I’m all too familiar with the scourge of colonialism. I remember as a youngster, reading about the history of colonized countries, including Sierra Leone and Ghana. I always found it funny that the British abolished the slave trade, then slavery and swiftly proceeded to set up colonies that propagated slavery in all but name. It was never surprising even when I was very young. That’s always been the arc of humanity. Do the right thing, then do something even worse to make up for it.
I was always heartened though by the fact that there was never a shortage of resistance to colonial rule. I remember reading the stories and being taught the history of this resistance and one of the first names we learned about was Bai Bureh.
Bai Bureh was a Sierra Leonean ruler and military strategist who led a year-long guerrilla campaign against the British colonial rulers. He was stubbornly independent and refused to give in to British rule. It all reached a tipping point when the British instituted a ‘hut tax’ on the homes of all residents of Sierra Leone. Bai Bureh and his subjects refused to pay and he fomented staunch resistance to the British. He led his men on daring raids into British territories and was able to use innovative guerrilla tactics and military strategies to thwart the British for almost a year. This was despite their massive advantage in men and supplies. It was deeply embarrassing to the British who prided themselves on their military prowess, and they placed a large bounty on his head. He retaliated by placing a larger bounty on the British General’s head, further cementing his legendary status among his people.
It was ultimately for naught as he was captured and in a sign of how much the British respected (or feared) him, they exiled him, rather than executing him. He was allowed to return years later where he had the honour of dying in the land that he fought so valiantly for. He left behind a legacy as one of the most revered Sierra Leoneans and he is rightfully celebrated as one of our greatest citizens. He was one of the last of the great warrior-kings who defied the British and their barbarous rule.
“I would rather die than not be free...”