How Sierra Leone got it's beautiful name: "Mountain Lions"

It is the 27th of April and it's Sierra Leone's 59th anniversary! In honour of the beautiful country Sierra Leone, we wanted to post a short post on an interesting factor of the country.

Just for some background, Sierra Leone was first colonised by free slaves that had arrived from England in 1787. The British later made the country a crown colony in 1808. However, centuries before, when Sierra Leone was part of the slave trade in West Africa ran by European [predominately Portuguese] merchants who explored the West African coast; a Portuguese explorer named Pedro de Sintra discovered Sierra Leone.

The most popular theory out there claims that it's name comes from the Portuguese phrase ‘Serra Lyoa’, by Pedro de Sintra in 1462. De Sintra was one of the first European explorers to map out the coast of today's Liberia and Sierra Leone. Like many other coastal West African countries "the Portuguese were most often the first foreign explorers to interact with inhabitants through exploration, trade, and, later, slavery" (Cole, 2018), similar to Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. Sierra Leone is well-known for it's beautiful mountains in the Eastern region particularly Mount Bintumani which is recommended as a popular tourist attraction today. One account claims that Pedro de Sintra was sailing and approaching the Eastern coast of Sierra Leone, when he and his crew heard lions roaring in the mountains. After hearing this, he immediately named the mountain range ‘Lion Mountains’.

Christopher Fyfe, a Scottish historian of Sierra Leone, in his study the History of Sierra Leone, stated that Portuguese explorers had visited the Freetown Peninsula in the 1500's. However, his version of the encounter is that the explorers named the mountain range ‘Serra Lyoa’ because of their ‘leonine’ appearance. Which is possible, because around the Freetown Peninsula, green mountain ranges curve elegantly; they might not exactly resemble crouching lions, but they do give off a leonine grace in the spectacular way they stretch out against the horizon.(Cole, 2018).

The spelling of the name evolved when English sailors arrived to the coast in the 16th Century. From the original name, they derived ‘Sierra Leoa’. When the country became a British Crown Colony in 1808, they realised that the name they had given was a misspelling of the name in Spanish (Sierra Leona), modified to Sierra Leone. The meaning remained the same: ‘Lion Mountains’ or ‘Mountains of Lions’.

You will find that commonly Sierra Leonean's refer to their country ‘Salone’. (Cole, 2018). This is a common nickname and derivation of Sierra Leone, in the lingua franca, Krio. ‘Salone’ to Sierra Leonean's has become a word that represents national identity.

Thanks for reading! If you are Sierra Leonean, happy independence day to you! #Salone59 #HappyIndependenceDay

- SS