Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sierra Leone: On the mend

*****NEWS FLASH*****
Get a dose of culture from Sierra Leone with your food on a stick (if you are not a Minnesotan you may want to watch this):

The Sierra Leonian musical group the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars will be performing at the Minnesota State Fair at the Leine Lodge on August 29th and 30th!

This group has had a documentry film about them which will be shown locally and on PBS:
Oh, and Sierra Leone just held a national election on August 11th, important but that is not nearly as fun...

And now for:
Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone, officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea on the north and Liberia on the south, with the Atlantic Ocean on the west.
The name Sierra Leone was adapted from the Portuguese name for the country: Serra Leoa. The literal meaning is "Lion Mountain Range".
Check out where it sits on the African Continent:
Climate: tropical; hot, humid; summer rainy season (May to December); winter dry season (December to April)

Terraine: coastal belt of mangrove swamps, wooded hill country, upland plateau, mountains in east

Population: 6,144,562 (July 2007 est.)
Most of the population is made up of youth and the average life expectency is only 37 for males and 40 for females.

Capitol City: Freetown

Freetown, the capital and largest city is the leading commercial and educational center of the country. Other major cities include Bo, Kenema, Koidu, and Makeni.
Language: English (official, regular use limited to literate minority), Mende (principal vernacular in the south), Temne (principal vernacular in the north), Krio (English-based Creole, spoken by the descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area, a lingua franca and a first language for 10% of the population but understood by 95%)

Ethnicity: The population of Sierra Leone comprises about sixteen ethnic groups; each with its own language and customs, the two largest of these being the Mende and Temne, about equal in numbers representing 60% of the country's population. The Mende predominate in the Southern Province, the Temne likewise to the Northern Province.

Religion: The Sierra Leone constitution provides freedom of religion and the government generally protects this right, and does not tolerate its abuse.

Approximately 60% of Sierra Leoneans are Muslim; 30% are Christian; 10% adhere to their ethno-cultural religions and faiths. Unlike many other countries, the religious and tribal mix of Sierra Leone rarely causes religious or tribal conflict.

Currency: Sierra Leone’s currency is the Leone(Le). The central bank of the country is the Bank of Sierra Leone which is located in the national capital, Freetown. The Bank of Sierra Leone is a 100 percent state-owned corporate body.
2,961.70 Leones = $1 US

Food: Rice is the staple food, consumed at virtually every meal. A Sierra Leonean will often say, without any exaggeration, "If I haven't eaten rice today, then I haven't eaten!"
Rice is eaten with the hands by squeezing or rolling it into a ball, dipping it into the sauce, and then popping it into the mouth. If rice falls from your fingers or mouth, you don't put it back in the dish. When everyone finishes eating, they wash their hands and thank the cook.

Other things are of course eaten—a wide variety of fruits, seafood, potatoes, cassava, etc.—but these are often considered to be just "snacks" and not "real food." Real food is rice, prepared numerous ways, and topped with a variety of sauces made from some combination of potato leaves, cassava leaves, hot peppers, peanuts, beans, okra, fish, beef, chicken, eggplant, onions, and tomatoes. Bones, particularly chicken bones, are a delicacy, because their brittle nature makes the sweet marrow inside easily accessible.

This visiting blogger noted how much of the rice seems to be imported, rather than grown locally. The fact that their staple food comes from elsewhere speaks to the emerging independence of this nation from teh past turmoil and dependence on relief from other nations (I'll get to that later).

Culture: Such traditional handicrafts as cloth weaving, leatherwork, basketry, pottery, and rug making are popular. Music and dance forms related to tribal religious ceremonies are well developed. The Sierra Leone Dance Troupe, through its international tours, has made these dances known worldwide.

Sierra Leoneans as a rule are extremely polite and manner-conscious. Much attention is given, especially in urban areas, to one's neatness of dress and style of presentation. Courteous and eloquent greetings are a way of life. Elders are especially respected. The "good" host is always a giving host, one who will call any passerby to join in a meal by a wholehearted, "Come, let's eat." It is polite as a guest to leave some food on the plate, thanking the host profusely for his or her generosity.

Marriage. For all Sierra Leoneans, marriage is a mark of adult maturity and brings considerable prestige to both bride and groom. Specific customs vary by ethnic group and socioeconomic status, but usually begin when a man is able to assemble enough brideprice (often a mixture of money and fine cloth) to give to the prospective bride and her family. Almost all marriages used to be arranged between families, sometimes while the girl was still quite young. Increasingly, "love marriages" are more common, especially among those who have been to school.

Domestic Unit. The basic household structure is an extended family, organized for the majority of people around the farm and its rice production.

Many households are polygynous, where a husband may have more than one wife; the first or "senior" wife usually has some authority over "junior" wives, such as in training and organizing them into a functional unit. Monogamy is also common, especially among urban and Christian families.

Sierra Leoneans love children, and larger households tend to have more prestige. Having many children is in fact an investment of sorts, which, though initially expensive to maintain, eventually allows a family to accumulate wealth by creating a large and diverse labor pool, by gaining brideprice for its daughters, and by strategically marrying off children to create new alliances with other families.

Kin Groups. Kinship networks are extremely important in everyday matters, in that one is obligated to assist one's family members throughout life.
Kin groups also play an important part in hearing legal cases and settling disputes before they are referred to a neutral third party. Thus, upon marriage, a man and a woman may each prefer to settle near their own kin, as this confers them distinct political and economic advantages. Though rights and responsibilities exist on both sides of one's family, maternal uncles are often particularly important figures, offering both obligations and entitlements to an individual.

Story telling: There are rich and lively traditions of storytelling across Sierra Leone. The most famous storytellers (sometimes endearingly called "liars") can manage to earn a living from their trade, though mostly these traditions are informal affairs, and start when children gather around an elder under the full moon once the evening chores are done.
Government: Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature.
The government is slowly reestablishing its authority after the civil war from 1991 to 2002 that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people (about one-third of the population). This time was portrayed in the 1999 documentry film Cry Freetown.
The last UN peacekeepers withdrew in December 2005 leaving full responsibility for security with domestic forces. A new civilian UN mission - the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) - was established to support the government's efforts to consolidate peace.
This is an image of people waiting to vote in the first national elections in 2002:
Prior to gaining independence in 1961, Sierra Leone was under colonial rule for centuries.
Sierra Leone has a special significance in the history of the transatlantic slave trade. It was the departure point for thousands of west African captives. The capital, Freetown, was founded as a home for repatriated former slaves in 1787.

Economy: Sierra Leone is an extremely poor nation with tremendous inequality in income distribution. While it possesses substantial mineral, agricultural, and fishery resources, its economic and social infrastructure is not well developed, and serious social disorders continue to hamper economic development.
Nearly half of the working-age population engages in subsistence agriculture. Manufacturing consists mainly of the processing of raw materials and of light manufacturing for the domestic market.
Diamond mining remains the major source of hard currency earnings accounting for nearly half of Sierra Leone's exports.
The diamond industry in Sierra Leone has a horrific history of corruption and human rights violations. This was recently highlighted in the film Blood Diamond (which I have yet to see).
The fate of the economy depends upon the maintenance of domestic peace and the continued receipt of substantial aid from abroad, which is essential to offset the severe trade imbalance and supplement government revenues. A recent increase in political stability has led to a revival of economic activity such as the rehabilitation of bauxite and rutile mining.


paulino brener said...

and what have you learned about this country?

i am glad you are taking geography seriously! :-)

nixx07 said...

are you a geographer? Pretty good Huh! I love your blog. It seems like I'm already traveling to different places. Speaking of traveling, pls. try traveling to my blog. I'll be expecting you to comment okay.

Missy said...

I am not a geographer. The inspiration for this blog is my utter cluelessness in geopraphy!

I learned a lot about Sierra Leone, but I wish I could have learned more about the cultures. Much of the information online is about the negative and brutal political history. I do not mean to dicredit the suffering, I just wish I could represent the people as more than just war torn and struggling. They have a history and a soul and traditions just like the rest of us that do no involve violence.

paulino brener said...

Missy. This is a great idea! Not just about Sierra Leone but the blog in general. I wish more people (ehem.. more Americans) would follow your example! :-)

B said...

great job!

i really like the little tidbits you throw in like it's customary to wash your hands and thank the cook after a meal (my family needs to do that) and that the story tellers are called "liars".


Missy said...

Thanks b, you are such a nice blog friend!

And thank you Paulino! I agree. Tell your friends about learning geography!!

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I saw Blood Diamond and loved it. Yet again Leo was robbed atthe Oscars. He really does a great job in the film.

I love their flag. I love it almost as much as I love this blog.

Ironic said...

Are you all signed up with the league?
Let me know.

Anonymous said...