Freetown's wood homes a link to Sierra Leone's past

Thu May 3, 2012 11:47am EDT
 
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By Simon Akam

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Scattered across Sierra Leone's capital Freetown stand ageing wooden houses, some of which look more like they belong on the east coast of 18th century America than in a steamy West African city.

Others look like they may have been built hundreds of years ago in the islands of the Caribbean, another reflection of Sierra Leone's history as a colony established for freed slaves.

For Lucy Senessie, a 24-year-old who lives in one of the West Indies-influenced board houses in Freetown - known as 'bode ose' in the krio vernacular - the city's unique architecture is a living link to its past.

"It is very important for people to see what has been there before," she said, standing outside her wooden house in Freetown's Murray Town neighborhood. "The time when they colonize this country, there is only board houses in this country, but now things have changed."

Isa Blyden, a documentary producer who has researched Freetown architecture, sees the origin of the houses in the arrival of the ‘Nova Scotians' to Sierra Leone.

These former American slaves and free blacks sought refuge with the British during the American Revolutionary War. After the British defeat they were evacuated to Nova Scotia in Eastern Canada, and in 1792 a contingent came to Sierra Leone.

Blyden sees the original single-storey Freetown Board House as a reconstruction of the cabin-like structures built a little earlier on the American eastern seaboard.

"The style of house was being built in America in 1776," Blyden said.   Continued...

 
A pedestrian walks past a traditional colonial-era Board House dating back about a century on Pademba Road in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown April 27, 2012. Scattered across Sierra Leone's capital Freetown stand ageing wooden houses, some of which look more like they belong on the east coast of 18th century America than in a steamy west African city. Others look like they may have been built hundreds of years ago in the islands of the Caribbean, another reflection of Sierra Leone's history as a colony established for freed slaves. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly