The history of the country's poetic name 'Sierra Leone' dates back to 1462, when a Portuguese explorer, Pedro da Cintra, sailed down the coast of West Africa and saw the long range of mountains of what is now the Freetown Peninsula. The meaning of the name 'Sierra Lyoa' is: 'Lion Mountains'.
Sierra Lyoa went on to become a British Colony. Through the years of British Colonisation, the original name was modified and it became 'Sierra Leone', the name by which the country is known today.
Sierra Leone was for many years used as a slave trading outpost until it was gradually phased out and later, in the 18th century, it became a settlement for freed slaves.
Sierra Leone also served as the seat of Government for other British Colonies along the West African Coast. The first college for higher education in West Africa and indeed in tropical Africa, Fourah Bay College, was established in Sierra Leone in 1827
Freetown has the third largest natural harbour in the world. The City contains many important buildings and landmarks of historical and cultural interest, the most prominent and significant of which is the Cotton Tree, standing almost in the centre of Freetown, and reputed to be more than 300 years old.
Sierra Leone became an independent, Sovereign state within the Commonwealth on 27 April 1961, thus ending its British administration. Ten years later, on 19 April 1971, the country became a Republic, with its own elected President as Head of State.
Since 1991, civil war between the government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people (well over one-third of the population) many of whom are now refugees in neighboring countries.
Sierra Leone, is now emerging from a decade of civil war in 2002, with the help of Britain, the former colonial power, and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission. More than 17,000 foreign troops disarmed tens of thousands of rebels and militia fighters. The country now faces the challenge of reconstruction.
Children start school at the age of 6, attending a primary school until the age of 12. They then move on to a Secondary school where it is hoped they will remain in education until the age of 18. Although the education is paid for by the government, children are not allowed to attend school without a school uniform. For many families this is the greatest hurdle as they have to decide between feeding the family or providing a school uniform for their children to attend school. In English money this can be as little as £20.00, but to a family in poverty it is immeasurable.
In Sierra Leon people have the freedom to choose which religion they follow. The main religion observed by around 60% of the population is Islam. 30% follow Christianity and the remaining 10% follow a variety of African beliefs.
Much of the culture of Sierra Leone is based on Western culture, which has been inherited from the Portuguese and English traders. Many of these people inter married producing an Afro-European culture. One of the most popular methods of entertainment is the art of story telling
The living conditions of people in Sierra Leona differ considerably. For those living in the capital Freetown, they live in two story houses, which are similar to those found in the West Indies or Louisiana. Outwardly they may appear bleak; however they have box windows, shutters, glass panes and balconies. An area above Freetown has a large dam in the mountain. This provides a few lucky residents a reliable source of running water and electricity. In comparison those living outside of the capital live in single one room slum huts that accommodate the whole family. They do not have access to running water or electricity. Each day they must travel great distances to collect the water in barrels. This water is often contaminated and leads to other health problems.
The average life expectancy for people living in Sierra Leone is 49 years. This is partly due to the lack of health care and the cost of seeing a doctor. Malaria once was a major problem in Freetown, however due to the building of deep drainage canals, which carry away much of the monsoon rains this has improved. HIV is wide spread and almost 50% of the population is under 16years of age.
Agriculture is the backbone of the nation's economy. Sierra Leone has substantial mineral, agricultural, and fishery resources. About 80 per cent of the country's manpower is engaged in agricultural activities. However, the economic and social infrastructure is not well developed, and serious social disorders continue to hamper economic development.
About two-thirds of the working-age population engages in subsistence agriculture. Manufacturing consists mainly of the processing of raw materials and of light manufacturing for the domestic market.
The major source of income is found in the mining of diamonds, the large majority of which are smuggled out of the country. Gold mining also takes place in the Northem Province. Bauxite and rutile are also mined. Other important products that are also traded for export are timber, iron ore, coffee and ginger.
Waterloo Sierra Leone