Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Ancestor Stones

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Ancestor Stones

A Novel

by Aminatta Forna

Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2006, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2007, 336 pages

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A Short History of Sierra Leone
The Republic of Sierra Leone is a small country with a population of about 5.3 million on the west coast of Africa (map) bordered by Guinea and Liberia (For more about Liberia visit The Darling at BookBrowse and click the "BookBrowse Says" link). The life expectancy of men is 39 years and women 42 years. The name is an adaptation of the Portuguese, "serra leoa" (lion mountains).

During the 18th century it was an important center for the slave trade. In the late 18th century, British abolitionists and the Sierra Leone Company founded Freetown as a home for Black Britons* and in 1808 the country became the first British colony in Africa; by 1821 Freetown was the seat of government for all British colonies in West Africa.

Sierra Leone gained its independence in 1961. In 1967 a military coup deposed Premier Siaka Stevens' government; a year later Stevens returned to power following another military coup. In 1978 Stevens declared a "one-party" state with himself as the leader of the one party. In 1985 Major-General Joseph Saidu Momoh became president following Stevens' retirement and promptly declared a state of economic emergency.

Civil war broke out in 1991 and a new multi-party constitution was adopted the same year; a year later President Momoh was ousted in a military coup led by Captain Strasser; four years later Strasser was ousted in a military coup led by his defense minister. Soon after a peace deal was signed with the rebels; but that unraveled a year later and in 1997 the UN security Council imposed sanctions against Sierra Leone barring the supply of arms and petroleum products, but a plentiful supply of naturally occuring diamonds ("blood diamonds") ensured Sierra Leone a continuous source of tradeable goods with which to buy arms.

After 8 years, a ceasefire was achieved in 1999 and UN troops arrived to police the agreement, but it was not long before the peace broke down and UN forces came under attack. Several hundred UN troops were abducted in 2000 - British forces mounted an operation to rescue the hostages and the rebel leader was captured. In 2002 peace was eventually established, and by 2004 17,000 foreign troops had disarmed more than 70,000 soldiers including many boy-soldiers (see also A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah). In 2002 it was estimated that 2/3rd of the population had been displaced by the conflict, 75,000 killed, and many thousands more had been raped or had had limbs amputated by machetes in a systematic terror campaign. Since 2002, the country has enjoyed relative peace, although there are now outbreaks of violence following the July 2007 elections.

*Black Britons (or Black Loyalists) was the term used to describe former North American slaves or free blacks who joined the British Army against the colonists in the American Revolutionary War.

This article was originally published in September 2006, and has been updated for the September 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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