Hut Tax War of 1898

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Hut Tax War of 1898 was a war against the imposition of the Hut tax by the British Empire in Sierra Leone. It was initiated by Temne chief Bai Bureh in 1898, and later involved other native peoples, including the Mende. The war was an attempt by the local African kingdoms to maintain their independence in the face of Britain's 1896 declaration of a protectorate over Sierra Leone. The immediate precipitator of hostilities was the attempt by British officials to collect hut tax.

Bai Bureh, leader of the Temne rebellion, under arrest in 1898.

Britain's imposition of the tax sparked off two rebellions in the hinterland of Sierra Leone in 1898, one by the Temne, led by Bai Bureh, the other by the Mende, led by Momoh Jah. The military governor, Colonel Frederic Cardew, had decreed that, to pay for the privilege of British administration, the inhabitants of the new Protectorate should be taxed on the size of their huts: the owner of a four-roomed hut would pay ten shillings a year, those with smaller huts would pay five shillings. Colonel Cardew was not an administrator, but a professional soldier who had spent years in India and South Africa. First imposed on 1 January 1898, the tax was often more than the value of the dwelling, and in many instances the dwellings were unoccupied. Cardew also demanded that the chiefs and inhabitants maintain the roads, taking labour needed for subsistence farming.[1]

The hut tax aroused immediate and intense opposition, led in the first instance by the sixty-year-old Bai Bureh. The operations against him, from February to November, involved "some of the most stubborn fighting that has been seen in West Africa," wrote Colonel Marshal, the British commander. "No such continuity of opposition had at any previous time been experienced on this part of the coast."

The Northern front of the Hut Tax War was led by Bai Bureh, a Temne chief who refused to recognize the British-imposed tax on "huts" (dwellings). The tax was generally regarded by the native chiefs as an attack on their sovereignty and the colonial government said that the Creoles had encouraged the natives not to pay taxes.

After the British issued a warrant to arrest Bai Bureh alleging that he had refused to pay taxes, Bai Bureh declared war on British in Northern Sierra Leone, with the full support of several prominent native chiefs, including the powerful Kissi chief Kai Londo and the Limba chief Almamy Suluku. Both chiefs sent warriors and weapons to aid Bai Bureh.

Bureh's fighters had the advantage over the vastly more powerful British for several months of the war. Hundreds of British troops and hundreds of Bureh's fighters were killed.[2] Some innocent European and African victims were killed and in one case, Johnny Taylor, a Creole trader was "chopped" to pieces by Bai Bureh's warboys.

As frustration grew, Governor Cardew realized that the war not easily winnable so he ordered a "scotched earth policy" wherein the British would burn entire villages, farmlands, pastures e.t.c.. This change in tactics tremendously affected Bai Bureh's war effort due to the reduction of provisions to feed not only his war boys but his subjects as well. Furthermore, he also realized that the cost of reparations was getting insurmountable as the British were relentless pursuing the new policy. In order to save his people from more property loses, Bai Bureh finally gave-up the fight and surrendered on 11 November 1898 and sent into exile in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), while 96 of his comrades were hanged by the British.

The Southern front of the Hut Tax War began after the Northern front and was based in the Southern provinces. The Southern front was led by mainly Mende (and a few Sherbro) warriors and chiefs. The Southern front was a slaughtering of Creole traders and civil servants living in the provinces.

The defeat in the Hut Tax war ended large scale organised armed opposition to colonialism; however opposition continued throughout the colonial period in the form of intermittent rioting and chaotic labour disturbances. Riots in 1955 and 1956 involved "many tens of thousands" of natives in the protectorate.[3]


  1. ^ Edward Breck, "In Foreign Lands: The Sierra Leone Massacre", New York Times (29 May 1898)
  2. ^ Retrieved on 17 January 2007.
  3. ^ Martin Killson, Political Change in a West African State: A Study of the Modernization Process in Sierra Leone, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, 1966, p. 60. Also pp 106, 107, 110, 111, 186-88 on other riots and strikes.