King Almamy Suluku of Sierra Leone, the Political Maestro of the 19th Century

Almamy Suluku was a powerful Limba ruler who maintained his independence as long as possible through brilliant political strategy.

Almamy Suluku was the son of a Sankailay, chief of the Biriwa country. As a young man, Suluku became the Kurugba, or war captain; and under his military leadership, Biriwa became one of the largest kingdoms in Sierra Leone. When his father died, Suluku was crowned Gbaku (King) over a kingdom that now covered almost ten percent of the Sierra Leone hinterland.

Being a visionary man, Suluku was not satisfied with territory alone, so he set out to make his country wealthy as well. He fostered the trade in gold, ivory, hides, and foodstuffs that passed through Bumban on the way southwest to Freetown; and he gave effective police protection to the traders in his realm.

King Almammy just like Captain Tomba, also loathed the whole business of the European slave trade and forbade his subjects to take part in it.

His progressive rule impressed the British administration in Freetown, and as a sign of respect, they sent him annual gifts throughout the 1880s.

In 1884, when Samori Toure’s Mandinka forces occupied Biriwa, Suluku pretended to co-operate while sending urgent messages to the British warning of a disruption in trade if the Mandinka did not withdraw. The British accepted Suluku’s arguments, persuading the Mandinka to leave Biriwa country. Thus, while other Sierra Leonean kings suffered costly defeats in futile military resistance, Suluku managed to have his way through political strategy alone.

In the 1890s, as British power increased, Suluku pursued his own independent policy while making the British believe he was their loyal ally. He sent frequent messages of friendship to the British Governor and royally entertained every British delegation that arrived in Bumban, but did exactly as he pleased. Some lower ranking officers warned of Suluku’s deception, but Freetown was convinced of his loyalty.

When the 1898 hut tax rebellion broke out, Suluku sent warriors and weapons to Bai Bureh; but when the British complained, he sent them a letter expressing his support for their position and offering his services as mediator.

After the Protectorate was established, the British wanted to break up Suluku’s kingdom into small chiefdoms, but Suluku’s subjects refused to cooperate as long as the old Gbaku was still alive. When he was very aged, a British official asked Suluku to name his successor under the new and tightly controlled colonial structure. The old Gbaku’s reply: “Suluku will never die.

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

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