An Introduction to the Precolonial History of the Mende of Sierra Leone

Author: Abraham, Arthur
This study of the Mende, the largest ethnic group in Sierra Leone, goes back in time to uncover Mende origins, and ends at the beginning of the Colonial period. Drawing from early documentary, oral, anthropological, linguistic and other evidence, the work argues that Mende originated in all probability as a lingua franca sometime in the late 16th century and spread fairly quickly. State formation began in the 17th century, gathering momentum in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Three case studies form the focus of the rest of the book.


“A well-written and readable work ... a fine ethnohistorical survey which should be of interest to not only Africanists, graduate and undergraduate students of African Studies, but also international and national policy makers on the situation in Sierra Leone. In looking at the ethnicity, war and governance, Abraham revisits and re-centers themes, which were at the heart of early postcolonial African history, and which are still crucial for understanding Africa’s past, its current predicaments and its future. For scholars of African history, the text is a fine example of how multidisciplinary techniques can be used to construct and enliven the African past.” – Professor Ismail Rashid, Vassar College

“A comprehensive and detailed narrative and analysis that is nicely written and richly researched – an authoritative account by the acknowledged expert on Mende history, life, and culture.” – Professor Howard Jones, University of Alabama

“ ... the most original and important contribution on Sierra Leone in the last 25 years. The implications are far-reaching and this will influence research and writing on languages and migrations generally in the region of Sierra Leone-Guinea-Liberia ... The writing is very clear and the argument is easy to follow ... This is one of the most well-crafted pieces of scholarship I have ever seen.” – Professor Konrad T. Tuchscherer, St. John’s University

“ ... a ‘counter-history’ ... a revisionist work of real originality.” – Christopher Fyfe, Professor Emeritus, University of Edinburgh

Table of Contents

1. The Mende Cradle
2. War, Power and State in the Nineteenth Century
3. The Luawa State of Kai Londo
4. The Kpanguma State of Nyagua
5. The Kpaa-Mende State
6. British Colonial Advance and Mende Resistance