Sierra Leone has about sixteen ethnic groupings, each with their own language. The Temne, with approximately 35 percent of the population, and the Mende, with about 31 percent, are the biggest and most powerful. The Temne people live mostly in Northern Sierra Leone and the regions around Sierra Leone’s capital. In south-eastern Sierra Leone, the Mende are the majority (with the exception of Kono District).
Temne is mostly Muslim, with just a tiny Christian minority. The Mende are mostly Muslim, with a sizable Christian minority. The rivalry between the north-west, controlled by the Temne, and the south-east, dominated by the Mende, is at the heart of Sierra Leone’s national politics. The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) is supported by the overwhelming majority of Mende, whereas the All People’s Congress is supported by the vast majority of Temne (APC).
The Mende, who are said to be descendants of the Mane, inhabited the Liberian hinterland at one time. In the eighteenth century, they started gently and amicably settling in Sierra Leone. The Temne are believed to have originated in Futa Jallon, which is now part of Guinea. Ernest Bai Koroma, the current president of Sierra Leone, is the first ethnic Temne to be elected to the position.
The Limba, who make up approximately 8% of the population, are the third biggest ethnic group. Sierra Leone’s Limba people are indigenous to the country. They have no known ancestors and are said to have existed in Sierra Leone since before the European contact. The Limba live mainly in Northern Sierra Leone, especially in the districts of Bombali, Kambia, and Koinadugu. Muslims and Christians are almost evenly split among the Limba. The Limba are strong political friends of the Temne, who they share a border with.
Along with the Mende, the Limba have had a strong influence on Sierra Leone’s politics since independence. The All People’s Congress (APC) is the political party supported by the overwhelming majority of Limba. Siaka Stevens and Joseph Saidu Momoh, Sierra Leone’s first and second presidents, were both ethnic Limba. Alfred Paolo Conteh, Sierra Leone’s current Defense Minister, is of Limba ethnicity.
The Fula, who make up around 7% of the population, are the fourth biggest ethnic group. They are descendants of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Fulani migrant immigrants from Guinea’s Fouta Djalon region, and they reside mainly in Sierra Leone’s northeast and west. The Fula are almost entirely Muslim. The Fula are mostly merchants, and many of them live in middle-class households. Fulas may be found in almost every region of the nation as a result of their trade.
The Mandingo are the other ethnic groupings (also known as Mandinka). They are descended from Guinean merchants who arrived in Sierra Leone in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Mandika are mostly located in the country’s eastern and northern regions. They are concentrated in the country’s major cities, including Karina in the Bombali District in the north, Kabala and Falaba in the Koinadugu District in the north, and Yengema in the Kono District in the east. The Mandinka, like the Fula, are almost entirely Muslim. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, Sierra Leone’s third president, and Sorie Ibrahim Koroma, Sierra Leone’s first vice president, were both Mandingos.
The Kono, who reside mainly in the Kono District of Eastern Sierra Leone, come in second in terms of population. The Kono are descendants of Guinean migrants, and their employees are mostly diamond miners today. The Kono ethnic group is mostly Christian, with a significant Muslim minority. Alhaji Samuel Sam-Sumana, Sierra Leone’s current Vice-President, is of Kono ethnicity.
Approximately 3% of the population are Krio descendants (descendants of liberated African American, West Indian, and Liberated African slaves who arrived in Freetown between 1787 and about 1885). They mostly live in Freetown, the capital, and the neighboring Western Area. Krio culture reflects the Western culture and values from where many of their ancestors came; they also maintained strong connections with British authorities and colonial government throughout the development years.
The Krio have long controlled Sierra Leone’s judiciary and the elected city council in Freetown. They have historically been selected to posts in the public service, starting during the colonial years, being one of the first ethnic groups to get educated according to Western norms. They continue to wield power in the government. The overwhelming majority of Krios are Christians, although there is a sizable Muslim population.
The Kuranko, who are connected to the Mandingo and are mostly Muslims, are another minority ethnic group. Around 1600, the Kuranko are said to have arrived in Sierra Leone from Guinea and settled in the north, especially in the Koinadugu District. The Kuranko are mainly farmers, and several of their leaders have held high military posts in the past. Kaifala Marah, Sierra Leone’s current Finance Minister, is of Kuranko descent.
The Loko of Sierra Leone’s north are indigenous people who are said to have resided in the country since the arrival of Europeans. The Loko, like the neighboring Temne, has a Muslim population. The Susu and their Yalunka relatives are merchants who live mainly in the extreme north, in the Kambia and Koinadugu Districts, near to Guinea’s border. The Susu and Yalunka are both descendants of Guinean migrants and are almost entirely Muslim.
The Kissi reside in the south-eastern part of Sierra Leone, farther inland. They are mostly found in the Kailahun District’s major town of Koindu and its neighboring regions. Kissi Christians make up the overwhelming majority of the population. The Vai and Kru peoples live mainly in the Kailahun and Pujehun Districts, close to Liberia’s border. In the capital Freetown’s Kroubay neighborhood, the Kru are the majority. The Vai are mostly Muslim, while the Kru are predominantly Christian.
The Sherbro are located on the seashore in the southern district of Bonthe. They are Sierra Leoneans who have lived on Sherbro Island since its inception. The Sherbro are mainly fishermen and farmers who live largely in the Bonthe District. The Sherbro are almost entirely Christian, and its paramount rulers have a long tradition of marrying British colonists and merchants.
A tiny percentage of Sierra Leoneans are of Lebanese origin, descended from merchants who arrived in the country in the 19th century. Sierra Leonean-Lebanese is their native name. The Sierra Leonean-Lebanese population is mainly made up of merchants who reside in middle-class families in metropolitan areas such as Freetown, Bo, Kenema, Koidu Town, and Makeni.