From the Editor’s Keyboard

The Anglo-French Entente Cordiale

31 May 2019 at 18:13 | 1426 views

The Anglo-French Entente Cordiale and how Sierra Leone colony-administered Îles de Los, aka Los Islands was lost to French Guinea in 1904:

By Kortor Kamara, Guest Writer, USA

The significant historical role played by coastal islands in the infamous slave trade on the west coast of Africa cannot be complete without mention of the Îles de Los, better known in English as the Los Islands.

The Îles de Los consisted of six islands located just off the coast of Conakry, the capital of Guinea and was Sierra Leonean territory, at least from 1754 through 1904, when it was ceded to France by the colonial British.

The islands consisting of William island or Tamara, the largest of the six islands, Factory island or Kassa and Crawford island were the only significantly inhabited and they served as a companion to the much well known Bunce Island, though sparsely mentioned in our historical records.

Due to its strategic location, these islands were ideal and served as bulking and warehousing centers for the trade in goods and slaves around the rivers on the Guinea and Sierra Leone coast.

Between the period 1750 to 1790, British slave traders from Liverpool such as James Penny had established dominance in trading on these islands.

The role of the Sierra Leone Company

The firm of Barber and Bolland Company of Liverpool, also called the Liverpool Company, the Liverpool Society and better known as the Sierra Leone Company established its sprawling business empire of Factories in the Îles de Los.

Miles Barber, the patriarch of the Sierra Leone Company started his operations on the Îles de Los after signing an agreement with King Tom of Sierra Leone in 1754 for establishment of a Factory on the island.

Local headmen of the Îles de Los between 1754 to 1793 included King Tom in 1754; George Williams in 1788 and Thomas Williams in 1793.

The Sierra Leone Company subsequently established extensive commercial facilities that produced and repaired boats, provided marine artisans and services and served as a staging area for trade in coastal rivers along the coast.

So extensive was the Sierra Leone Company’s dominion and interests at the Îles de Los and Sierra Leone, that the company maintained gunboats off the coast to protect its interests. The dominant principal European residents of the island were British traders.

The traditional inhabitants of the Îles de Los and its adjacent hinterland were the Baga people, who share linguistics similarities and characteristics with the Temne people of Sierra Leone.

In 1805 a dispute ensued as to ownership of the islands. The protagonists, Boye Demba, a Baga claimed ownership as a traditional Baga territory; Mori Kanu, a Mandingo claimed ownership citing acquisition of title to all coastal areas between the Îles de Los and the Sierra Leone River, during the Futa Jaloon expansion wars. Fendan Modu Dumbuya however maintained ownership based on claimed purchase of the land from Mori Kanu.

Mori Kanu subsequently launched a raid on the traders on the island, destroying property and enslaving some traders in 1804/1805.

The islands as a British Possession

The abolition of the slave trade resulted in the diminished usefulness of the islands to the traders and the determination by the British Crown and governors in Freetown to stop the slave trade, now came to view the island as a center of opposition to their abolition efforts.

In 1812 the British set up a Garrison on the island of Tamara and arrested and tried at the admiralty court in Freetown the first slave trader, after the abolition proclamation.

In 1818 the Sierra Leone Governor McCarthy signed a treaty with Mangé Demba of the Baga people and the islands became ceded to the British Crown. Thus, the Îles de Los began its 86 years uninterrupted territorial rule from Freetown as a British possession.

The Entite Cordiale

The 1904 Anglo-French agreement, between Great Britain and France, known as the Entente Cordiale, cemented the total breakaway of the islands from the colony of Sierra Leone. The British government ceded to the French government the Îles de Los islands off the coast of Guinea in exchange for fishing rights in Newfoundland and Labrador in present day Canada.

The geography of the islands, located just outside the French colonial controlled Guinean capital, Conakry, made its continued rule by the British Crown as a protectorate of the Sierra Leone colony highly contentious and untenable.