Mandingo people of Sierra Leone

Mandingo people of Sierra Leone
The Mandinka people of Sierra Leone
Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.jpg
Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, former President of Sierra Leone is a member of the Mandinka ethnic group

Notable Sierra Leonean Mandingo:

Total population
470,204 (7.8% of Sierra Leone's population)

Mandinka language


Islam (99.9%)

Related ethnic groups


The Mandinka people of Sierra Leone (commonly referred to as Mandingo or Mandinka) is a major ethnic group in Sierra Leone and they are the descendants of Mandinka settlers from Guinea who migrated to Sierra Leone between 1840 to about 1900. The Mandingo officially constitute 7.8% of Sierra Leone's population and they are members of the Mandinka people of West Africa with whom they share the same culture and language. The Mandingo are Muslim at over 99% and Islam dominates the religious and cultural practices.

The Mandingo people of Sierra Leone are predominantly traders and rural subsistence farmer. Mandingo children are given their name on the seventh day after their birth, and their children are almost always named after a very important person in their family. Sierra Leone's third president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah is one of several prominent Sierra Leoneans from the Mandingo ethnic group.

The Mandingo people of Sierra Leone speak the Mandinka language (also known as the Mandingo language) as their native language to each other. The Mandinka language is spoken by millions of Mandinka people in Mali, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Chad; it is the main language of The Gambia. It belongs to the Manding branch of Mandé, and is thus fairly similar to Bambara.

The Mandingo are found in virtually all parts of Sierra Leone, but their population is largely concentrated in Koinadugu District in the North, particularly in the cities of Kabala and Falaba where they form the largest ethnic group. The Mandingo also make up the majority of the population of Yengema, the second largest city in Kono District in Eastern Sierra Leone.


History of the Sierra Leonean Mandingo people

Samori with the Qur'an in his hands

In 1875, Samori Ture was able to import breech-loading rifles through British colony Sierra Leone. By 1876, Samori's Mandinka warriors had defeated the Limba led by Almamy Suluku and had conquered a large territory in Limba areas in northern Sierra Leone. The Mandinka warriors then moved into the northeastern part of British colony Sierra Leone where they occupied lands of the local Temne and Loko people led by Bai Bureh. Samori forced the local Sierra Leonean people in the area to abandon their animist beliefs and to convert to Islam or face death. He took the title of "Almany", chief of all Believers. By late 1876, the Mandinka warriors had occupied a large section in northeastern Sierra Leone.

In 1875, Samori sent thousands of Mandinka people from the Wassoulou empire in central Guinea to Mandinka-occupied northeastern Sierra Leone as traders, farmers, and settlers. By late 1878, the Mandinka population from Guinea had tripled in British controlled Sierra Leone.

By the late 19th and early 20th century, many of Samori's Mandinka traders in Sierra Leone were now second generation Sierra Leonean born and were considered Sierra Leonean citizens by the British. The Mandinka, who were now known as Mandingo by the British, were found in many parts of Sierra Leone, including in the capital Freetown which was largely dominated by the Krio people.

Today the Mandingo, along with the Fula and Susu people, face prejudice and discrimination by other Sierra Leonean ethnic groups, particularly by the Temne and Limba who view them as land invaders. This has led to ethnic tensions between these ethnic groups. The Mandingo generally do not get along with the Temne people, and the two ethnic groups are major rivals. In 2004 a major ethnic riot broke out in Koinadugu District between the Mandingo and Limba over land disputes.


The Mandingo have played an important role in the politics of Sierra Leone. The Mandingo have traditionally supported the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), which ruled the country as recently as 2007. During the SLPP administration of Sierra Leone's third president Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who is from the Mandingo ethnic group himself, the Mandingo people enjoy strong influence in the government and the civil service.The First Chairman and Leader Of The All Peoples Congress (APC) [*Alhaji Chief A.Mucktarru Kallay]] who is from the Mandinka ethnic group.The current Sierra Leone government of president Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People's Congress (APC) employ several ethnic Mandingo in some top government positions. Some senior positions in the Sierra Leone government currently held by ethnic Mandingo include the Sierra Leone Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Haja Afsatu Kabba; Sierra Leone deputy Minister of Trade and industry Mabinty Daramy; Sierra Leone Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohamed Kemoh Fadika; Sierra Leone Ambassador to Belgium Fode Dabo; Sierra leone Ambassador to Guinea Alhaji Shekuba Saccoh, Sierra Leone State House Press Secretary Sheka Tarawallie; Sierra Leone Minister of Labor and Employment Minkailu Mansaray; Sierra Leone Ambassador to Nigeria Mohamed Bayoh; Director of the Sierra Leone Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) Neneh Dabo.

Mandingo culture

Mandingo culture is rich in tradition, music, and spiritual ritual. Mandingo continue a long oral history tradition through stories, songs and proverbs. In rural areas, western education's impact is minimal; the literacy rate in Roman script among these Mandinka is quite low. However, more than half the adult population can read the local Arabic script; small Qur'anic schools for children where this is taught are quite more common. Mandinka children are given their name on the seventh day after their birth.

The Mandingoa have a rich oral history that is passed down through griots. This passing down of oral history through music has made music one of the most distinctive traits of the Mandinka. They have long been known for their drumming and also for their unique musical instrument, the kora. The kora is a twenty-one-stringed guitar-like instrument made out of a halved, dried, hollowed-out gourd covered with cow or goat skin. The strings are made of fishing line. It is played to accompany a person into the meaning of death so the first reconig ca go in peace to the fantom place.

A Mandinka religious and cultural site under consideration for World Heritage status is located in Guinea at Gberedou/Hamana[1].

Customs of the Mandingo

Most Mandinkas live in family-related compounds in traditional rural villages. Mandinka villages are fairly autonomous and self-ruled, being led by a council of upper class elders and a chief who functions as a first among equals.


Marriages are traditionally arranged by family members rather than either the bride or groom. This practice is particularly prevalent in the rural areas. Kola nuts, a bitter nut from a tree, are formally sent by the suitor's family to the male elders of the bride-to-be, and if accepted, the courtship begins.

Polygamy has been practiced among the Mandinka since pre-Islamic days. A Mandinka man is legally allowed to have up to four wives, as long as he is able to care for each of them equally. Mandinka believe the crowning glory of any woman is the ability to produce children, especially sons. The first wife has authority over any subsequent wives. The husband has complete control over his wives and is responsible for feeding and clothing them. He also helps the wives' parents when necessary. Wives are expected to live together in harmony, at least superficially. They share work responsibilities of the compound, cooking, laundry, etc.

Passage into adulthood

The Mandinka practise a rite of passage which marks the beginning of adulthood for their children. At an age between four and fourteen, the youngsters have their genitalia ritually cut (see articles on male and female genital cutting), in separate groups according to their sex. In years past, the children spent up to a year in the bush, but that has been reduced now to coincide with their physical healing time, between three and four weeks. This group of children form a special, internal bond, one which remains throughout life.

During this time, they learn about their adult social responsibilities and rules of behaviour. They learn secret songs which teach them what it is to be a Mandinka. These songs teach them how they are to relate to members of the opposite sex, including their parents, their siblings, their relatives, and eventually their vaginas spouses, as well as their elders and their peers. They are cared for and taught by elders of the same sex; these persons become their life-long sponsors, a very special relationship.

Great preparation is made in the village or compound for the return of the children. A huge celebration marks the return of these new adults to their families. The children are given new clothes and treated with new respect by their elders. Boys and girls are honoured with a dance.

As a result of these traditional teachings, in marriage a woman's loyalty remains to her parents and her family; a man's to his.

Religious and spiritual beliefs

Today, over 99% of Mandinka are Muslim.[2][3] . Mandinkas will recite chapters of the Qu'ran in Arabic. Most Mandinka practice a mix of Islam and traditional superstitious practices. These spirits can be controlled only through the power of a marabout, who knows the protective formulas. No important decision is made without first consulting the marabout. Marabouts, who have Islamic training, write Qu'ranic verses on slips of paper and sew them into leather pouches; these are then sold and worn as protective amulets by men, women, and children.

The few Mandinkas who convert to Christianity are viewed as traitors to Mandinka society. Often they are driven from their compounds and villages, rejected by their families.


Mandinka are rural subsistence farmers who rely on groundnuts, rice, millet, and small-scale husbandry for their livelihood. The oldest male is the head of the family and marriages are commonly arranged. Small mud houses with conical thatch or tin roofs make up their villages, which are organized on the basis of the clan groups.

During the rainy season men plant peanuts as their main cash crop; peanuts are also a staple of the Mandinka diet. Men also plant millet and corn, mostly for family consumption. Women work in the rice fields, tending the plants by hand. This is extremely labour-intensive and physically demanding work. Only about 50% of the rice consumption needs are met by local planting; the rest is imported from Asia and the United States.

While farming is the predominant profession among the Mandinka, men also work as tailors, butchers, taxi drivers, woodworkers, metalworkers, soldiers, nurses, and extenion workers for aid agencies. However, most women, probably 95%, remain in the home as wives and mothers.

Notable Sierra Leonean Mandingo


  • Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, President of Sierra Leone from 1996–2007
  • Sorie Ibrahim Koroma, Vice president of Sierra Leone from 1971 to 1985
  • [Alhaji Chief A.MucktarruKallay,Chairman and Leader Of The All Peoples Congress(APC)Mar-Oct1960
  • Haja Afsatu Kabba, current Sierra Leone's Minister of Marine Resources and Fisheries
  • Mohamed Kemoh Fadika, current Sierra Leone's ambassador to Iran
  • Mabinty Daramy, current Sierra Leone's Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry
  • Minkailu Mansaray, current Sierra Leone Minister of Labor and Employment
  • Alhaji Shekuba Saccoh, current Sierra Leone's ambassador to Guinea
  • Ibrahim Kanja Sesay, Sierra Leonean economist and the former commissioner of the Sierra Leone National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA)
  • Mohamed Fode Dabo, current Sierra Leeone Ambassador to Belgium
  • Mohamed B. Daramy, Sierra Leone minister of Development and Economic Planning from 2002–2007
  • Alhaji Danda Mohamed Kondeh, Member of Parliament of Sierra Leone from Koinadugu District (APC)
  • Alhaji Ansgar Daramy, member of Parliament of Sierra Leone from Port Loko District (APC)
  • Kanji Daramy, spokesman for former Sierra Leone's president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah he is also the former Chairman of Sierra Leone National Telecommunications Commission
  • Neneh Dabo, Director of the Sierra Leone Anti Corruption Commission (ACC).
  • Alhaji Mohamed Turay, member of Parliament of Sierra Leone from Koinadugu District (SLPP)
  • Alhaji Mohamed Kakay, former member of parliament of Sierra Leone from Koinadugu District (SLPP)
  • Alhaji Lansana Fadika, Sierra Leonean businessman and the SLPP current chairman for the Western Area. He is the younger brother of Kemoh Fadika
  • Isata Jabbie Kabbah, Sierra Leonean National Women’s Leader of the SLPP and wife of former Sierra Leone's president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
  • Harietu Turay, Deputy Sierra Leone National Women's Leader of the SLPP


  • Ibrahim Jaffa Condeh, Sierra Leonean journalist and news anchor
  • Sitta Umaru Turay, Sierra Leonean journalist
  • Karamoh Kabba, Sierra Leonean author, writer and journalist
  • Sheka Tarawallie, Sierra Leonean journalist and the current Sierra Leone State House Press Secretary to president Koroma
  • Brima Dawson Kuyateh, Sierra Leonean journalist and the current president of the Sierra Leone Reporters Union

Football Stars and entertainers

  • Sidique Mansaray, Sierra Leonean football star
  • Khady Black (born Khadyja Fofana), Sierra Leonean Raggae musician
  • K-Man (born Mohamed Saccoh), Sierra Leonean musician
  • Steady Bongo, (born Lansana Sheriff), Sierra Leonena musician
  • Ahmed Janka Nabay, Sierra Leonean musician
  • Kadijatu Kebbay, Sierra leonean model; Miss University Sierra Leone 2006 winner and represent Sierra Leone at the Miss World 2006 contest.
  • Lansana Baryoh, Sierra Leonean football star
  • Brima Keita, Sierra Leonean football manager


  1. ^ "Architecture vernaculaire et paysage culturel mandingue du Gberedou/Hamana – UNESCO World Heritage Centre". Retrieved 12 April 2009. 
  2. ^ Logon, Roberta A. (May 2007). "Sundiata of mali". Calliope 17 (9): 34–38. 
  3. ^ Quinn, Charlotte A.; Quinn, Charlotte A. (Dec. 1973). "Mandingo Kingdoms of the Senegambia: Traditionalism, Islam and European Expansion". The American Historical Review (American Historical Association) 78 (5): 1506–1507. doi:10.2307/1854194. 

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