Bumpeh Chiefdom – Sierra Leone
Bumpeh Chiefdom in Sierra Leone is unique. Sierra Leone is a country in West Africa in the Sub-Saharan Global Village. Freetown is the capital city. You can see the location of Rotifunk on the map below, which is the seat of the Bumpeh Chiefdom.
The Bumpeh Chiefdom is comprised of approximately 208 villages, which include Moyehmo, Mobainda, and Rotifunk, which you can see on the map. The Bumpeh Chiefdom has one chief, Chief Charles Caulker, known as the Paramount Chief; and a deputy Paramount chief, Samuel Caulker, his brother. The deputy chief is the presiding chief when the Paramount chief is out of town or unavailable.
Each village has a head man that answers to Chief Caulker, and there are Chiefdom Council meetings with the head men at regular intervals. Click on the green link to view the map to get a sense of the location of the villages in the Chiefdom.
There are many Chiefdoms around the world, but this one has a unique story that makes it come to life in today’s world. The culture is pre-dominantly Sherbro, which is a tribe from the nearby Sherbro island, and the largest ethnic group. As we have mentioned, chiefs of Chiefdoms are usually inherited and this is true of the Bumpeh Chiefdom. I, myself wondered at the Anglo name of the chief. According to the website of world statesmen, the following is written about the Caulker Chieftancies:
Note: In the mid-18th century, two Englishmen, James Cleveland and Skinner Caulker settled in what is now Sierra Leone, intermarried with locals, and established themselves rulers of several coastal districts. In an early feud between the two families, the Clevelands were eliminated, but the Caulkers prospered and founded dynasties which had great impact on Sierra Leonean history throughout the Nineteenth Century. Though the kingdoms they set up have not endured, the Caulker family is still very numerous and influential in the nation.
The Sherbro Island, in 1815, became a colony made up of freed slaves from the United States. This was fifty years before the end of the Civil War in the United States and the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. There were several societies, under the umbrella of the British Empire, that began to secretly free slaves and help them return to their mother country. During this time is when the Caulkers and the Clevelands came to the islands off Sierra Leone, where they first established their dynasties. Thomas Stephen Caulker moved his dynasty to Bumpeh in 1820. The current Caulkers are descendants of these early settlers as you can see from the line of authority of Paramount Chiefs passed down from 1820 through 1984 to the present day.
1820 – 1832 Thomas Stephen Caulker
1832 – 1842 Charles Caulker
1842 – 1857 Thomas Kon Tham Caulker
1857 – 1864 Thomas Theophilus Caulker
1864 – 1888 Richard Canreba Caulker
1888 – 1895 Vacant
1895 – 1898 Richard Canreba Caulker
1899 – 1902 James Canreba Caulker
1902 – 1907 John Canreba Caulker
1907 – 1921 Thomas Canreba Caulker
1921 – 1954 Albert Gbosowah Caulker
1954 – 1983 William I. Caulker
1984 – Charles B. Caulker
Many boats left harbors in the U. S. taking freed slaves to “secret destinations.” The country of Liberia, next to Sierra Leone, also began as a colony of freed slaves.
Wars, Civil Unrest and Making a Living
From its very beginning, the people of the Bumpeh Chiefdom have struggled fighting off conflicts, droughts, wars and civil unrest. For eleven years they endured a civil war, where children were stolen from fields and turned into soldiers, and whole villages were burned to the ground, forcing residents to flee to refugee camps and other make-shift shelters. The war finally ended in 2001 and Sierra Leone is said to be a peaceful and safe place, but the people are enveloped in poverty, and Chief Caulker is working to establish order, education, and stability to his Chiefdom.
The wage for a day’s work is $2.00 or less, and the rural areas of the Bumpeh Chiefdom try to make ends meet and feed their children with agriculture and a bartaring society. The market at Rotifunk is a central place where the local people sell fruits and vegetables and craft items.
The biggest hindrance to the Chiefdom is the lack of education. When a civil war goes on for eleven years, neither children nor adults have opportunities for education, so this is the main concern for the Bumpeh Chiefdom today. The chief is trying to bring the villages up to speed, with computers, and computer classes for both adults and children.
This is a great film, made by the Sherbro Foundation, showing how the villagers make a living, the crops and the animals they raise, gender roles, schools, medical facilities, sports events, and celebrations. It also portrays their village structures, roads, boats, and waterways. As you watch the film of the Bumpeh Chiefdom, with well-manicured rice fields, country roads, rows of neatly spaced huts, and the lush scenery surrounding their efforts, it is hard to imagine that Rotifunk was a community completely destroyed just a few years ago.
If you are wondering about the ritual of the “horn blower,” you might be interested to know that these horns used to be made of ivory (hopefully they are not anymore) and are used to announce the Chief, whenever he arrives in a village.
They have a mouthpiece on the inner side of the horn and small “stop holes” that the horn blower can cover with his thumb, which allows for different tones. You will notice that these horns are quite large, and must also be heavy. They were originally known as War Horns because they were sounded during a battle when the chief was near. However, the horns seem to be celebratory in their capacity today, simply announcing the chief’s entrance into the village. According to a Sierra Leone website they are now simply called “chief’s horns.”
Sierra Leone is in the news. Follow the link, then hit the back arrow to return to the lesson.