Collaborating with those at home and overseas: Reliving and reminiscing about Sierra Leonean Krio heritage and culture online By: Nenna Orie Chuku, DIS PhD candidate
By Ian Evans, on 2 February 2022
In this student blog, Nenna Orie Chuku (DIS PhD candidate) discusses the Ɛmti bag nɔ ba tinap: documenting the intangible with the diaspora and the homeland, a collaborative Krio intangible heritage project with the Krio Heritage Foundation (based in the UK) and Freetong Players (based in Sierra Leone).
Tכk (conversations), dress, cham cham (edible snacks) and music are all key elements at Sierra Leonean gatherings throughout the UK. With COVID-19, such in-person occasions halted abruptly. Coming to terms with the change, some UK-operating Sierra Leonean community groups began to explore (then) unfamiliar digital technologies and online platforms to enable them to convene online. However, resources are not universally shared so cross-support is needed to help (where desired) the voluntary-run organisations move online. One of the organisations experimenting with ‘getting online’ is the Krio Heritage Foundation (KHF), a voluntary-run organisation that seeks to share, preserve, and celebrate Sierra Leonean Creole/Krio histories in the diaspora. Since 2019, the KHF has been utilising online platforms for meetings and events. Through trial and error, engagement with KHF programmes expanded from a UK-based Sierra Leonean audience to an international one involving Krio speakers from China, Nigeria, the USA and Canada. The KHF’s online event of pull-na-doe kickstarted the Ɛmti bag nɔ ba tinap project. Performed by the Freetong Players, this online re-enactment – of the Krio ceremony that marks the arrival of new life – included a lively and educational discussion on the history and changes of the ceremony. Why are daughters named after 7-days but sons named after 10-days? Why do families present their babies to those on their street via walking? The ability to arrive at a definitive guide to Krio culture is not possible. However, those present in these online spaces agreed that there was a need for reflective dialogues. While a dedicated archive of Krio heritage is not currently possible for the Ɛmti bag nɔ ba tinap project, creating opportunities to hold dialogues and re-enactments allows online participants to reminisce about Krio culture, and to consider how to continue or revive cultural practices. With a small grant from the UCL Centre for Critical Heritage Studies, a curated dedicated series on the intangible forms of Krio heritage and culture was formed.
Curating Ɛmti bag nɔ ba tinap: Connectivity & Knowledge
Early discussions focused on what is achievable considering the two key parameters of a Freetown-London programme: connectivity and knowledge.
Over the past couple of years, internet connections and electricity in Freetown have improved, but connectivity varies and is far from guaranteed. The programme relied on sufficient connectivity. Connectivity and equipment are important for documenting (through recordings) the knowledge shared by invited speakers and attendees. Although a research institution funds Ɛmti bag nɔ ba tinap, this project was dependent upon and seeks to build upon knowledge held by those in Freetown and connected diaspora. Whilst many of our invited participants are experienced public speakers and performers, a dialogue event format provided a means to coax out invaluable insights and knowledge from those with less experience. Consequently, this format influenced the content of the events. The first three topics of storytelling (parables and proverbs), ceremony, and music provided fruitful entry routes into Krio heritage. All three connect to intangible forms of heritage. Krio heritage is also found in architecture, but through organising the event it became clear that engaged discussions of architecture were infeasible. How could we navigate through the city of Freetown in real time with COVID restrictions, along with other connection and safety questions, whilst maintaining an online discussion? A resolution was unavailable given the constraints of the project’s resources, so a different topic was needed. Due to this the fourth topic became a dialogue on material culture through print style and design.
The delivery of the programme followed the KHF standard approach to events:
- A couple of weeks before the event, meet to finalise the content and whether any additional input or materials were needed.
- Order of event: music to welcome attendees, welcoming prayers, introductions, talk or performance, discussion, thanks and close.
- Krio to be used throughout and as much as possible. For those who can understand (hear) Krio but do not speak Krio, English is to be used.
- Attendees can remain on the online platform for more informal conversations up to the allotted advertised time. Time extensions can be granted by the Chair of the event.
- Review the delivery of the event at the following monthly meeting.
Krio Online Faves
Replicating the flow of physical interactions was impossible. However, with fewer chances to digress, entering a virtual space for a dedicated purpose provided a chance to connect in new rewarding ways. Below are some reflections from the co-producers and partners on what they enjoyed:
- “The attire [Print Style Evolution] because it reminded me of my mum when she would wear traditional wear to work. Her place of work allowed such dress on Fridays. It also reminded me of the times I attended weddings with my grandma. My grandma and other adults wore them. I did not wear them as a child because it was expensive to make them. They also reminded me of my aunt who used to make prints.”
- “I enjoy the monthly meetings and always look forward to it; it is a great time to ‘bump into’ old time friends and learn more about our traditions.”
- “Life stages/milestones and proverbs.”
- “I enjoy all of the Krio heritage as it gives one a wonderful and wholesome perspective of what heritage is about, it is all of the above rolled into one.”
- “Krio Proverbs because it gives life lessons in an enjoyable manner.”
- “Many parts. The storytelling elements so the parables but more general how the Krio language is used for expressions and cues etc.”
Events frequently end with sentiments of: what next with Krio culture? How can we preserve it? How can we archive it? What roles do we have in the preservation of Krio heritage and culture? Unsurprisingly, such discussions do not lead to a single resolution. Different people in different roles are needed. Below are responses to a feedback prompt asking what (if any) role do individuals, organisations (like KHF), researchers, and institutions (like universities) play in the preservation of Sierra Leonean Krio culture.
- “Individuals tend to have the knowledge researchers require. Without them some of these researchers can’t do their work and research cannot be conducted.”
- “Individuals can come together and settle on a particular research aspect to promote the culture, like sourcing the origins of some of our fabric and or getting together with interested cultures to inform and preserve these aspects.”
- “Individuals because I talk to people in my family and my surroundings about the culture. I try to educate young members of my extended family who were born in the Diaspora and have never been to Sierra Leone.”
- “It was easy to become part of this group [KHF] as I endorse the ethos they promote.”
- “Some of the members have ideas on the Krio culture, heritage, and tradition and to further engage with an organisation like Freetong Players based in Freetown, Sierra Leone to help enact the ways and life of the Krios.”
- “Teamwork is important too. As the saying goes: ‘if you want to walk further, work as a team and not alone’. This is also because everybody may be able to bring in their expertise in a particular area to enhance production or make things work.”
- “There is also the possibility of fundraising and sponsorship. Much as the individual can do it, organisations can really promote and fund various aspects of a programme.
- “KHF has been doing a very good job. We have had conferences, dinners and we had guest speakers who have written books and they spoke about the heritage and what it was like growing up in a Sierra Leonean household. We also have Zoom meetings where we looked at the origin of Krio music, Krio Entrepreneurship, the origin of the Krio attire, Krio lifestyle and much more.”
- “I think organisations like KHF are needed, and they should be active in recording their work and impact in their community. Let them be the authors of their stories, their histories.”
- “An educational institution that is open to diversity and willing to support and learn from other heritage and culture.”
- “Some researchers are able to tap into funds that small groups like the KHF are not able to access. Large research groups know where funding is located and can apply for them.”
Although video-conferencing platforms present a chance to record these exchanges and re-enactments, internet connection ultimately determines the quality of visuals and sounds. This dictates the usability of these recordings and whether such approaches should be considered accessible and viable. Whilst the possibility of online archiving is found in different pockets of the internet (such as YouTube, SoundCloud, and social media), questions about discoverability, accessibility, sustainability, and one-voice narratives remain important in the connection between Krios in Sierra Leone and overseas.
Ɛmti bag nɔ ba tinap: documenting the intangible with the diaspora and the homeland was funded by the UCL Centre for Critical Heritage Studies small grants fund 2019-20. Working with the Krio Heritage Foundation, Freetong Players International and videographer and designer Thomas Sawyerr, four events were delivered on the topics on spoken word and storytelling, ceremonies, music, and attire. The delivered programme:
- Parebul en Provabs with Mr Charlie Haffner, 24 July 2021
- Put Stop: The Engagement performed by Freetong Players, 21 August 2021
- Goombay & Maringa, 18 September 2021
- Print Style Evolution, 30 October 2021
Thanks to KHF members for their feedback and reflections.