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Chief Francis Fawundu of Manoh:, spokesman of Protectorate chiefs

6 August 2020 at 01:15 | 672 views

Chief Francis Fawundu of Manoh: A spokesman of Protectorate chiefs and voice of independence against British colonialism in Krim country

By Kortor Kamara, PV Special Contributor, USA

The 1898 clash between the Krim chief Francis Fawundu of Manoh and the English Governor of the colony of Sierra Leone is an epitome of principled and peaceful resistance to colonial expansionism worthy of especial note in our nation’s illustrious history.

Even before the imposition of the Protectorate Ordinance in Sierra Leone, their had existed sporadic and intermittent instances of deposition of chiefs by British colonial officials in the protectorate.

However, the 1898 deposition of chief Francis Fawundu by Governor Cardew, represented a new low in colonial interference, the rationale and reasons of which were at best dubious and capricious.

The handling of the chief Francis Fawundu issue, the refusal of Governor Cardew to meet with the delegation of chiefs, the referral of the chiefs to the District Commissioner, Captain Carr in Bandajuma, and the subsequent deposing of Fawundu as Paramount Chief and imprisonment in Freetown, were all precipitating factors that led to the Hut Tax War in April, 1898.

Who are the Krim?
The Krim tribe of southern Sierra Leone, have for centuries inhabited the coastal littoral region in the Pujehun and Bonthe districts. They together with the Gallinas/Vai and Sherbro in Bonthe district, were the first to have interactions with Europeans, starting with the earliest Portuguese traders in that region.

With the annexation of Sherbro island into the colony of Sierra Leone (Freetown) in 1825, the Gallinas and Krim countries signed treaty agreements with Great Britain in 1882 and 1883 respectively, ceding a portion of their territory to the English Crown.

The period from 1883 witnessed the signing of a plethora of agreements between Chiefs of the coastal region of Sierra Leone with the British crown.

In the aftermath of the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, the principle of “effective control“ became a major criteria in the establishing or proving possession of African territories by competing European powers.

The German government organized Berlin conference, which codified and launched the scramble for Africa, by European powers, necessitated the establishment of such spheres of influence and subsequent colonialization.

The treaty of cession signed in October 1883 by Chief Joe Mannah Fawundu, father of chief Francis Fawundu and founder of the settlement at Manoh, with the British Governor Sir Henry Havelock was essentially a land transfer which retained sovereignty in the hands of the chiefs, as “contracting powers”.

A subject or a contracting power?
The issue as to whether the treaties signed in 1883 were coterminous with the subsequent 1896 Protectorate Ordinance became an issue of great relevance and import by early 1898, as chiefs, headed by chief Francis Fawundu challenged the British governor, Fredric Cardew in January 1898.

Chief Fawundu firmly believed that he and his people were not subjects of the British crown but rather were a contracting independent power, who had only signed a cession agreement for a portion of their territory with the crown.

In his testimony before the Chalmers Commission in Freetown on September 22, 1898, chief Francis Fawundu stated that “my father gave the land to the government by the coast at Lawana. Lawana belongs to the colony and the other side is in the protectorate “.

However, in 1897, following news that the protectorate ordinance required payment of a hut tax, the principal chiefs of the Kittum, namely James Zorokong, Sepharmina (Minah), Humpa Maben, Humpa Clawa, Separkaisek (Governor Havelock treaty signatories) ; Momo Kaikai, Momo Jah and Momo Fofi requested him as “the principal man”, to go see the governor and tell him they will accept the laws “except the hut tax”.

In a meeting on February 10, 1897 at the Governor’s office in Freetown, attended by Bai Sherbro, Kpana Lewis and chiefs from Bumpe and Tikonko, Chief Fawundu acting as their spokesman, told the governor that they would be unable to pay the proposed hut tax and pleaded for sometime as wars had only just ended in the region. The Governor was recalcitrant and dismissed them insisting on collection of the hut tax.

Fawundu related the decision of the Governor to the other chiefs, who because no written correspondence was given by the Governor, decided to make another visit to the Governor.

The January 1898 meeting
The principal chiefs who traveled to Freetown for a subsequent meeting with the Governor in January, 1898, were Chiefs Fawundu, Momo Kaikai, Momo Jah, Momo Fofi, Queen Massi Massi, Bokamina, chief of Tobanda, and Bai Birsi Marsima. They were joined by chiefs Sandi of Tikonko and Baya of Bum. These chiefs decided that “whosoever first pays this house tax is against us” and that no one should pay the taxes before we should have first gone to see the Governor “.

In January 1898, chief Fawundu and the above chiefs had traveled to Freetown to register their objections to the new protectorate ordinance to Governor Cardew.

Fawundu being fully cognizant of his position as a contracting power and not a subject of the British Crown, a position assigned to him in the 1883 cession treaty, used expressions and language in a letter to the Governor, stating that the purpose of their visit was regarding the new ordinance and that these “ordinances practically affect and set aside entirely the sovereign rights of the kings of the countries to which the ordinances applied”.

The deposition of Chief Francis Fawundu
Governor Cardew did not view the letter sent by chief Francis Fawundu, on behalf of the chiefs favorably. He viewed language such as “the Governor has taken rights from us in our country”, as disrespectful and disloyal and refused to meet with Fawundu and the chiefs.

Cardew then ordered the chiefs to return to their district and go see their district commissioner with any complaints. However before they could depart Freetown, the Governor sent word requesting to see Fawundu and the chiefs.

On principle, Chief Fawundu declined the invitation and refused to meet the Governor and instead wrote that “whatever the Governor wanted to point out he should write and I would take the letter to the others”.

The Governor thereafter wrote a letter responding that chief Fawundu’s letter was impertinent and ordered he be deposed as a chief. He was arrested and detained in jail for 6 months in Freetown. He was replaced by Poaki Dogbo as Paramount chief by the Governor.

Fawundu’s arrest and detention was also effected to forestall the potential huge influence he had over the mendes and other chiefs.

Following his removal and dethronement, chief Fawundu called a meeting of his people and told them he was now an ordinary person and retreated to his village. Thereafter the District Commissioner, Captain Carr together with the frontier police plundered Mano and other towns.

Arrest in Freetown
The deposed Paramount Chief, Francis Fawundu returned to Freetown via Bonthe, following news of his imminent arrest by Captain Carr and the frontier police. Two weeks following his arrival in Freetown, news of the war having reached Mano was received by him.

While he was going outside to a shop to purchase paper to write a letter to the Governor, regarding the plundering and war in his chiefdom, he was arrested and detained in Freetown.

Chief Francis Fawundu and chief Bai Sherbro, Kpana Lewis are two Mendi chiefs who had made deputations to the Governor in 1897 and 1898 who were imprisoned following the hut tax war.

Chief Francis Fawundu, one of the most important and prominent chiefs at the dawn of colonial expansion in Sierra Leone, was essentially deposed for refusing to acknowledge being a subject of the Queen and for referring to himself as an independent contracting power. He insisted on being recognized as a non British subject and refused to apologize for making references to the 1883 treaty and was severely punished with dethronement, plunder of his chiefdom, arrest and detention by the colonialists.