World Facts

8 Interesting Facts About Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's capital Freetown has an ancient Cotton Tree considered to be one of the word's oldest ones.

Sierra Leone, formally known as the Republic of Sierra Leone (and unofficially as Salone), is a country located on the west coast of Africa. With a population of 7,866,475 and a total land area of 27,869 square miles, the nation has a very long history which can be traced back to the time of its first inhabitants some 25,000 years ago. Sierra Leone is bordered by the African countries of Guinea and Liberia. Some interesting facts about Sierra Leone include various aspects of its distinctive culture, history, social system, and natural environment.

1. Sierra Leone Means "Roaring Mountains"

Sierra Leone acquired its name thanks to Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra who, in 1462, sailed into what is now the Freetown Peninsula. The story goes that during his time in this part of the African continent, da Cintra encountered an intense thunderstorm and came to associate the area’s mountainous terrain with the roar of a lion. Thus the explorer named the region “Sierra Lyoa” which translates to “Roaring mountains” or “Lion Mountains” in native Portuguese.

2. Rice In Every Meal

Rice is the staple food of Sierra Leone with most local citizens eating it as part of almost every meal. Popular dishes in the region include kukhri (rice and sauce) and jollof rice (fried rice cooked with beans and spicy onion sauce). Rice makes up such a significant part of the diet in Sierra Leone that it is common for locals to note, “If I haven’t eaten rice today, then I haven’t eaten!” Other local dishes include plassas (balls of fried dough with plantains and gravy), groundnut stew (made with meat, onions, tomatoes, and peanuts), krinkrinand fish balls, and yebe (a stew cooked with traditional Mende spices, cassava, yam, chicken, onions, stock, and chilies). Popular beverages in Sierra Leone include non- alcoholic ginger beer, locally made Lager called Star beer, and poya which is made from the sap of palm trees.

3. Sierra Leone Is Infamous For Blood Diamonds

The nation is rich in mineral deposits, especially diamonds, and has long relied on the mining industry and mining exports to fuel its economy. Sierra Leone is also known around the world for its blood diamonds (also commonly referred to as conflict or war diamonds) which were mined and sold for weapons during the country’s violent civil war from 1991 to 2002.

4. Sierra Leone Is Home To A Giant Snail

A giant snail called the Ghana Snail (or Achatina achatina) lives within 99 to 190 miles of the coastline of Sierra Leone and other West African nations such as the Ivory Coast, Benin, and Nigeria. This native snail species routinely measures about 7 inches long and 3.5 inches wide but can reach a size of almost twelve by six inches. Considered to be an invasive species in America, the Ghana Snail is often confiscated at U.S. airports when travelers are caught attempting to bring the mollusk into the country. Although they are consumed for their protein by an array of native groups living in Western Africa, due to their large size these land snails have also become somewhat popular as pets in the west.

5. A Delight For Chimpanzee Lovers

Founded in 1995, Sierra Leone is home to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary located in the rain forest of the Western Area National Park which comprises an area of some 100 acres of land. This wildlife refuge serves to protect and rehabilitate confiscated, abused, orphaned, and/or abandoned chimps to safely release the animals back into the wild. Currently, approximately 75 chimpanzees are living at the sanctuary. Staff is also committed to educating locals and tourists alike about these endangered primates and twice a day, visitors can tour the sanctuary. The park also includes several walking trails, four lodges, and a gift shop. It is against the law in Sierra Leone to hunt, kill, capture, own or sell chimpanzees.

6. The Ancient Cotton Tree Of Freetown Is World-famous

One of the most historic and well-known symbols of Freetown (Sierra Leone’s capital city) is the Cotton Tree. It’s believed that in 1792 a group of ex-slaves from America, who had fought with the British in the War of Independence, settled in Freetown and gathered around the giant cotton tree to pray for gaining their freedom. These former slaves were called “Nova Scotians” as before settling in West Africa they had traveled to the eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia after leaving the southern United States. The Cotton Tree is not only the oldest such tree in Freetown but experts also believe that it may be the world's oldest one. Modern-day citizens of Sierra Leone still routinely make offerings and pray to their ancestors under the Cotton Tree.

7. A Generally Tolerant Nation

Although the majority of Sierra Leone’s citizens are Muslims (77%) the country also has a large and influential Christian minority (22%). A further 1% of the population practices traditional African religions such as those based on indigenous beliefs. As a secular state, Sierra Leone’s constitution (adopted in 1991) supports freedom of religion and as a result, religious violence is rare in the country. Both Muslim and Christian holidays are observed in Sierra Leone including Christmas, Easter, Eid al-Fitr (also referred to as the “Festival of Breaking the Fast”) which marks the end of Ramadan and Eid al-Adha (also known as the “Festival of the Sacrifice”).

8. Diverse But Disappearing Wildlife

Due to factors such as its tropical climate and diverse habitats, Sierra Leone is well known as a country rich in wildlife. It is home to four wildlife reserve. Among the many types of animals who live in this African nation include elephants, hippos, lions, chimpanzees, buffaloes, and a wide variety of birds. It has been estimated that Sierra Leone is home to 99 species of fish, 147 mammalian species, 626 types of birds, 35 amphibians, and 67 reptile species. Unfortunately because of various human-made problems such as civil war, deforestation, mining, habitat loss, and overfishing, the wildlife of Sierra Leone is under extreme threat. Native species such as the African wild dog, already deemed to be endangered, have been brought to the point of near extinction in the country.

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