I always thought the name of the country Sierra Leone was rather strange: how could a predominantly Muslim, English-speaking, African country have an Italian name? There was never an Italian presence in that region of Africa. So why in the world, is an ex-British colony with slaves returning from America, slaves who had fought on the British side during the American revolutionary war from 1775 to 1783, carrying an Italian name, and what does it mean?
Well, in 1462, the Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra sailing down the West African coast, saw the tall mountains rising from what is now Freetown peninsula or harbor, and named the area ‘Serra de Leão,’ which means ‘mountains of the lion’, or ‘hills of the lion,’ because of the shape formed by the hills surrounding the harbor. The rendering of this geographic formation is Sierra Leone, Leone being the Italian for Lion, while Sierra is Spanish for hills or mountain, thus the name. In reality, it is said that it was leona in Spanish which was accidentally changed to Leone; so the origin should be Spanish. Sierra Leone has the third largest natural harbor in the world. Archaeologically, that area has been inhabited continuously for the past 2500 years, from successive movements from other parts of Africa. In 1495, the Portuguese established a port there, and were later joined by the Dutch and French, who used the area as a slave trading point. In 1787, a first settlement of those called Black poors was founded in the Province of Freedom. They were later decimated by the indigenous population. A second settlement came in composed of Nova Scotian settlers, and Jamaican Maroons. Sometime, at the beginning of the 19th century, Sierra Leone became a British colony. Sierra Leone today is a true melting pot of Temne, Mende, Limba, Fula, Mandingo, Kono, and Krio (descendants of African American, West Indies slaves, etc) people. In 2006, the country was featured in the movie Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio.
So there goes the story of a British colony, English-speaking country, predominantly Muslim, with an Italian name in an area where no Italian explorer had set foot. Enjoy this video on Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.