sierra Leone to Independence
  • Foday Sankoh, former Sierra Leonean rebel leader
  • Zainab Hawa Bangura, current Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone
  • Abdul Serry-Kamal, Sierra Leone's current Minister of Justice and Attorney General
  • Alpha Kanu, Sierra Leone's current Minister of Mineral Resources
  • James Yayah Kanu; Sierra Leone Army officer
  • Momodu Koroma, foreign minister of Sierra Leone from 2002–2007
  • Ibrahim Kemoh Sesay, Sierra Leone's former minister of Transportation and Aviation and a former member of Parliament from Port Loko District from 2002–2007
  • Kadi Sesay, Sierra Leone's minister of Trade and Industry from 2002–2007 and the current National Deputy Chairman of the SLPP
  • Soccoh Kabia, Sierra Leone's current Minister of Social Welfare and Children's affairs
  • Okere Adams, Sierra Leone minister of Marine Resources from 2002 t0 2005 and minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs from 2005–2007
  • Thaimu Bangura, former Sierra Leone minister of Finance and leader of the PDP political party
  • Edward Mohamed Turay, former leader of the All People's Congress (APC) and a currently a member of Parliament from Bombali District
  • Abdul Kady Karim, Sierra Leonean politician and leader of the UNPP political party
  • Karefa Kargbo, Foreign minister of Sierra Leone from 1993–1994
  • Alpha Timbo, Sierra Leone minister of Labour and employment from 2002–2007
  • Alhaji Andrew Kanu, the current mayor of the city of Makeni
  • Musa Kamara, Sierra Leonean Belgian,Navigator Ship Captain and School Science Governor in London,England,UK.
  • Andrew Turay, Sierra Leonean politician
  • Abdul Karim Koroma, Sierra Leone minister of Education from 1977–1982
  • Musa Kamara, Sierra Leonean Belgian, Navigator Ship Captain and School Science Governor in London, England, UK.
  • Momodu Munu, former Sierra Leon minister from 1985–1989
  • Aaron Aruna Koroma, Member of parliament for Tonkolili District
  • John Gbla, Former member of Parliament for Tonkolili District
  • Francis Munu, Sierra Leone Police commissioner from Makeni
  • Alie Essa Bangura, Former Journalist and Former Ambassador of Sierra Leone to Ghana.Member of parliament for Port loko District
  • Christian sheka Kargbo, Former ambassador to the EU
  • Badara Kamara,U S military officer, Auditor Office of Inspector General
  • Hassan Sesay,Member of parliament of Tonkolili District
  • Alimamy Petito Kamara, Former APC Youth Leader and Member of Parliament for Kambia district
  • Chief Bai Sherbora Somano kapen, Former Member of parliament of Kambia district and the current Leader of the SLPP party
  • Ibrahim Sorie, Sierra Leone current ambassador to the European Union
  • Bai Kafari, A Temne chief of Tani




  1. ^ "Population of Sierra Leone", US State Department
  2. ^ a b Arthur Abraham, "Bai Bureh, The British, and the Hut Tax War", The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1974), pp. 99-106, Published by: Boston University African Studies Center
  • Brooks, George. (1993) Landlords and Strangers: Ecology, Society, and Trade in Western Africa, 1000-1630, Boulder: Westview Press.
  • Rodney, Walter. (1970) A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Wylie, Kenneth. (1977) The Political Kingdoms of the Temne: Temne Government in Sierra Leone, 1825-1910, New York: Africana Publishing. Company.

External links

  • PV Investigative Staff, "Our Cabinet Ministers and Diplomats", Patriotic Vanguard, 22 May 2012.
  • "Temne", Every Culture
  • Recordings of Temne Music, on CDs
  • Assessment for Temne in Sierra Leone, University of Maryland
  • See section on "Bai Bureh," noted Loko/Temne ruler of the 19th century
  • Tenne Masks & Headdresses, Sierra Leone, Hamill Gallery
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