- Women and the Amistad Connection—Sierra Leone Krio Society
Filomina Steady, a well-known scholar of feminism in Africa and the diaspora (see The Black Woman Cross-Culturally, Schenkman, 1985) as well as on the primacy of women's issues in development projects (see Women and Children First: Environment, Poverty and [End Page 180] Sustainable Development, Schenkman, 1985), has undertaken in the present work a cultural anthropology of the Krio women of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
The Krio (or Creole) community of Sierra Leone, for purposes of identification, is composed of descendants of "Returnees" who came back between 1787 and 1800 from Great Britain, the United States of America, and Jamaica to establish themselves in that area, followed by the "Liberated" who came from the African coast (sometimes from the region of Sierra Leone itself) between 1807 and 1863. The "Black Settlers," to use the designated term, occupied land bought by English philanthropists who nourished the idea of "recycling" these ex-slaves as agents in the burgeoning colonial enterprise. Returnees and Liberated thus founded the colony of Sierra Leone, its capital Freetown, and the neighboring villages on the peninsula, despite efforts by the area's first African occupants (Temne, Sherbro, Loko, Kissi, Mende, and others) to recuperate their territory. Historiography generally sets the Creole/Krio group, united by their Christian values, Victorian tastes, and spirit of enterprise, against the people of the hinterland (aka Protectorate), even though there are examples of collusion among the Returnees/Krio and the first inhabitants/"natives" against the authority of the Company of Sierra Leone, then against the British government and the Christian missions.
With Women and the Amistad Connection, Steady has written a valuable monograph—one that is, dare I say, broad, diasporic. She puts forward, in effect, two interrelated propositions: that the Krio represent "the archetypal people of the African Diaspora" (xv), while being "sui generis" (xviii); and that the condition of Krio women is thus emblematic of the condition of women of the whole Diaspora, while remaining highly specific. At the local level, the study of this particular female condition is central to the understanding of Sierra Leonean culture, according to Steady, because women—who secretly control the maintenance and changes in domestic institutions, as well as the evolution and resolution of interpersonal conflicts—are the principal cultural engineers of the Krio society of Freetown.
But the current situation of this community, still greatly marked by ten years of war, is such that the text could already, in part, be a study of ruins (216). The author abstained from bitter statements, assuring the reader that "Freetown is still a vibrant and dynamic city whose people have developed survival mechanisms not only against economic and political hardship but also against war and despair" (xxvii-xxviii), whereas at about the same time, the Guardian was characterizing Sierra Leone as a "country which has, in any meaningful sense of the word, ceased to exist. At least 50,000 Sierra Leoneans have died since the R[evolutionary] U[nited] F[ront] launched its bloody campaign. Up to a quarter of a million are believed to have fled into exile. The death rate from starvation is around 100 a day, and for the survivors, life is filled with terror and misery" ("Who Is Foday Sankoh?" 3). Indeed, Steady's text does not assess the traumas that the war has inflicted upon the forms, or even the nature, of Krio culture, although she is certainly aware of this correlation, as seen in the following lines: "Economic conditions have become even more difficult as a result of the implementation of Structural Adjustment Programmes, chronic recession, political instability, and a protracted war. It [. . .] affects the degree to which many cultural rituals, which requires a financial outlay, can be effectively maintained" and "the degree to which people can adhere to the norms and values that support ideas like kindred solidarity and economic stability [. . .]" (215). But she chooses not to exploit this vein. For example, in chapter 13, devoted to "Rituals of Death," we...