The Connection

Folklorists have known about the Carriacou Temnes since the 1950s, but no one paid attention to their importance for modern Sierra Leoneans until 2011 when three scholars went to Carriacou to witness the vestiges of Temne heritage on that island first-hand, and to find out if the modern Carriacou Temnes were interested in meeting with their long-lost family in Africa. The researchers were Angus Martin, a Grenadian-American historian who served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone; Joseph Opala, the historian who identified the Sierra Leone’s connection to the Gullah people in South Carolina and Georgia; and Cynthia Schmidt, the American ethnomusicologist who worked with Opala to identify an ancient Mende song from Sierra Leone still sung by a Gullah family in coastal Georgia.

Soon after landing on Carriacou, the researchers were surprised when local people took them to a small, one-room museum intended to highlight their island’s cultural heritage. They found an exhibit on Bai Bureh, the famous Temne king who led the war against the British annexation of the Sierra Leone interior in 1898, and who is still a national hero in Sierra Leone today. In the age of the internet, some Carriacouans had apparently Googled “Temne” and discovered Bai Bureh. And given their pride in their Temne heritage, they took the famous king as their own hero too, even though they are separated from Sierra Leone by hundreds of years and thousands of miles.