Kpana Lewis: The African Chief Exiled to Ghana for Resisting British Colonialism

Kpana Lewis was a Sherbro chief from Sierra Leone and a vocal opponent of colonial rule of the British who was exiled to Ghana for resisting colonialism.

Kpana Lewis: The African Chief Exiled to Ghana for Resisting British Colonialism

Kpana Lewis was born in 1830 on Sherbro Island in the Southern Province of British Sierra Leone, into a politically influential family of the Sherbro aristocracy. His grandfather, Bai Kong Kuba Lewis, held the highest authority among the Sherbro people.

Taking office in 1879, Kpana Lewis encountered the complexities of adapting to the evolving colonial regime. The British declaration of Sierra Leone’s hinterland as a protectorate in 1896 introduced terms in the Protectorate Ordinance that were met with disapproval by local leaders. Chief among these contentious terms was the hut tax, a levy imposed on a “per hut” basis and payable in currency, labor, grain, or livestock. This imposition heightened tensions as it was viewed as oppressive and exploitative by the local rulers.

Refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the hut tax, Kpana Lewis led a courageous protest against the colonial authorities. He staunchly believed that Sierra Leoneans had no obligation to pay taxes to foreign powers and advocated for self-determination.

Kpana Lewis’s refusal to recognize the hut tax becomes even more significant considering that it didn’t directly apply to his region. Despite this exemption, his opposition to the tax and colonial rule demonstrates his solidarity with other chiefs and his broader resistance against British authority.

Kpana Lewis, also used his influence to effect a boycott of trade with Europeans and Krio traders, viewing them as collaborators with the colonial regime.

When Alldridge, the District Commissioner, called a meeting of chiefs in the area to discourage such actions, one of them defiantly insisted on conferring with Kpana Lewis, whom he regarded as his superior, before engaging in discussions with the District Commissioner, which enraged the District Commissioner.

When the 1898 hut tax rebellion erupted in the South, Chief Kpana Lewis found himself unjustly implicated as its mastermind. Despite the lack of evidence connecting him to the uprising, colonial authorities detained and subsequently exiled him to the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) alongside Bai Bureh, the leader of the uprising.

The British government’s decision to exile Kpana Lewis underscored their apprehension of his influence and the threat he posed to their control. Consequently, they installed their own nominee, Fama Yani, as Bai Sherbro.

Efforts to secure his return to Sierra Leone, led by his son Kong Kuba and supported by the Anti-Slavery Society in London, were met with resistance from British authorities. While Bai Bureh was eventually repatriated, they detained Kpana Lewis, fearing his return could lead to the overthrow of Fama Yani. As a result, Kpana Lewis remained in exile until his passing on May 10, 1912.

Mr Madu
Mr Madu
Mr Madu is a freelance writer, a lover of Africa and a frequent hiker who loves long, vigorous walks, usually on hills or mountains.

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