Wednesday 2 August 2023


Bai Bureh (February 15, 1840 – August 24, 1908) was the great Sierra Leonean ruler and military strategist who led the Temne uprising against the British in 1898.

His father was a prominent Loko warrior, and his mother was possibly a Temne from the Makeni region. As a young man, he was taken to Gbendembu, a warrior training school, where he got the nickname "Kebalai," which translates to "one whose basket is never full" or "one who never tires of battle." 

As a ruler, Bureh never wanted to cooperate with the colonial government who were living in the capital city of Freetown. Bai Bureh refused to recognise a peace treaty the British had negotiated with the Limba without his participation; and on one occasion, his warrior fighters raided their way across the border into French Guinea.

On January 1, 1893, the colonial government instituted a hut tax in Sierra Leone and throughout British colonies in Africa. The tax could be paid in either money, grain, stock or labor. Many Sierra Leoneans had to work as laborers to pay the tax. The hut tax enabled the colonial government to build roads, towns, railways and other infrastructure amenities in Sierra Leone.

Bai Bureh refused to recognise the hut tax imposed by the colonial government. He did not believe the Sierra Leonean people had a duty to pay taxes to foreigners and he wanted all Britons to return to Britain and let the Sierra Leoneans solve their own problems.

After refusing to pay his taxes on several occasions, the colonial government issued a warrant to arrest Bureh. When the British Governor to Sierra Leone, Frederic Cardew, offered one hundred pounds as a reward for his capture, Bai Bureh reciprocated by offering the higher sum of five hundred pounds for the capture of the governor. In 1898, Bureh declared war on the British in Sierra Leone. The war later became known as the Hut Tax War of 1898.

Most of Bureh's fighters came from several Temne and Loko villages under his command, but other fighters came from Limba, Kissi and Kuranko villages, sent to his aid. Bai Bureh's men not only engaged in combat with the colonial government's forces but also killed dozens of Creoles who were living in Northern Sierra Leone because it was thought by the indigenous people of Sierra Leone that they supported the colonial government. One of the most notable Creole people who was killed by Bai Bureh's warriors was the trader John "Johnny" Taylor, who was killed in his house in Northern Sierra Leone.

Bai Bureh had the advantage over the forces of the colonial government for several months of the war. By 19 February 1898, Bai Bureh's forces had completely severed the lines of communication between Freetown and Port Loko.

They blocked the road and the river from Freetown. Despite their arrest warrant, the colonial government's forces failed to defeat Bureh and his supporters. The conflict ultimately resulted in hundreds of casualties on both sides.

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