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Although people have inhabited Western Africa longer, there is little archeological research being done in the region. For now, 1787 marks the beginning when British colonialists entered West Africa and established the first modern state in sub-Saharan Africa. The British, seeking a place within the British Empire for freed slaves, found their refuge and 400 freedmen from Great Britain, settled what is now Freetown. Over the remainder of the century three settler communities of African descent arrived in the region. The first being the “Black Poor” from England, followed by those from Nova Scotia in 1792 and the Jamaican Maroons in 1800. Finally, in 1808 the Sierra Leone Company, fearing that the events in the region were a threat to their own existence, officially transferred rule to the British Crown. Over the next half century Sierra Leone became a depository for liberated Africans and rescued slaves.

Eighteen ethnic groups make up the indigenous population of Sierra Leone. The Temne in the north and the Mende in the south are the largest of the groups, comprising just under a third of the population each. About one-tenth of the population is the Krio descendents of freed slaves who returned in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Various other African groups together make up about one-fifth of the population.

The Temne and Mende cultures both have a long and diverse history with first feudal then monarchal systems dating back to their arrival to the region in the 15th century. Out of the feudal system was born an extensive rice growing system to provide a regular food staple and a system of laws. The Mende Kingdom established a certain level of dominance over the Temne. As early as the 16th century, the Mende invaded, enslaved and ruled Temne settlements.