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A Loko stonemason and carpenter near Gbendembu
|Sierra Leone: 144,000 (2% of country)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Bombali, Port Loko, Western Area|
Krio, Sierra Leone English
|Islam 70%, Christianity 20%, Indigenous beliefs 10%|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Mende, Loma, Gbandi, Kpelle, Zialo, Gola|
The Loko (IPA: Lɔkɔ) are one of the indigenous ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. Landogo is used as an endonym for the people and language, but other groups refer to them as Loko. They speak a Southwestern Mande language that is also called Loko. The majority of the Loko people live in the Northern Province of the country, particularly in Bombali and Port Loko District, and around the capital city of Freetown in communities such as Regent. Important regional towns include Tambiama, Kalangba, and Gbendembu, though other groups such as the Mandingo, Fula and Temne peoples live there too.
The Loko belong to the larger group of Mande peoples who live throughout West Africa. The Loko are mostly farmers and hunters. Loko believe that most humanistic and scientific power is passed down through the secret societies, such as the Kpangbani.
The Loko were among the slaves shipped to North America while slavery still existed. The Loko were one of the largest ethnic group in Sierra Leone during the colonial era, but their linguistic identity has declined since then, as many Loko children use Temne and Krio and those in the south use Mende in place of their language.
The Loko and other Southwestern Mande groups are thought to have derived from the Mane, dispersing around 300 AD from around the region of present-day Mali. Loko country was sparsely populated, and the people originally might have been West Atlantic speakers called Sapes. The ancestors of these Southwestern people, (possibly the Hondo; the proto-group of the Mende, Loko, and Gbandi) started following established trade routes from Liberia to Sierra Leone in search of salt and kola around the 15th century for Portuguese agents. There was another 'Mande' invasion, pushing more groups into the territory via war, blacksmithing technologies, and esoteric power from the secret societies.
Speed (1991) thinks that the original settlements were north, bordering the Susu and Limba territories. The Temne and Loko have historically had long and complicated contact. The Temne drove the Loko into what is their present territory, reducing it significantly in the 18th century.
The Loko traditionally live in villages at the base of hills. A small group of compact huts makes up a village. These huts are round, with wooden walls and cone-shaped, thatched roofs.
Farming is extremely important in Loko culture. A man earns respect from his peers by having extensive knowledge and skill on where, how, and when to farm certain crops. Labor is sometimes done in collectives organized on a contingent basis. Work is divided strictly by gender as well; men clear the land for planting rice, and women clean and pound rice, collect firewood, fish, weed crops, and cook. The wet season is usually less work-intensive which allows time for other activities in the village, such as house building and visiting family.
Two important towns with an historically indigenous Loko population are Gbendembu and Kalangba. The economy of Loko country is based primarily on agriculture. Like most of the ethno-linguistic communities in West Africa, the Loko are primarily farmers. Rice, the staple crop, is grown both in the swamps and on the hillsides. Other important crops include cassava, corn, potatoes, peppers, and bananas. In addition, house gardens supply other vegetables, fruits, and nuts for each family.
Oil palms flourish in this region of Sierra Leone. The trunks, branches, palms, nuts, and sap of these trees are all used and highly treasured. Soap, wax, wine, oil, and baskets are just some of the items produced from the palms.
Petty trading is done by some Loko, either at a fixed shop or on motorbike, going to the smaller hamlets and villages.
- Sheik I. Kamara, member of parliament of Sierra Leone
- Bai Kelfa Sankoh, paramount chief of Kambia District
- Ibrahim Sesay, member of parliament from Kambia District
- Sorie Kondi, traditional musician
- Fyle, C. (2006). Historical Dictionary of Sierra Leone.
- Babaev, K. (2010). Person Marking in South-West Mande Languages. A Tentative Reconstruction, 1–46.
- Babaev, K. (2011). On the Origins of Southwest Mande Ethnonyms, 1–3.
- Hyman, L. M. (1973). Notes on the History of Southwestern Mande. Studies in African linguistics, 4(2).
- Speed, C. K. (1991). Swears and swearing among Landogo of Sierra Leone: aesthetics, adjudication, and the philosophy of power.