The rebuilding of the African nation of Sierra Leone will be the subject of an all-day conference Friday at the University of South Carolina School of Law.
Located on Africa’s west coast, Sierra Leone has spent the past decade trying to recover from a devastating civil war that left approximately 50,000 dead, almost half its population displaced and most of the country’s infrastructure destroyed.
The conference, free and open to the public, is thought to be the first of its kind in the United States, according to The State newspaper.
It will attempt to examine the issues that have hindered redevelopment of the nation of 5.7 million people and look at ways Sierra Leone can move forward.
Speakers include June Carter Perry, the former US ambassador to Sierra Leone; Jim Hodes, former prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone; and Herb Frazier, marketing manager for Charleston’s Magnolia Plantation and author of the newly released “Behind God’s Back,” which depicts the connection between South Carolina’s coastal Gullah culture and Sierra Leone.
Also speaking will be Joseph Opala, the historian credited with identifying the Sierra Leone–Gullah Connection, the long historical thread that links Sierra Leoneans to the Gullah people in coastal South Carolina and Georgia.
Opala serves as the coordinator of the Bunce Island project, a $5 million dollar effort to preserve the British slave castle in Sierra Leone that sent thousands of African captives to South Carolina and Georgia in the 18th century, and to build a museum on the Atlantic slave trade in Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown.
Today’s Gullah are directly descended from the slaves who labored on the South Carolina rice plantations and their language reflects significant influences from Sierra Leone and the surrounding areas.
The Gullah’s English-based creole language is strikingly similar to Krio, the lingua franca of today’s Sierra Leone inhabitants.