History tells stories of many African kings and queens who have done a lot. Their extraordinary achievements and stories have made them formidable. Flourishing ancient African kingdoms largely depended on their warriors and military for protection and expansion. Many African kings and queens were fierce warriors and powerful leaders who led their people with wisdom and strategies.
Almamy Suluku of Sierra Leone was one such king. Born in 1820, he ruled over the Biriwa Kingdom and managed to keep his independence for a long, long time through political strategy.
Suluku was a great Limba ruler. The Limba are the third largest ethnic group in Sierra Leone, behind the Mende and the Temne. They are found mostly in the northern half of the country, where they have lived for hundreds of years. As a matter of fact, the Limba are the oldest inhabitants of what is known as present-day Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone history says that until recently, the Limba have been one of the groups least affected by colonial and post-colonial development and they have been known for their commitment to traditional values and ideas with opposition to change or innovation.
Suluku, who was born in Kamabai, Biriwa, in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, was the son of Sankailay, chief of Biriwa with its capital of Bumban, near modern Kamabai. While in his youth, Suluku became the Kurugba, or war captain. And under his military leadership, Biriwa became one of the largest kingdoms in Sierra Leone.
Over time, Suluku was crowned Gbaku (king) over an area that comprises almost 10 percent of Sierra Leone. But Suluku was not content with territory alone as he sought to make his state wealthy as well. He encouraged the trade in gold, hides, ivory and foodstuffs that passed through Bumban en route to Freetown, providing police protection to the traders in his realm, according to Sierra Leone Web. This made his kingdom one of the largest as well as one of the richest in Sierra Leone.
Suluku was smart, and that was evident in the way he handled politics amid British rule in Sierra Leone. He would show affection for one side while silently supporting another. For instance, when warrior king Samori Toure and his Mandinka forces occupied Biriwa in 1884, Suluku pretended to co-operate while “sending urgent messages to the British warning of a disruption in trade if the Mandinka did not withdraw,” according to Sierra Leone Web.
The British, after paying attention to Suluku’s messages, persuaded the Mandinka to leave Biriwa. And while British power increased in the 1890s, Suluku went ahead with his own independent policy but at the same time made the British believe he was their loyal ally.
“He sent frequent messages of friendship to the British Governor and entertained royally every British delegation that arrived in Bumban, but did exactly as he pleased. Some lower ranking officers warned of Suluku’s deception, but Freetown was convinced of his loyalty,” Sierra Leone Web writes.
In the 1898 uprising against British rule led by a Sierra Leonean chief and military strategist, Bai Bureh, Suluku sent warriors and weapons to Bai Bureh. However, when the British raised issues with that, Suluku sent them a letter throwing his weight behind their position and even asking to be a mediator.
All in all, while other Sierra Leonean kings suffered defeats in military resistance, Suluku was able to have his way through political strategy alone.