Mandingo people of Sierra Leone

The Mandinka people of Sierra Leone

Total population
470,204 (7% of Sierra Leone's population)
Mandinka language
Islam (99%)
Related ethnic groups

The Mandinka people of Sierra Leone (commonly referred to as the Mandingo, Mandinka or Malinke) is a major ethnic group in Sierra Leone and a branch of the Mandinka people of West Africa, with whom they share the same culture, religion, tradition and language. The Sierra Leonean Mandingo are the direct descendants of Mandinka warriors from Guinea who conquered large territories in areas of the North and East of Sierra Leonean in the 1870s under the leadership of Samori Ture. They were followed by thousands of 'Mandingo settlers from Guinea in the late 19th and early-to-mid-20th century.

The Mandingo constitute about 7% of Sierra Leone's population. The Mandingo are 98% Muslim, and Islam has become the basis of their religious and cultural practices.

The Mandingo people of Sierra Leone are predominantly traders and rural subsistence farmers. Sierra Leone's third president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, first Vice President Sorie Ibrahim Koroma and Alhaji Chief Mucktarru-Kallay, the first chairman and Leader of the APC are three of many of Sierra Leone's prominent Mandingo politicians.

The Mandingo people of Sierra Leone speak the maninka language as their native language. The Mandingo are found in virtually all parts of Sierra Leone; they make up the majority of the population of several towns in the North and East of Sierra Leone. Their population is largely concentrated in Koinadugu District in the North, particularly in the towns of Kabala and Falaba, where they form the majority of the population. The Mandingo make up the majority of the population in Yengema, Kono District in Eastern Sierra Leone. They also make up the majority of the population in the town of Karina, Bombali District in the north of Sierra Leone.


See also: Mali Empire
Samori with the Qur'an in his hands

In 1875, Samori Ture, a Muslim cleric and a Mandinka leader in Guinea, imported breech-loading rifles through the British colony Sierra Leone and supplied his warriors with them. By 1876, his Mandinka warriors had defeated the Limba led by Almamy Suluku and had conquered a large territory in Limba areas in northern Sierra Leone. The Mandinka warriors moved into the northeastern part of British colony Sierra Leone, where they occupied lands of the local Temne and Loko people.

Ture took the title of Almany, chief of all Believers. By late 1876, the Mandinka warriors had occupied a large section in northeastern Sierra Leone.

Samori Ture established Islamic Madrassa schools based on the Suffi tradition of Sunni Islam, in areas in Northeast Sierra Leone under his rule; and Ture encouraged the local Sierra Leonean people, who were living under the Mandinka control territory in Northeastern Sierra Leone to abandon their animist beliefs and to convert to Islam. As a result, many of the local Sierra Leonean people under Samori Ture's rule, who were not muslims at the time, abandon their animist beliefs and converted to Islam, and many of the local Sierra Leonean people joined the Mandinka people in enrolling in the Islamic Madrassa schools established by Samori Ture.

In 1878, Ture sent thousands of Mandinka people from the Wassoulou empire in central Guinea to Mandinka-occupied northeastern Sierra Leone as traders, farmers, and settlers to colonize the area. By late 1878, the Mandinka population had tripled in British-controlled Sierra Leone. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the Mandinka had begun to have families, and the British government considered their descendants as citizens of Sierra Leone by birth. The British called them Mandingo. While they were concentrated in the North and East, the Mandinka traders and businesspeople also settled in the capital Freetown. Since the late eighteenth century, it had been dominated by the Krio people, descendants of black colonists from Great Britain and Nova Scotia. The latter included freed United States slaves who were settled in Nova Scotia after the American Revolutionary War, when they had joined the British to gain freedom.


The Mandingo have played an important role in the politics of Sierra Leone. The Mandingo have traditionally supported the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), which ruled the country as recently as 2007. Sierra Leone's third president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who is ethnic Mandingo, was very popular in the Mandingo community across Sierra Leone during his presidency. During Kabba's administration, the Mandingo enjoyed strong influence in the government and the civil service.

Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, President of Sierra Leone from 1996–2007 *Sorie Ibrahim Koroma, Vice president of Sierra Leone (1971 to 1985) Alhaji Chief A.MucktarruKallay, First chairman and Leader of the All Peoples Congress (APC) Mar-Oct1960.

Usman Boie Kamara, who is an ethnic Mandingo, ran unsuccessfully for the SLPP presidential candidate in the 2012 Sierra Leone presidential election. He finished second, after the former military ruler Julius Maada Bio, who won the SLPP nomination at the party's convention held on 31 July 2011 at the Miatta Hall in Freetown. .

Under the current Sierra Leone government of president Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People's Congress (APC), several prominent Mandingo have been appointed to senior government and civil service positions. Senior positions held by ethnic Mandingo include the deputy Minister of Finance, Mabinty Daramy; Ambassador to the Gambia Mohamed Kemoh Fadika;, Minister of Mines, Mineral Resources Minkailu Mansaray;

Mandingo culture

Mandingo culture is rich in tradition, music, and spiritual ritual. Mandingo continue a long oral history tradition through griots, who tell stories, songs and proverbs. This passing down of oral history through music has made music one of the most distinctive traits of the Mandinka. In rural areas, western education's impact is minimal; the literacy rate in Latin script among these Mandinka is quite low. But, more than half the adult population can read the Arabic script used locally; small Qur'anic schools for children are quite common.

The Mandingo have long been known for their drumming and also for their unique musical instrument, the kora. The kora is a twenty-one-stringed guitar-like instrument made out of a halved, dried, hollowed-out gourd covered with cow or goat skin. The strings are made of fishing line. It is played to accompany a person into the meaning of death so the first reconig ca go in peace to the fantom place.


Most Mandinka live in family-related compounds in traditional rural villages. Mandinka villages are fairly autonomous and self-ruled, being led by a council of upper-class elders and a chief who functions as a first among equals.


Family members traditionally arrange marriages between prospective spouses. This practice is particularly prevalent in the rural areas. The suitor's family sends kola nuts, a bitter nut from a tree, to the male elders of the bride-to-be. If the gift is accepted, the courtship begins. The Mandinka have practiced polygamy since pre-Islamic days. A Mandinka man is legally allowed to have up to four wives, as long as he is able to care for each of them equally.

Mandinka believe the crowning glory of any woman is the ability to produce children, especially sons. The first wife has authority over any subsequent wives. The husband has complete control over his wives and is responsible for feeding and clothing them. He also helps the wives' parents when necessary. Wives are expected to live together in harmony, at least superficially. They share work responsibilities of the compound, cooking, laundry, etc.

Passage into adulthood

Mandingo children are named on the seventh day after their birth, and are almost always named after a very important person in their family. The Mandinka practise rites of passage to mark the beginning of adulthood for their children.

At an age between four and fourteen, the children of each sex are subjected to ritual cutting of genitalia (see articles on male and female genital cutting), in separate groups according to their gender. In years past, the boys spent up to a year in the bush, but that has been reduced to coincide with their physical healing time, and is now generally between three and four weeks. The children who have been through the ritual together form a special, internal bond, one which remains throughout life.

During this time, the children of each gender are taught about their adult social responsibilities and rules of behaviour by elders of the same gender, who become their lifelong sponsors. They learn secret songs about being Mandinka. These songs teach them how they are to relate to members of the opposite sex, including their parents, their siblings, their relatives, and eventually their spouses, as well as their elders and their peers.

Great preparation is made in the village or compound for the return of the children. A huge celebration marks the return of the new adults to their families. The children are given new clothes and treated with new respect by their elders. Boys and girls are honoured with a dance. Tradition teaches children that, even after marriage, a woman's loyalty remains to her parents and her family; a man's to his.

Religious and spiritual beliefs

Today, over 99% of Mandinka are Muslim. Logon, Roberta A. (May 2007). "Sundiata of mali". Calliope. 17 (9): 34–38. Quinn, Charlotte A.; Quinn, Charlotte A. (December 1973). "Mandingo Kingdoms of the Senegambia: Traditionalism, Islam and European Expansion". The American Historical Review. American Historical Association. 78 (5): 1506–1507. doi:10.2307/1854194.  Many Mandinkas children, particularly those in the rural areas, learn to recite chapters of the Qu'ran in Arabic.

Most Mandinka practice a mix of Islam and traditional animist practices. They believe that the spirits can be controlled only through the power of a marabout, who knows the protective formulas. No important decision is made without first consulting the marabout. Marabouts, who also have Islamic training, write Qu'ranic verses on slips of paper and sew them into leather pouches. They sell them as protective amulets, which are bought and worn by men, women, and children. The few Mandinka who have converted to Christianity are often viewed as traitors by the others. Often communities drive out converts from the compound and village; they are rejected by their families.


Mandinka are rural subsistence farmers who rely on groundnuts, rice, millet, and small-scale husbandry for their livelihood. The oldest male is the head of the family. Small mud houses with conical thatch or tin roofs make up their villages, which are organized on the basis of the clan groups. During the rainy season men plant peanuts as their main cash crop; peanuts are also a staple of the Mandinka diet. Men also plant millet and corn, mostly for family consumption. Women work in the rice fields, tending the plants by hand. This is extremely labour-intensive and physically demanding work. Only about 50% of the rice consumption needs are met by local planting; the rest is imported from Asia and the United States. While farming is the predominant profession among the Mandinka, men also work as tailors, butchers, taxi drivers, woodworkers, metalworkers, soldiers, nurses, and extension workers for aid agencies. However, most women, probably 95%, remain in the home as wives and mothers.




Lansana Fofanah Sierra Leonean Journalist of BBC Africa

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