BY Stephen Nartey, 6:55am September 19, 2022,

Freetown Board Houses: Where Jamaica’s Freed Slaves Sought Refuge in Sierra Leone

Freetown board hosues/Photo credit: Sierra network

The iconic board houses of Freetown is one of the significant landmarks that link the West African nation, Sierra Leone to its colonial past.

The architecture, which dates back to more than 200 years, is believed to have been built by the Jamaicans who settled in Sierra in the 1800s.

The board houses which is made mostly of wood and lattice panels is also known as ‘bode ose’ in the local language of Sierra Leone.

The Jamaican freed slaves who built these board houses initially sought protection from the British during the American Revolutionary War, but, after the defeat of the British Army, they moved to Nova Scotia in Eastern Canada and later settled in Sierra Leone in 1792.

They built their houses in the cabin-like structures reminiscent of buildings on the American eastern seaboard, according to Reuters.

Renowned documentary producer, Isa Blyden, who has conducted extensive research into the Freetown board houses, said the history of the structures can be traced to the arrival of the Jamaican contingents to Sierra Leone, Observing that they put up buildings from the West Indian influences which are typically a one-storey structure in a cabin-like form.   

According to him, the climate condition in Sierra Leone compelled them to make some structural adjustment instead of what used to be the case in America in 1776. A key modification is in the stones they used was to help strengthen the base of the building during the rainy season in Sierra Leone.

One structure, according to Blyden, which has survived the vagaries of the weather and time, is the Lucy Senessie’s home at 18 High Broad Street.

Vice president of the Sierra Leone Institute of Architects, Manilius Garber, said because the structures were well built, some have endured for over 100 years old. He recalled that the colonial government of the 1940s banned the construction of thatched based houses due to its risk of catching fire.

According to him, that’s why buildings like the Congo Town neighbourhood of Freetown, No. 7 Grey Lane are still in existence.

It is a single-storey board house with a porch, metal panel and adorned with the national colours of Sierra Leone. Wood became a major source of raw material for building because of the country’s large swaths of forests which made timber readily available.

Manilius however indicated that some wood were imported from Europe and Canada. That the board houses are no longer in vogue because of modernity and people’s taste for concrete structures.

He added that another reason why many people don’t fancy living in board houses today is because ofn its high cost of maintenance.

American anthropologist, Joseph Opala, said the thinking behind the architecture of the building was to make it plain and simple like the Western Indian structures.

A resident, Ezekiel Thomas, told Reuters they consider the board houses as one of those cherished colonial relics, but was unhappy with the state of its decline, pointing the destruction of many of the structures to the Sierra Leone civil war between 1991 and 2002.

Another closely linked set of structures with colonial history in Sierra Leone are the Hill Station Buildings which has imposing timber buildings.

It was constructed by the British colonial authorities as a fortress against the mosquitoes in Sierra Leone.

The huge wooden structures were built on metal stilts and concrete over a century ago. Still in the present day, many of the West African nation’s natives call those structures the Hill Station.  

It was once described as the bright electric Hill station by British writer Graham Greene who lived there during the second world war.

Last Edited by:Sedem Ofori Updated: September 19, 2022


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