What is it like to be Sherbro?

Uncle Stalin Caulker at 77 years old is a fast learner.

Uncle Stalin Caulker is a fast learner on using a computer.

Sherbro Foundation is named after the Sherbro people.  I realize most of you do not know who the Sherbro are. So, I asked  the oldest Sherbro man I know to tell us what it’s like to be Sherbro. 

Seventy eight year old Stalin Caulker is the only remaining uncle of Paramount Chief Caulker of Bumpeh Chiefdom.The Sherbro are said to be the oldest tribe in Sierra Leone. They’re a coastal people who inhabit most of the lowland coastal areas of Sierra Leone.  The Caulker family goes back to the 1500’s.

You can google the Sherbro to get a more historical account.  I thought you’d rather hear directly from a Sherbro on what he thinks defines the Sherbro.  Uncle Stalin said they know about all things having to do with water, because they grow up around water.  They’re expert rice farmers.  And the Sherbro, he said,  started Poro, the men’s secret society, now prevalent across Sierra Leone.

Here’s what Uncle Stalin had to say in his own words.

Fishing net stretched across river inlet.

Fishing net stretched across river inlet.

I thank Almighty God because I am a Sherbro and always by the sea.  We eat fresh fish.  I mean newly caught fish from the sea.  I can swim and all Sherbro know how to swim because you are forced to. Elders throw you in the water and ask you to swim to the land.

You are also taught to fish at an early age.  We have so many ways of fishing.  We make use of the strong tide from the ocean [that’s comes up the river].  We use the hook, cast or throw a net, or cross a net across the river when the water is dry [tide is out].  When the river is full you come and raise  the net so that all the fish that have gone up the river will remain in the net.

Cutting newly germinated rice in rice nursery to transplant in rice swamp.

Cutting newly germinated rice in rice nursery to transplant in rice swamp.

The Bumpeh river is unique in growing mangrove rice.  The paramount chief of Bumpeh chiefdom is my hero.  He plants eighty bushels and more of rice.  We start by brushing [cutting back] in February.  You give one month interval, and say in March you burn the {remaining} bush.

Then you broadcast the seed rice in a rice nursery.  You start ploughing the mud in April after broadcasting the seed rice. You turn the mud again before starting to transplant the seed rice after forty days interval.  Then you start harvesting at least 90 or 100 days {after planting}.

Poro was started in Sherbro land, then was adopted by others.  You belong to the clan and can participate in all activities after initiation.  You become a different person, a real man.  You are known by your {new} name like Kpana-Bom, Balaka and so on.  After that you learn all kinds of skills from other people like medicine for snake bites and belly ache, how to set traps and a lot of things. 

The clan expects you to know how good men behave. When they call members to come together, everybody must come because you don’t know why they are calling.  Maybe they are going to teach new skills, so if you don’t go you have yourself to blame.

6 thoughts on “What is it like to be Sherbro?

  1. My name is Mario Belaval from San Juan, Puerto Rico (Caribbean). I’m interested in Sherbro culture because I’m researching a slave uprising that was led by Sherbro’s in Puerto Rico in 1843. I’ve read anything I can get my hands on Sherbros (The Spanish called the Longoba or Nangoba nation). I’m interested in finding about follktales, etc. a, anything that helps me bring alive the stories of the corageous men and women that decided to take control of their fate as Sherbros.

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    • Mario, How interesting. I’m always surprised at how we can make strong and vibrant connections with rather obscure places and people around the world.

      Bumpeh Chiefdom that I work with is the home of Sherbro clans going back 400+ years. The current Paramount Chief is the head the Caulker family clan, one of the oldest clans and ruling families in Sierra Leone. One of his cousins wrote a family history that you can find at: http://www.amazon.com/Caulkers-Sierra-Leone-Ruling-Family-ebook/dp/B0049P1RMM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400341439&sr=8-1&keywords=caulker+family I got it as a Kindle e-book for $10.

      Because the Sherbros are coastal people, they were among the first to encounter Europeans first exploring Africa in the 1600’s. This unfortunately continued into the slave trading era. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Amistad rebellion. Tho Cinque, the leader, was Mende, there were Sherbro among the Amistad captives. When survivors were returned to SL, they were brought to Sherbro country. http://www.dacb.org/stories/sierraleone/pieh_sengbe.html You can google things on this.

      As the above article indicates, the Amistad affair kindled American abolitionist interests, and led to the earliest SL missionaries with the Methodist church arriving in the 1850’s. They again arrived in Sherbro coastal country and established some of the earliest Christian missions in SL. I can send you pictures of plaques commemorating the earliest missionaries in Rotifunk, the seat of Bumpeh Chiefdom. Their church and mission primary school continue to operate today thru the SL Methodist church.

      I wrote a blog post about the slave trade connection with SL and with African Americans: http://wp.me/p3y21V-mU

      If you have specific questions, we could communicate more by email. Why don’t you contact me at sherbrofoundation@gmail.com I’d be happy to talk with you more – and learn more about your work. Thanks for contacting me.

      Arlene Golembiewski, Executive Director

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