What is now the heartland of the Eastend stretching off from main Kissy Road overlooking the Queen Elizabeth II quay and dreaded for its nerve racking – jostling traffic of vehicles, motor bikes and people was in the early 1700s a lush green hilly slope on which densely populated pastoral Foulah traders grazed their cows – hence the name Fullah Tong.
They did not occupy the land for long.
“Freed slaves, recaptives and business people mostly Yoruba’s from Lagos and Abeokuta in Nigeria came into Sierra Leone during the 1700s and from the mouth of the Quay – since the most popular form of transport those days was by sea – they moved into Foulah tong and later spread into Fourah bay and Aberdeen,” Alhaji Abu Bakarr Hamid a revered son of the early Yoruba settlers who has spent the whole of his 58 years in the Foulah tong community recalled.
As the new group of settlers started building houses and cutting down the trees to expand the community, the Foulahs gradually left because the land was no longer suitable for rearing cows.
“They went further east to Kissy which was then still bushy” said Alhaji Hamid.
The Yorubas had founded a home, and Foulah tong became aYoruba hegemony with the culture and everything -Yoruba except the name.
These early Yoruba settlers were mainly Muslims probably that is why the Foulah Tong mosque became the epicenter of the community.
There are very many streets like tree branches shooting out from the main street (Mountain cut) named – First Street, Second Street, Third Street… and it seemed when they were tired of counting they gave typical Yoruba names to the streets, like Haderudeen Street.
Foulah tong in Freetown still bears the relics of colonialism captured in the architecture of the houses.
These houses are either board or stone houses with an upper room attached with a window which is known in local circles as “Kongosa Window” where most times the oldest member of the family who occupies such houses would position themselves to scrutinize every activity that goes on in the community, – and now and then deliver the greeting “e Karroh” (Yoruba word for ‘how are you’) to passers by, mostly when they want to be recognized.
Sadly though, many of these houses were lost, thanks to the January 6 invasion by rebels in Freetown, who burnt them, causing the landscape to now be increasingly dotted with modern architecture.
The Foulah Tong Mosque
The mosque stands stoutly on top of the hill on Mountain cut and Second Street. There had been claims that the mosque was a converted church, but Alhaji Hamid dispelled this.
He disclosed that the mosque was actually built in 1882, further up the mountain and not where it is presently located.
In those days Alhaji Hamid recalled there were serious persecutions in the community by Christians who considered non Christians as pagans.
“So there was a palaver and the Mosque was burnt down by these Christians.”
Another mosque was built opposite the mosque now but was again demolished after some years because it was not big enough.
Finally they built the massive structure which is what is now the Foulah Tong mosque and maintained the 1882 date as its establishment.” Alhaji Hamid narrated.
Amariah Primary School he said was also built in 1887 by Dr Blyden who saw the need for education and that the land was donated for the project by twins – Alhassan and Alusine.
The mosque and the school he said to a large extent came to mold the life, civilization and education of the Yoruba people in the Foulah Tong community.
The Former President of Sierra Leone, Tejan Kabbah was confirmed to have attended the Amariah Primary School, though he was not a Yoruba, others were the late Dr Sanusi Mustapha, Late Justice Nasiru Alghalie, Late Justice Bankole Rashid and Dr Aroun Daniya.
Alhaji said that the school was refurbished in 1997 by Plan International and that the whole community still uses the school’s playground to observe the feast of Eid-ul-ada.
A fading culture
“I think that the failure of the government to recognize Yoruba as one of the national languages was one of the pivotal agents that is killing the Yoruba people and language in this country,” Alhaji argued.
He disclosed that he could not speak the language as fluently as he wished to and it is getting worse with their own children.
“We found out now that we have to claim Creole and speak krio to properly identify ourselves in Sierra Leone other than that we are Yoruba and Nigerians (foreigners).
On the other hand it is actually interesting and peculiar for us Muslim Yorubas to claim ourselves as creoles with Muslim names like Mohamed Cole, Mucktaru Pearce, Osman Thomas, Saptieu King.
The Christian Creoles always think that they are the pure and original Creole people, but actually we are all brothers and sisters and came from the same origin with the same culture.” Alhaji Hamid explained.
He continued that the expanding natures of communities in cities, Freetown not excluded has unknotted the threads that held them as a cultural society.
Alhaji Hamid said that Foulah Tong had become cosmopolitan, in fact a home to many tribes than Yoruba, and that most of their properties have been sold out to other people so with the mix they cannot operate as a different entity with different cultural values but to move on and imbibe the various life styles and culture of other people.
With nostalgia Alhaji revealed that they were the tribe that started “Ashobie” which has been used now by everybody else for weddings and other celebrations.
He pointed out that they have very rich cultural celebrations for naming ceremony -‘Khomojade’, wedding and the observance of the three-day, seven-day and forty-day after burial.
“The unbraided ‘kaftan’ had been our cultural dress and bread and ‘fourah’ the delicacies served in all of our celebrations. The Ojeh and Hunting society was also introduced by the yorubas”
But all of theses are changing now Alhaji sighed, “The western culture is also affecting us, many of our children are overseas and they cannot keep these cultures. We hope that our heritage does not die out completely.
What they still have is the ‘Adikali’, the head of the court and the head of the community all in one.
The present Adikalie is Dr Fadlu Deen and his function is to settle all disputes brought to him ranging from land dispute, family palaver to marital problems but he seldom uses the ‘Tambaleh’ (traditional drum) only to announce the death of a very important personality or the day for pray-days.
However amidst all the changes of landscape, people, and culture Foulah Tong continues to sit on the hills stoically accepting the transformations as they come and waiting for the day its own name will be changed. By Mohamed Fofanah