In celebration of Black History, The African Dream celebrate King Almamy Suluku one of the greatest kings in African history who, during the British rule in Sierra Leone managed to maintain his independence as long as possible through political strategy. His progressive rule made his kingdom one of the largest as well as one of the richest in Sierra Leone.
Born in 1820 in Kamabai, in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, King Almamy Suluku was the son of the great Limba King Sakailay of Biriwa. During his young era, he was crowned as kurugba (war captain). Suluku made the Kingdom of Biriwa emerge as one of the largest kingdoms in Sierra Leone and one of the wealthiest. After the death of his father King Sakailay, he was crowned Gbaku (King) of Biriwa.
During the British rule in Sierra Leone, many Sierra Leonean kings and chiefs who resisted British rule suffered defeats while some were sent into exile, for example, Bai Bureh. But as smart as King Suluku was, he made his kingdom one of the few kingdoms that enjoyed independence and wealth throughout the British era in Sierra Leone.
But how did he manage to do that?
King Almamy Suluku was a smart and wise ruler who was not only contented in holding territory alone but also to make his kingdom very rich and developed. He promoted the trade in gold, ivory, hides and foodstuffs that passed through Bumban (capital of Biriwa) on the way to Freetown and he gave utmost police protection to the traders in his domain. His progressive rule and thinking were welcomed in good spirit by the British powers in Freetown who became fond of him and began to send King Suluku annual gifts in the 1880s. The British had these thoughts that King Suluku was with them but in King Suluku’s mind, he had to play by giving them false impressions in order to expand his kingdom and keep it wealthy and independent. Note that, King Almamy Suluku was against the business of the European slave trade and forbade his subjects to take part in it.
When I say Suluku was one of the smartest African kings, indeed he was. In 1884, when the Napoleon of Africa Samori Tour’s Mandinka’s forces invaded Biriwa, King Suluku’s kingdom, King Suluku didn’t fight rather he pretended to comply with the Mandinka forces from Guinea, while was in secret contact with the British powers in Freetown cautioning them of the Mandinka forces and how their presence could disrupt trade in Biriwa kingdom, a kingdom which the British had a great interest in. His words were able to convince the British. The Mandinka forces left the Kingdom of Biriwa without shedding blood.
In the 1890s, as British power increased in Sierra Leone, King Almamy Suluku endeavoured to own his independent policy while making the British believe he was a loyal ally. King Suluku would show affection for one side (the British) while silently supporting another (his fellow kings and chiefs in other kingdoms). In fact, he would continuously send sweet bromance messages to the British Governor of Sierra Leone at that time and would entertain any British official that visited him in his palace. Some lower-ranking British officers became suspicious of Suluku’s political tricks and warned their bosses of his deception, but the high-ranking British officials were convinced of his loyalty and friendship.
In 1898, the hut-tax war led by one of the greatest African warriors of all time, Bai Bureh, broke out in Sierra Leone. The hut tax war is one of the most notable wars in Sierra Leone; a war between the British forces and the great Temne warrior Bai Bureh. The hut tax was a form of property tax, which was the system of revenue collection imposed upon the African inhabitants of Natal by the British colonial authorities to finance the administration of African affairs. Bai Bureh was totally against the hut tax imposed by the British. He was against the notion that Sierra Leoneans had to pay tax to the British who invaded their country and claimed it. Bai Bureh boldly told the British to return to Britain and let Sierra Leoneans solve their own problems.
But Bai Bureh couldn’t stop the brutal British forces so King Suluku sent warriors and weapons to Bai Bureh. This, the British became suspicious about King Suluku’s involvement in helping Bai Bureh. They sent him a letter to back off, and in return, King Suluku sent them a letter giving his support for their position and offering his services as a middleman. King Suluku kept sending warriors and weapons to his fellow countryman Bai Bureh while he was also acting as a middleman. That’s how smart and intelligent this man was!
So after the hut tax war, the British colonialists wanted the establishment of the protectorate, which includes separating King Suluku’s kingdom into chiefdoms but his people were against the idea as long as the old Gbaku was alive. But the smart King Suluku became old and he was less active in the political affairs of his Kingdom. The British separated the kingdoms in Sierra Leone into chiefdoms — that’s how Sierra Leone has chiefdoms instead of kingdoms.
King Almamy Suluku died in 1906 aged 86.