Have you just landed on this page for the first time? If that’s the case, chances are you won’t know much about Sierra Leone. For you, it’s probably one of many West African countries that line the Atlantic Coast, sadly famous for its tragic past. Or maybe you’re already familiar with our beautiful country, and even have already visited Sierra Leone’s spectacular beaches or spent a weekend in Freetown? Regardless of how much you know about Sierra Leone, this time we’ve decided to surprise you, sharing 7 curious facts about Sierra Leone you may not know – if there’s anything we missed, feel free to let us know on our social media channels!
7 Interesting Facts You May Not Know About Sierra Leone
1. It was one of the first places where formerly enslaved Africans settled
There’s a reason why our capital is named ‘Freetown’. Freedom was an intrinsic part of what Sierra Leone was meant to be ever since the 17th century – in fact, Freetown was founded by Lieutenant John Clarkson as a settlement for formerly enslaved Africans returning from the Americas. The very first settlers came from Britain, and a second group came from Nova Scotia just a few years later. As more and more Africans obtained freedom and left the Americas, many came to Sierra Leone, creating the foundation of what nowadays is Krio culture.
2. Sierra Leone translates as ‘Lion Mountains’
The name of our country comes from Serra Lyoa, Portuguese for Lion Mountains, in reference to the hills and mountains surrounding the Freetown Peninsula. This name was given by Portuguese explorer Pedro da Sintra, one of the first Europeans to sail extensively down the West African coast in the 15th century.
3. There used to be a famous tree
One of the most famous sights in Freetown was the Cotton Tree, a giant tree that used to sit on a roundabout in the centre of the capital. No one knew how old it was for sure – what it knows is that it predates the foundation of the city, as there are historic illustrations showing groups of settlers sitting or praying under the tree after landing in Sierra Leone in the 18th century. Sadly, the tree was knocked over by a fierce storm in May 2023. Only part of the trunk remains now, but the Cotton Tree will forever survive in the memory of those who were able to see it and sit under its timeless branches.
4. The country has a very high level of religious tolerance
In Sierra Leone, it’s not unheard of to have people of different religions in the same family. 77% of the population is Muslim, 22% is Christian, and some also practice traditional beliefs. Both Muslim and Christian festivities are celebrated as state holidays, and the country received an award from the United Nations for its high level of religious tolerance.
5. It’s home to diverse wildlife, including a giant snail
We’ve already spoken at length about wildlife in Sierra Leone, about chimpanzees and the high diversity of primates (but not only!) that can be found in places like Tiwai Island. Sierra Leone is also home to quirky animals like the Ghana Snail, also known as the Giant Snail, about 18 cm long and 10 cm wide. It’s found in the coastal part of the country, and as it’s an invasive species it is often eaten by local people.
6. Its flag has an interesting meaning
We had a look at 5 popular dishes from Sierra Leone, so let’s learn about drinks now. Bissap is a drink made with brewed hibiscus flowers, with the addition of flavourings like sugar, vanilla, lemon, ginger or even orange blossom water. The result is sweet and aromatic, and it’s also found as an ingredient for cocktails in Freetown’s swankiest bars.
7. Rice is eaten with every meal
Are you wondering what you’ll be eating in Sierra Leone? You should be checking out our article about Sierra Leonean food and drinks! Meanwhile, we do hope you like rice – it’s the main staple in our country, every meal includes copious amounts of rice, to accompany stews made with cassava leaves, dried fish, peanuts and other ingredients. Freetown also has many international restaurants, as well as lots of Lebanese eateries. Did you know that Sierra Leone also has a sizable Lebanese population? Trust me, there’s so much that will surprise you – I think it’s time to come and visit!