Submitted in accordance with the requirements
for the degree of
In the subject
at the
JUNE 2004
Introduction 1
1.1 Objectives of this Study 2
1.2 Structure 3
1.3 The arrival of Christianity in Limba Country and it effects 3
1.4 The situation of the NPLC 7
1.5 Present academic context 12
1.6 The origin of this study 15
1.7 Fieldwork 17
1.7.1 Interviews and Consultant Data 17
1.7.2 Interview Protocol 18
1.7.3 Research questions and Rationale 19
1.7.4 Language 22
1.7.5 Editing the Data 22
1.8 Outline 22
1.9 Conclusion 23
Socio-History of the Limba 25
2.1 Introduction 25
2.2 Sierra Leone and the Limba 26
2.3 Origin 28
2.4 Traditional Homeland and Outside Settlements 29
2.5 Language and Nomenclature 31
2.6 Political and Administrative Structures 32
2.7 Economy 38
2.7.1 Agriculture 38
2.7.2 Micro Business 41
2.8 Other Socio-cultural Characteristics 42
2.8.1 Household and gender Roles 42
2.8.2 The Compound and Beyond 44
2.8.3 Respect 45
2.8.4 Social Courtesies 46
2.9 Conclusion 47
Definition and Components of Limba Religion 49
3.1 Introduction 49
3.2 What is Religion? 52
3.3 What is African Traditional Religion? 53
3.4 What is Limba Religion? 57
3.5 Components of Limba Religion 60
3.6 Conclusion 64
Supreme Being 66
4.1 Introduction 66
4.2 Names of God 67
4.2.1 Kanu Masala 69
4.2.2 Kanu Kabekede/Wobekede/Kathinthi 74
4.2.3 Kanu Wopothi 77
4.2.4 Kanu Masaraka 78
4.3 Attributes of Kanu 80
4.3.1 Omnipotence 80
4.3.2 Omnipresence 82
4.3.3 Omniscience 83
4.4 Activities of Kanu 85
4.4.1 Kanu the Creator 85
4.4.2 Kanu the Chief and Judge 87
4.4.3 Kanu the Teacher and Adviser 88
4.5 Anthropomorphic attributes of Kanu 89
4.6 Worshipping Kanu 90
4.6.1 Levels of Worship 95
4.6.2 Acts of Worship 97 Chiefdom Level 97 Personal Level 105
4.7 Conclusion 108
Angels 110
5.1 Introduction 110
5.2 Nature of Angels 112
5.3 Role of Angels 114
5.4 Conclusion 116
Ancestral Spirits/Ancestors 118
6.1 Introduction 118
6.2 The Dead, Ancestral Spirits or Ancestors? 120
6.3 How Does One Become an Ancestor? 123
6.4 The Role of the Ancestors 129
6.5 Ancestor Worship or Ancestor Veneration? 131
6.6 Ancestral Rites 135
6.6.1 Household 136
6.6.2 Private 139
6.7 Conclusion 141
Non-Ancestral Spirits 144
7.1 Introduction 144
7.2 Categories and Characteristics of spirits 145
7.2.1 Nature Spirits 145
7.2.2 Human Spirits 151 Witchcraft 151 Ghosts 160
7.3 Offering to Nature Spirits 161
7.3.1 Forest Spirits 162
7.3.2 Water Spirits 163
7.4 Conclusion 166
Humankind 169
8.1 Introduction 169
8.2 Origin and Nature of Humankind 170
8.3 Relationship with God 171
8.4 Relationship with other creatures 172
8.5 Life Cycle 176
8.5.1 Pregnancy and child birth 177
8.5.2 Naming 182
8.5.3 Nursing 187
8.5.4 Secret Societies 188 Gbangban 190 Bondo 192
8.5.5 Engagement and Marriage 194
8.5.6 Farming 201
8.5.7 Employment 204
8.5.8 Politics 205
8.5.9 Judiciary process 214
8.5.10 Health 216
v8.5.11 Death and Burial 219
8.5.12 The Next World 224
8.6 Conclusion 225
Sin and Salvation 229
9.1 Introduction 229
9.2 Sin and its categories 230
9.3 The Consequences of and Remedies of Sins 232
9.4 Salvation 238
9.5 Conclusion 240
Sacred Specialists 242
10.1 Introduction 242
10.2 Priests 243
10.3 Diviners 245
10.4 Herbalists 248
10.5 Conclusion 249
Conclusions 252
11.1 General 252
11.2 Recapitulation 254
11.3 Causes and Effects 264
11.3.1 Reasons for Limba Christians dual religiosity and
tenacity 264
11.3.2 The effects of Limba religion on the NPLC 271
11.3.3 The effects of Christianity on Limba religion 272
11.4 Recommendations 273
11.5 Conclusion 275
A: National Pentecostal Limba Church: Statement of Faith 277
B: Interviewees and Consultants Profiles 281
C: A map of Sierra Leone in its settings in West Africa 285
D: A Map of Limba current homeland 286
Student number: 3318-245-0
I declare that
Fundamental Concepts of Limba Traditional Religion and its Effects
on Limba Christianity and Vice Versa in Sierra Leone in the Past
Three Decades is my own work and that all the sources that I have
used or quoted have been indicated and acknowledged by means of
complete references.
������������������������������ ������������������������
(Rev. PS Conteh)
There are many people whose help and support were vital in the
writing of this thesis. I would like to recognise them and I hope
I do not forget anyone. My thanks go to the members of the United
Church of Canada Tamarack Presbytery and the Saskatchewan United
Church Women for their financial support which made my fieldwork
to Sierra Leone possible. Thanks to the Reverend Shelly Manley-
Tannis (my co-pastor), ��Aunty�� Marilyn Ens, the boards and members
of Bridging Waters Pastoral Charges for their financial support
toward my fieldwork and local research, and for allowing me to do
my studies while ministering with them. Thanks to Professors Ruth
Finnegan and Simeon Ottenberg for offering advice and materials on
Limba research. Thanks to all the incredible people I interviewed
that are listed on Appendix B. Thank you to ��Aunties�� Esther Epp
and Joan Jamieson for their personal attention and encouragement.
Thanks to the Reverend Heather Anderson, ��Aunty�� Diane Berg, Mrs.
Peggy Conteh Wallace, my wife, Miss Allison Epp and Mr. Richard
Manley-Tannis for their interest and morale support. Last but not
least, my thanks go to my thesis promoter Professor Tinyiko
Meluleke for his academic guidance and for inspiring me to work
This study is the product, chiefly, of fieldwork, undertaken in
Sierra Leone, which sought to interview and experience
contemporary Limba religio-cultural practices. Using a systematic
approach, the goal was to provide a broader understanding of Limba
religion, as well as to discover the effect of Limba religiosity,
and the tenacity with which the Limba hold to their culture and
religion, on the National Pentecostal Limba Church (NPLC) over the
past three decades.
The study begins with an introduction, which outlines its
objectives and structure, the research methods, and its general
outline. This is followed by a basic introduction to the socio-
history of the Limba people, their origin, environment, language,
politics, economy and other socio-cultural characteristics, in
order to provide an understanding of the background on which their
religion is formed.
The heart of the study is a detailed examination of Limba
religious beliefs and their intersection with Christianity. It
includes a definition of Limba religion and its components. This
seeks to identify the current state of Limba religion amidst the
changes it has experienced and continues to experience as a result
of internal and external influences, and to provide a template for
this study, an analysis of the Limba belief in a supreme creator
God whom they call Kanu Masala, his epithets, attributes and
activities, Limba worship and worship methods, the Limba
understanding of the spirit world, humankind, sin and salvation,
and the roles of sacred specialists.
The study concludes with an examination of the causes of the
xtenacious loyalty with which some Limba Christians hold to their
traditional religious beliefs and practices, their reluctance to
part with them, and the effects of their dual religiosity on the
NPLC, as well as the church��s response, and the resulting
reciprocal effects over the past three decades in Sierra Leone.
This study fills a gap in the extant literature about the ethno-
theological landscape of Sierra Leone, and provides a detailed
study on the intersection of African Traditional Religion and
Abortion; African Traditional Religion; Ancestral spirits; Angels;
Autochthonous; Chief; Chiefdom; Christianity; Christian Limba;
Culture; Dialects; Diviners; Dual religionist; Ecology;
Forgiveness; Freetown; God Above; God Below; Herbalists; Limba
Christian; Kanu; Libation; Limba; Limba Religion; National
Pentecostal Limba Church; Non-ancestral spirits; Offences;
Paramount Chief; Prayers; Priests; Provinces; Sacred Specialists;
Sacrifice; Salvation; Supreme Being; Syncretism; Sin; Sierra
Leone; Spirits; Tenacious; Western Area; Witchcraft
Like many African Christians,1 most Limba converts to
Christianity are tenaciously loyal to the heritage of their
traditional religious beliefs and are very reluctant to give them
up for their new found religion.2 Although there are Limba
religio-cultural elements and values which find parallels in the
Bible3 and which have been adopted by the Limba Church, the
church has maintained a hostile attitude toward traditional Limba
practices. In sermons, teachings, discussions and songs, the
Limba Church continues to dismiss Limba traditional practices as
heathenism. This thesis provides a systematic study of the
fundamental concepts of Limba traditional religion, their
continuity into the National Pentecostal Limba Church (NPLC)4 and
the reciprocal effects between these systems in the past three
decades. It seeks to provide a contemporary study of Limba

1The issue of African Christians clinging tenaciously to their customs and
beliefs and the reluctance to part with them and the resulting conflicts with
Christianity is well documented. For example, the edited works of Fashole-
Luke et al (1978); Olupona (1991, 2000); Olupona & Nyang (1993) and the
individual publications of Taylor (1963); McKenzie (1976); Sanneh (1983) and
Kailing (1994) have all discussed this issue and provided us with impressive
bibliographies. In the Sierra Leonean context, Ajai Crowther��s inter-religious
encounters with the early settlers provide us with information about the
tension between traditional African worldview and that of missionary
Christianity as far back as the nineteenth century (McKenzie 1976 & Sanneh
1983: 83-89).
2Cf. Finnegan (1965:106); Ottenberg (1988a:442); Taylor (1963:20).
3See Mbiti (1977; 1986; 1989b) for the comparison of African cultural elements
and values between ATR and Christianity.
4The NPLC is the newest, largest and only separatist/independent Limba Church
2religion and the causes of dual religiosity5 among Limba
Christians.6 It will also examine the attitudes of Christian
Limbas7 about this dual religiosity in the context of the NPLC,
and the resulting positive and negative effects thereof.
In this chapter, I intend to outline the objectives, and
structure of this study. I will then provide background
information to the advent of Christianity into the Limba homeland
and its effects leading to the present situation of the NPLC.
This background study will be followed by explanations of the
current academic context, my interest in, and as well as the
research methods, a chapter by chapter outline, and a conclusion.
1.1 Objectives of this study
This study, then, is intended to significantly advance our
knowledge, in the field of systematic theology, concerning Limba
religious beliefs, practices and teachings. It will also provide
a detailed account of how the traditional Limba worldview
persists in the NPLC, and will compare and contrast these
elements with the theology of NPLC in particular, as evidenced in
their preaching, teachings and songs, and with Judeo-Christian
traditions and teachings in general. This approach will enable
us to determine the areas of intersection between Traditional
African theology and Christianity, and to map out possible

to which the majority of Limba Christians and Christian Limbas belong.
5Dual religiosity is a common phenomenon in Africa where many converts to
either Christianity or Islam tenaciously retain elements of their traditional
origins (Schreiter 1985:145). Converts to Christianity are expected to put
��all other religious systems aside, but in these instances significant parts
or even the entirety of a second system is maintained�� (Schreiter 1985:145).
6This term refers to those who practice both systems – Traditional Religion and
7This refers to those dedicated Christians who reject traditional religious
practices outright.
3strategies for mutual understanding between Limba Christians and
the NPLC.
1.2 Structure
In chapters three through ten (the heart of the study), the
introduction to each topic will be followed by a brief general
view of the NPLC��s position on the subject. From the view point
of systematic theology and using a social-functionalist approach,
each tenet of Limba religion will be examined and compared with
the resulting response/teachings of the NPLC where the NPLC has a
clear teaching, and in most cases the Judeo-Christian/Biblical
perspective (the basis of the NPLC beliefs and practices in
Sierra Leone).
1.3 The arrival of Christianity in Limba country and its effects
Limba religion is the indigenous religion of the Limba people. In
that regard, it could be said that Limba religion like most
African Religion ��emerged from the sustaining faith held by the
forebears of the present generation�� and is ��being practised
today in various forms and intensities�� (Awolalu 1991:111) in the
Limba homeland and settlements. Even long after their conversion
to Christianity; Limba religious worldview persists in the lives
of the Christian converts.
The beginning of Christian missionary work in Sierra Leone, by
the Roman Catholic Jesuits from Portugal, in September 1605 (Alie
1990:101-02; Olson 1969:201-203)), paved the way for many later
(Olson 1969:67-212; Parrinder 1969:124-26; Fyle 1981:19; Sanneh
1983:60-83; Alie 1990:101-10) and missionary endeavours,
including contemporary efforts. The first Christian missionary
4efforts in Limba homeland were made by the Wesleyan Methodist
Society (WMS) in 1878, and failed (Alie 1990:109; Olson 1969:94;
Yambasu 2002:34). Undeterred by the setback, the Society sent
the Reverends Matthew Godman and Jope to the Thonko Limba area in
1879 ��to explore the possibility of establishing a mission there��
(Alie 1990:109). Positive prospects were discovered and the
Reverend James Booth arrived in Fourecaria in March 1880 starting
work with the support of the Thonko Limba king and sub-chiefs
(Alie 1990:109).8 By mid 1884 he had translated parts of the
Bible into Limba. Although it was only a small minority of the
Thonko Limba people that embraced Christianity, ��their influence
on the majority�� of the population ��was considerable�� (Alie
1990:109). For example the Christians succeeded in influencing
the authorities to pass a law ��that anyone found working on the
Sabbath should be severely punished�� (Alie 1990:109). This marks
the beginning of the struggle between Limba culture and
Christianity in Limba country. Ironically, the Reverend Booth
later married a Temne woman according to the Temne cultural
rites; this led to a falling out with his superiors and his
eventual resignation. Nevertheless, WMS missionary work
continued in the Thonko Limba area and it was later turned over
to the American Wesleyan Methodist Church (AWM) in 1937 (Olson
1969:96). This brings us now to the AWM.
The AWM��s first major missionary effort in the Limba homeland was
started in 1889 (Olson 1969:69, 177).9 The interest of the AWM
in Northern Sierra Leone was motivated by several factors.
First, only a few missionary societies had ventured beyond the
coast. Second, the tribes in the interior provided better
opportunities for missionary work because the effects of the old

8Cf. Olson (1969:94).
9Cf. Alie (1990:109).
5slave trade and of the liquor trafficking were less, and because
the people governed themselves. Third, and perhaps most
important, J. A. Cole, an educated Limba and a member of St.
John��s Church in Freetown, also a relative of a Limba paramount
chief, specifically requested the AWM to come to Limba country
(Olson 1969:177).
By 1910, ��seven mission stations were opened and staffed by
thirteen missionaries�� working among the Limba, Temne and Loko
ethnic groups (Olson 1969:179). The AWM method of evangelisation
included education, medical work and ��wide itineration�� and by
1930, ��462 people were converted, and 319 of them joined the
church�� (Olson 1969:179). The Limba people of Kamakwie at first
resented Christianity until a missionary doctor in Mobai cured a
respected man in their community who was dying. This amazing
medical result motivated the people to listen to the gospel.
Five years later, the AWM work in Kamakwie closed because of
insufficient funds, the paucity of missionary staff and the death
of the chief who had been patronising Christianity. The only
missionary still stationed there was then moved to the boys��
school at Binkolo (Olson 1969:179). Four main AWM mission
stations at Kamakwie, Binkolo, Kamabai, and Bafodea (Olson 1969:
178; Finnegan 1965:106) remain today. This indicates that the
mission in Kamakwie was resurrected later.
One thing that was evident when I visited these areas during my
fieldwork is that, although the missions had been established in
these Limba areas many years ago, the effects of Christianity are
still limited in scope. The observation of Finnegan (1965:106)
almost four decades ago that not too far from these mission
stations ��old rituals continue�� and ��the results of the Mission
teaching, however effective locally, are not very evident on a
6wider scale in the Limba religious belief and practice�� is still
On the whole, Christianity did not thrive in the hinterland of
Sierra Leone. By the end of the nineteenth century, a majority
of the people were still unconverted. Several factors
contributed to the lack of Christian missionary success:
(a) Islam was firmly entrenched in many areas in the
interior, particularly in the north. And Islam was able
to present itself, though also an immigrant religion,
as an African religion, whereas Christianity always
suffered from being the ��white man��s religion��. (b)
Christianity was not adapted to African society and it
made heavy demands on the convert. For instance,
admission into the Christian church involved arduous
teaching and spiritual preparation of the catechist,
who was required to abandon completely his old
religion. (c) In addition to making conversion more
difficult, Christianity also attacked the African way
of life. For example, polygamy, slavery, magic, use of
charms and initiation ceremonies were vehemently
condemned. (d) Many people regarded Christianity as a
disruptive force; this was largely why many
missionaries were killed and their churches destroyed
during the hut tax rising of 1898.10
The notion of Christianity as a white man��s religion and a
disruptive force, the condemnation of and demand for the
abandonment of African religio-cultural practices are factors
still responsible for the ongoing conflicts between the church
and Sierra Leonean traditionalists both in the hinterland and the
Western Area.11

10Alie (1990:110).
11In the Western Area during the nineteenth century, the Western missionaries
were not the only ones condemning traditional practices as heathenism or
Satanism. Ajai Crowther, an African clergyman was prominent in the attempt to
eradicate traditional religion from the inhabitants of Freetown and the
surrounding villages through his preaching, teaching and evangelization
strategies. Evidence of his ��complex attitude to other faiths, drawn from his
own writings extending over half a century and more�� is available in the work
7It stands to reason that in Limba church denominations that still
have a Western missionary presence, such as the AWM and the
Assemblies of God (AOG) we would expect to find a prevalence of
the Western missionaries�� stances and ideologies because
��mission-related churches are considered to have preserved the
Christian message as it was embodied in Western missionary
tradition�� (Kailing 1994:489-90). An African separatist or
independent church, however, should be ��reared on its own
indigenous roots, bearing fruit under the stimulus of its own
environment and sustained by the proprietary labours of those it
served,�� (Sanneh 1983:170)12 therefore we do not expect to find
these same elements in breakaway or independent Limba churches.13
However, the NPLC, the church of our focus, more resembles the
missionary churches in this regard. We shall now examine the
present NPLC position.
1.4 The situation of the NPLC
The NPLC was established in 1950 by AOG missionaries from
Springfield Missouri, USA (Conteh 2002:9-10). The NPLC
separated14 from the AOG in March 1965 two years after the Fort

of McKenzie (1976) and his interaction with ATR is documented in Sanneh (1983:
12Cf. Kailing (1994:490) and see also Jules-Rosette (1991:150) for the nature
of separatist/independent churches.
13As missiologists/theologians strive to find common ground between African
culture and Christianity, they are also faced with the task of finding
strategies as to how to deal with the divisions between the ��churches which
are historically mission-related and those of the African Independent Church
(AIC)�� (Kailing 1994:489).
14Jules-Rosette (1991:150) identified three major types of new religious
movements in Africa: (1) indigenous, or independent churches (2) separatist
churches, and (3) neotraditional movements. He further traced five basics
sources for the growth of new African religious movements:
(1) The disappointment of local converts with the premises and
outcomes of Christianity led to the growth of prophetic,
messianic, and millenarian groups. (2) The translation of the
Bible into local African vernaculars stimulated a reinterpretation
8Street Church branch (which is now the church��s headquarters) was
built, because the pastor was accused of ��having an extra-marital
affair�� (Conteh 2002:24). Because the separation of the NPLC
from the AOG was on account of a moral issue and not a
theological issue, the NPLC did not discard the teachings that
they inherited from the AOG. Even now, four decades after the
AOG missionaries left, the NPLC continues to follow and enforce
AOG teachings.15
We know more about the tenets of AOG teachings through their work
with the Kissi people in Koindu and the Kru immigrants in
Freetown (Olson 1969:190-94). Moral requirements included
monogamy and abstention from alcohol, smoking, secret society
membership which was considered non-Christian and non-allegiance
to God, and Sunday marketing because it is the Lord��s Day (Olson
1969:191). The AOG enforced ��a complete break with the past
through the burning of medicine and charms��a symbol of complete
rejection of the old way and of complete dependence upon God
through Christ and the Holy Spirit��members were prohibited from
using charms or making sacrifices�� (Olson 1969:192). Except for
Sunday marketing, the other teachings are exactly what you would
presently find in the NPLC.

of scripture and a spiritual renewal in Christian groups. (3) The
perceived divisions in denominational Christianity and its failure
to meet local needs influenced the rise of separatist churches and
community-based indigenous churches. (4) The impotence of Western
medicine in the face of personal problems, psychological
disorders, epidemics, and natural disasters was a catalyst for
concerns with spiritual healing in the new African religious
movements. (5) The failure of mission Christianity to break down
social and cultural barriers and generate a sense of community has
led to the strengthening of social ties in small, sectarian groups
15See Appendix A for the NPLC Statement of Faith, a document modified from the
AOG Statement of Fundamental Truths.
9The NPLC has no Western church affiliation but their adoption of
Euro-American Christian attitudes is quite overwhelming. The
NPLC like its AOG forebears, stresses the ��aspects of
discontinuity between Christianity and African cultures and
traditional religion�� to such an extent that they exclude ��the
aspects of continuity between Christianity�� (Fashole-Luke 1978:
357) and Limba culture and traditional religion. It appears that
the church condemns Limba religious beliefs and practices without
proper evaluation, and substitutes ��Western cultural and
religious practices.�� This makes it difficult, if not
��impossible for a person to be a Christian and remain genuinely
and authentically an African�� (Fashole-Luke 1978: 357). On the
issue of the continued presence of Euro-American culture in the
church one of the NPLC elders had this to say:
Our church for many years has been independently run by
an indigenous staff. The white man left when we broke
away from the Assemblies of God Mission from the US.
If I am correct, our mission has had no missionary or
western affiliation for the past 30 years or so. Why
do we still talk about western influence in our
churches, when we got rid of the missionaries several
decades ago? Since their departure, what have we done
to indigenise our church? I think it is time we stop
talking about the white man��s influence on our faith as
a barrier to a successful dialogue with
traditionalists. A majority of the branches we have
today were founded by us and not by American
missionaries. We had the opportunity to make members
of these churches African-Christians, but we did not
have the expertise to do the job. We brought to them
the same message that we received from the white man.
That is why traditionalists still see our Limba church
the same as it was over 30 years ago only this time
with an indigenous leadership. Most of our churches
bought choir robes for the choir to look like western
churches. Our pastors wear expensive robes and stoles
to officiate. The problem has nothing to do with
Christianity being a white man��s religion, it has more
to do with us Limba church leaders who lack the ability
to address and find amicable solutions to our
These strong words direct a challenge to NPLC Christian Limbas to
stop blaming the white missionaries who have long since left the
church to its own devices.
Apart from the continuation of Euro-American religious lifestyle,
there is also the problem of the transmission of the Biblical
message and theology as put forward by an interviewee:
Another thing I did not like was the reading of the
Bible in English. Who is English in Limba church? Is
there not a Limba Bible to read from? In fact, now
that we have educated people who can write Limba very
well, they should team up with specialists on biblical
translation to retranslate our Limba Bible. If I went
to the Limba Wesleyan or Limba Assemblies, and they
were reading in English that would not have been
difficult to understand, because they still have
missionaries who attend their churches. But that is
not the case with NPLC.17
It is, then, a positive indication that some of the NPLC leaders
have begun to recognise the issues that are plaguing the
relationship between Limba Christians and the church and to speak
out about them.
The NPLC situation is analogous to that of the Christian
Nigerians (Idowu 1965:22) in the sense that after forty years of

16David Kallon (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown). This position was also
buttressed by the head of the mission the Reverend Koroma when he said ��We are
guilty of promoting western type of Christianity in our churches. Our
Freetown churches still make our choristers wear cassocks and surplices to
sing. We have electronics organs and other western musical instruments. If
we can interpret the gospel to include our people��s culture like what the
Muslims are doing, we are sure to resolve this problem at least half way
17Hamidu Mansaray (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown)
independent Christianity, the church has still been unable to
develop a theology which bears the distinctive stamp of Limba
thought and meditation. The theology of the NPLC, like that of
the Nigerians is ��book theology�� (Idowu 1965:22); the church
reads and accepts Euro-American theologies without critique.
This approach shows that Christian Limbas ��have not yet begun to
do their own thinking and to grapple spiritually and
intellectually with questions relating to the Christian faith��
(Idowu 1965:22).
The strongest opposition to the persistence of traditional
practices in the NPLC comes mostly from the spiritual leaders and
the youths/young adults who strongly believe that traditional
religiosity is satanic and must be condemned. One of the youths
had this to say:
One thing that has become a stigma to us Limba church
youths, is the idea that some of our church members
still hang on to traditional religious worship. Many
evangelical churches believe we are lost souls
searching for salvation. The Bible tells that, ��When
anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creature, all
the old has passed away and everything has become new.��
Our grandparents and parents should have been told
during conversion what accepting Jesus Christ as
Saviour meant.18
There is some mixed reaction regarding the handling of
traditional practices within the NPLC. A majority of church
elders and leaders hold themselves responsible for preventing
traditionalists from making a full commitment to Christianity
because of their maintenance and promotion of Euro-American brand
of gospel, and lack of ability to find a solution to the tension
between the church and traditionalists. The youths/young adults,

18Hamusa Kargbo (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
however, are pressing very hard for the church to maintain a
conservative Biblical standard, and to uphold the teachings that
were inherited from the AOG.
Let us now turn our attention to more of the extant literature
relevant to our study.
1.5 Present academic context
Neither a systematic study of Limba Traditional Religion nor a
publication on Limba Religion amid Christianity has ever been
undertaken until now. The paucity of written sources on Limba
Religion, and the complete absence of documented information on
the duality of religion among Limba Christians in the NPLC, and
the resulting conflicts between dualists and the Church, posed a
challenge in pursuing this study. While the religious beliefs of
certain Sierra Leonean ethnic groups19 and many other African
groups20 have received significant amounts of attention from
anthropologists, ethnologists and theologians, none of these
groups have written much about Limba Religion. The observations
of Finnegan (1965:107) about the dearth of published works on
Limba religion almost four decades ago remain true.
Documented information found in historical, anthropological and
ethnological works regarding Limba religion is limited in both
quantity and scope. Finnegan��s works on Limba religion, although
they require some updating and more detail, are presently the
best background resources for a general study on the Limba. In a
general socio-economic study of the Limba Finnegan (1965:106-22),

19For example Mende (Harris 1968 and Gittins 1987) and Kono (Parsons 1964)
religions are fully published.
20Likewise, other African ethnic religions like Yoruba (Lucas 1948; Awolalu
1979); Nupe (Nadel 1954); Nuer (Evans-Pritchard 1956); Tiv (Downes 1971) and
wrote a chapter on Limba religion in their historical homeland.
Two years later, she published an abridged version of Limba
religion (1967:19-24).
Ottenberg (1984:437-54) analysed the similarities and differences
between the impacts made by Islam and Christianity on the Wara-
Wara Limba people of Bafodea. In another work on the same
people, Ottenberg (1988a:437-65) examines their major visual and
performing arts and explores changes they have undergone over the
past century as a result of external religious and ethnic forces.
A common thread in the above publications is their focus on Limba
religion as practised in the hinterland. Because of their own
unique focuses, little or no attention is given to the large
number of Limba living in metropolitan areas like Freetown the
capital city of Sierra Leone, which has the largest settlement of
Limba outside their historical homeland, and where all the
various dialects of Limba are found.
On the issue of the persistence of Limba religion into Limba
Christianity and the reciprocal effects thereof, my information
is based exclusively on fieldwork data. The situation may be
different from culture to culture, but inter-religious encounters
between Christianity and traditional culture is not unique to the
Limba. For many centuries now, the gospel has been encountering
different cultures of the world. This was the challenge in the
life and theology of the early church. For as the church was
��led to universalise (Acts 1:8) and extend the gospel message to
all nations (Acts 10:34-35; 15:7-11), the apostles encountered,
as a matter of course, peoples of different religious backgrounds

several others are fully documented.
(Acts 10-15; 17:16-32).��21 The relationships between
Christianity, its Jewish heritage, and Gentiles were a point of
major controversy in the early church. This struggle is also
evident in the Pauline epistles. Many centuries later, the
relationships between the gospel and cultures of the world are
still a matter of intense debate.
In Africa, the Euro-American missionary brand of Christianity and
its insensitivity to traditional practices has provoked diverse
reactions from both Africans and non-Africans alike. It is the
main cause of the rise of African/black theology22 and the call by
African Christians for a moratorium.23 In the past three to four
decades, several books, edited works and articles about the
relationship between African Traditional Religion (ATR) and
Christianity have been published,24 most of which are products of
several ecumenical conferences held to discuss the continuity and
conflicts between ATR and Christianity.
We may conclude then, that although there exists a dearth of
publications on the interaction between Limba religion and the
NPLC, there are numerous publications on similar issues as they
relate to other groups. I will now proceed to discuss the

21Conteh (MA Thesis 1999:1).
22Parrat (1995:13); Mbiti (1972:51). There is divergent reaction between
African theologians in finding a lasting solution to the tension between ATR
and Christianity. Young (1987) in his brief essay divided eight well renowned
African theologians into two groups. Theologians like Fashole-Luke, Idowu,
Mbiti and Sawyerr whose Christian understandings were influenced by missionary
based theology, he described as belonging to the ��Old Guard.�� Young
theologians with a liberal approach contrary to their predecessors i.e. ��Old
Guard��, he categorised as ��New Guard.�� Cf. Fashole-Luke��s (n.d.) work on
��Christianity and the Non-Western World.��
23Fashole-Luke (1978:358). A similar call has been issued by Asian Christians
reacting to a similar situation on their continent Nacpil (1971:360).
24Some of these works have already been noted on page 1 and several more are
made use of in the course of this study.
factors that created my interest in this study and provided the
inspiration for it.
1.6 The Origin of this study
This thesis emanated from a desire to understand Limba religion,
and the causes of the tenacious loyalty shown by Limba Christians
in the NPLC to their traditional beliefs and practices, and to
thereby seek answers to the following questions: ��What is the
power behind Limba religion that makes Limba Christians very
reluctant to relinquish it for Christianity?�� ��What is lacking in
Christianity that is preventing Limba Christians from making a
full commitment?�� and ��What is so evil about Limba traditional
practices that NPLC does not want anything to do with them?�� My
desire to understand and my quest for answers to the above
questions were occasioned by my experiences of Limba traditional
practices, both in my own home and in the lives of other church
members. I will now proceed to explain these experiences.
In my childhood home in Freetown, Sierra Leone, as in many other
Limba Christian homes, the veneration of ancestral and non-
ancestral spirits was occasionally practised (cf. Ottenberg
1988a:442). Sacrifices and offerings to the supernatural were
offered when necessary. Charms were hung on our door post for
protection against witchcraft and evil spirits, and other
traditional religious beliefs were practised to various degrees.
On auspicious occasions, our father would lead the worship while
the rest of the family sat and observed. I remember him pouring
libations and saying brief prayers before we left on trips, when
we children were taking exams or when a member of the family was
undertaking a new or challenging task. Our mother��s role, on
these occasions, was to explain to the children the importance of
Limba culture and practices with which we, who were being raised
in the city, were unacquainted. Long before the death of our
mother food, prepared for the dead was on occasion placed, on a
plate on the floor by the bedside. Following our mother��s death,
as a means to stay connected with her, the frequency of ancestral
veneration (through sacrifice, offerings and libation) in our
home was increased. However, when our father died, Limba
religious practices came to an end in our home because none of
the children was equipped to continue the tradition. This did
not mean that we forgot what we had been taught about Limba
culture and beliefs, but that we were not able to continue the
practice thereof.
After completing secondary school, I got the opportunity to work
as a helper in the NPLC. There I realised that I was not the
only one that emanated from a dual religionist family. For at
the annual adult baptismal services, candidates were asked to
give up their traditional charms and objects and those who felt
convicted of ��sin,�� brought them to be destroyed by fire before
they were baptised. The leaders of the church did their best to
discourage members from practising Limba traditional religion,
but their efforts were to no avail. To date, candidates for
baptism still bring their ��objects of worship�� to the church for
destruction. My experience with Limba religious tenacity both at
home and in the NPLC intensified my desire to pursue detailed
research in Limba religion in order to investigate the causes for
its persistence in Limba Christianity and the refusal of Limba
Christians to completely give it up and embrace Christianity
whole-heartedly. Because of the dearth of published materials on
Limba religion and the complete absence of documented information
about NPLC relationship with Limba Christians, it became apparent
that if I intended to fulfill these intentions fieldwork would be
1.7 Fieldwork
Fieldwork was necessary in order to obtain firsthand experience
and, from a grass roots perspective, information that would
update the very few extant publications and provide a
comprehensive study of Limba religion, and investigate its
persistence and the resulting conflicts with Christianity.
Clearly, in order to obtain such an experience, it was necessary
to be in Africa, where the subjects of my study reside.
The bulk of the fieldwork was carried out in Sierra Leone between
June and September 2002, in the capital city Freetown and its
surroundings, and in the headquarter towns of the five main Limba
chiefdoms: Binkolo town in the Safroko Chiefdom, Kamabai town in
the Biriwa Chiefdom, Bafodea town in the Warawara Bafodea
Chiefdom, Kamakwie town in the Sella Chiefdom and Madina town in
the Thonko Chiefdom.
1.7.1 Interviews and Consultant Data
My research used a dialectical approach to gather data. This was
accomplished through a number of structured tape-recorded
interviews. The data was later reviewed by a number of
consultants who provided feedback on the responses of my
interviewees. For my pool of interviewees, I selected a cross-
section of the Limba people with respect to both generation and
lifestyle. This includes adults, young adults, and a few
teenagers all from different walks of life namely: tribal chiefs
and leaders, pastors, school and college teachers, students,
herbalists, sorcerers, academics, politicians, administrators,
artisans and civil servants.25 Consultants included scholars who
have done remarkable work on the Limba and ATR in general,
members of ecumenical organisations and Sierra Leone government
1.7.2 Interview Protocol
In central Freetown and in the five provincial towns, dialectical
discussions were carried out in groups in a conference-like
setting. This approach was chosen because a group possesses more
skills than the individuals who comprise it and prevents
exaggeration and self-pride from distracting the focus of the
research. However, in rural Freetown a few personal interviews
were conducted. In Freetown, representatives of the five major
Limba dialects were divided into five teams according to their
backgrounds. The same questions were posed to each team and each
team took turns in responding. Respondents were allowed to
address each question based on knowledge, experience and personal
opinion. Because it was a qualitative study and because most
practices are quite similar from dialect to dialect it was often
unnecessary for each group to respond individually. Thus
subsequent groups sometimes chose to accept the contribution of a
previous speaker when there was a consensus among the five teams.
However, each group responded individually when there was a
difference of opinion or of understanding on the issues being
In the provinces because each of the five towns visited belongs
to a separate dialect, the same questions were posed directly to
all the interviewees who took turns in responding.

25See Appendix B for interviewees and consultants profiles.
1.7.3 Research Questions and Rationale
A questionnaire based on the scope and objectives of this thesis
was drawn up before travelling to Sierra Leone. The choice of
questions was primarily determined by the studies on Limba
Religion, ATR and other religious cultures that I had conducted
before commencing my fieldwork. Each question was discussed,
clarified and approved by the five aforementioned teams in
Freetown. The final questionnaire comprised of eight questions.
The responses to these questions provided the information
presented in chapters three through eleven. The questions and my
rationale for choosing them are as follows:
Question 1: ��How can you define Religion from a Limba
Traditionalist view?��
In order to compose the first comprehensive work, it was
necessary at the outset to know the nature of Limba Religion from
the practitioner��s own perspective. This approach is different
from those used by previous works on Limba Religion,26 and from
that used by most other works on ATR.27
Question 2: ��Can you describe in detail your Religious beliefs,
practices and teachings?��
Not only was it necessary to understand the nature of Limba
Religion, it was also vital to understand the extent of it. This
question solicits an in-depth explanation of the elements and
tenets of Limba religion, while allowing the practitioners to
define for themselves what constitutes ��religion.��

26See Finnegan (1965; 1967) and Ottenberg (1988a).
27Most ATR publications do not find it necessary to define African Religion.
Magesa (1997:1-34) provides a chapter on ��Defining African Religion.�� For
Mbiti (1989a:15), ��Religion is a difficult word to define,�� so he did not
Question 3: ��How are your beliefs reflected in everyday life?��
I wanted to know, not only about Limba religiosity in relation to
the supernatural, but also about ��the religious journey of the
individual from before birth to after physical death�� (Mbiti
1989a:4). In ATR, religion ��accompanies the individual from long
before�� he/she was born to long after his/her physical death
(Mbiti 1989a:2). The answers to this question provided an
understanding of how religion pervades the life of the Limba on
account of their belief in the supernatural.
Question 4: ��What is your view on the civil war that just
After a decade of brutal civil war, the lives of those who lived
through it are forever changed. Even before I left Sierra Leone
for Canada, I knew that the then head of state had encouraged
Limba hunters and medicine men to form a traditional defence
force to combat the advances of the rebels by magical means.
With the assumption that religion plays an active role in the
life of the African, I wanted to know the position of the Limba
Christians about the war, and the part that traditional religious
powers played in it.
Question 5: ��Which stance do you take on social issues like,
ecology and abortion?��
Ecology and abortion are issues that have drawn religious
attention because the earth and its environment,28 and human life,

��attempt to define it.��
28A series of books has been published on world religions and ecology. The
series ��World Religions and Ecology�� has been sponsored by the World Wide Fund
for Nature (WWFN) to publish ��Buddhism and Ecology,�� ��Christianity and
Ecology,�� Hinduism and Ecology: Seeds of Truth,�� ��Islam and Ecology�� and
��First Nations Faith and Ecology.�� The Harvard Divinity School��s Center for
the Study of World Religions (CSWR) in their series ��Religions of the World &
Ecology�� has already published edited works on six religions and there are
upcoming volumes on five more religions.
born or unborn,29 are considered God��s gifts. I wanted to know
the position of the interviewees on these issues.
Question 6: ��What are the reasons that some Limba Christians
still practise traditional religion?��
This question sought reasoning for Limba dual religiosity from
the viewpoint of the practitioners themselves, as well as from
representatives from the Limba church.
Question 7: ��How are these practices affecting the church?��
I wanted to know to what extent the persistence of Limba
traditional practices has affected the church.
Question 8: ��What impact has Christianity on traditional
Likewise it was appropriate to know the extent to which
Christianity has impacted Limba traditional practices.
Side questions were also asked during the interview process to
ask for clarity and elaboration. These include:
��Can you tell me about that?��
��Can you give me an example?��
��What other experiences have you had?��
��Can you explain that to me?��
��Could you expand on that?��

29The subject of abortion has become one of the most widely debated ethical
issues of our time. The Roman Catholic Church (RC) has been the most vocal
religious faith on the issue. The RC church in the USA started an
organisation ��Priests for Life�� in 1991 to help priests around the world
spread the Gospel of Life to their parishioners. In the West, the issue has
taken on both religious and political dimensions.
During the interviews, other forms of communication, such as head
nodding, facial and hand gestures indicated that I was listening
served as cues for the interviewees as they continued their
1.7.4 Language
The dialectical discussions in Sierra Leone were conducted in
either the Limba or the Krio language according to the area.
Limba, being the indigenous language of the Limba people, was the
language of communication used in all Limba settlements in rural
Freetown and the five Provincial towns. Krio, the country��s
local parlance, was only used in central Freetown. I personally
facilitated all of the Krio discussions. Because I am not very
fluent in the Limba language, I used locals to facilitate
discussion in rural Freetown and in the provinces. In all cases
I took notes and tape recorded the discussions.
1.7.5 Editing the Data
After the dialectical discussions were completed, the recordings
were played, and the notes taken were reviewed. All difficult
Limba terminologies were spelt linguistically, simplified and
explained. All the Limba words used in this thesis are the
general accepted words used by all the dialects. Where there is
more than one accepted word, all accepted terms appear, separated
by back slashes.
1.8 Outline
Following this chapter which serves as an ��Introduction�� to the
study is Chapter Two entitled ��Socio-History of the Limba,�� which
provides background information on the Limba people within the
Sierra Leonean context. Chapter Three, ��Definition and
Components of Limba religion,�� provides a working definition of
Limba Religion and its elements from which the framework for
Chapters four to ten is built. The fourth Chapter, entitled
��Supreme Being�� focuses on Limba belief, in teachings and worship
of God. Chapter Five, ��Angels�� provides an understanding of the
position, nature and role of Angels. In Chapter Six, ��Ancestral
Spirits,�� the position, role and veneration of the Ancestors is
discussed. Chapter Seven, ��Non-Ancestral Spirits�� describes the
categories of spirits, their roles and how they are venerated.
The eighth Chapter presents Limba beliefs about ��Humankind�� our
origins, relationship with the supernatural and life cycle.
Chapter Nine addresses ��Sin and Salvation��. It focuses on the
different categories of sins and crimes, their consequences, the
procedures for forgiveness and absolution, the importance of
salvation and the attainment of salvation. The tenth Chapter,
��Sacred Specialists�� presents the different categories of these
human intermediaries and describes their roles. The study
concludes with Chapter Eleven, ��Conclusions,�� which reiterates my
findings, discusses the causes of the Limba Christian tenacity
and the reciprocal effects, and makes reconciliatory
recommendations for establishing a productive dialogue between
Limba Christians and the church.
1.9 Conclusion
In this chapter, it was stated that this study is a systematic
theology of the tenets of Limba traditional religion, their
persistence in the lives of the Limba Christians, the reaction of
the NPLC and the resulting reciprocal effects in the past three
decades in Sierra Leone. Like many African converts to
Christianity, the Limba Christians ��continue to revert to their
old beliefs�� (Mbiti 1989a:3). This has resulted in a dual
religious system that has created problems between the Limba
Christians and the NPLC which although it has had no connection
with Western missions for the past three decades strongly upholds
and promotes the laws and teachings inherited from the AOG
Like many missionaries before them, the AOG church was
insensitive and intolerant to African culture and religious
beliefs. This approach was taken up and continued by the Sierra
Leonean leaders of the NPLC and is shared by many of its
youths/young adults.
Limba Christians are fighting to keep their religious heritage
despite their acceptance of certain tenets of Christianity.
Limba religion continues to play ��an important role in shaping
the character��30 of Limba society. Yet, it ��continues to suffer
from lack of acceptance and inadequate understanding of its
central tenets and essence��31 in the hands of the NPLM, their own
kith and kin.
From published materials and the fieldwork, which I carried out
in Sierra Leone between June and September 2002, this study
fulfills our objectives as stated earlier. Before moving to a
discussion of the religiosity of both the Limba and Christianity,
it is appropriate to first provide a socio-historical background
of the Limba people in the next chapter.

30Olupona (1991:1).
31Olupona (1991:1).
Socio-History of the Limba
2.1 Introduction
Like their religion, very little has been written about Limba
history and culture (McCulloch 1950:51; Finnegan 1965:14).
Finnegan (1965:12) has attributed the cause of this problem to
the spite shown by other ethnic groups towards the Limba that
resulted in little interest in the Limba from European writers
and researchers. While this spite may have been a valid reason
for the paucity of Limba research over thirty years ago, it does
not explain the continued lack of research since the
disappearance of this stigma brought on by Limba
The most extensive accounts of Limba history and culture to date
are Finnegan��s (1965; 1967; 1988). In her 1965 work, she traced
their socio-economic history to the end of the 19th century, and
dealt extensively with prominent cultural characteristics of the
Limba to the early 1960s. Her 1967 work provides a brief
background to Limba socio-economic history and dealt extensively

32Regarding Limba ethnopoliticization, Kandeh (1992:94) writes:
Limbanization of political and bureaucratic appointments, the
security forces and mobility opportunities in Sierra Leone, a
practice that dates back to the Siaka Stevens era, has undoubtedly
meant greater access to state offices and resources for Limba
with the cultural importance of Limba story and story-telling.
Her 1988 publication includes a chapter on Limba speech, language
and non-literacy. Fyle (1981) and Allie (1990), both Sierra
Leonean historians writing on the history of Sierra Leone, wrote
little about the Limba. Fyle (1979) wrote a biography of Chief
Almamy Suluku a ruler of Pre-Colonial Biriwa Limba. Several non-
Sierra Leoneans have also written about the Limba. McCulloch
(1950) in an ethnographic survey of the peoples of Sierra Leone
gave a brief account of the socio-cultural aspects of the Limba.
Fyfe (1979) in his ��Short History of Sierra Leone,�� touched on
various aspects of the Limba. Fanthorpe (1998a:558-84) wrote on
the political structure and the ��Deep Rural Strategies of the
Biriwa Limba (1998b:15-38). He also gives a general overview of
the historical and cultural background of the Limba (1998b:15-
26). Ottenberg wrote about the Bafodea Wara-Wara Limba regarding
artistic and sex roles (1983:76-90), art and indigenous
psychology in weddings (1989:57-78) and the production of the
cultural beaded bands (1994:64-75). Hart (1989:44-53) described
Limba woodcarving and the features it shares with the
woodcarvings of other ethnic groups.
In this segment, I will provide a brief general overview of the
Limba within the Sierra Leonean context and discuss historically
their origin, traditional homeland and outside settlements,
language, political and administrative structures and other
social and cultural characteristics.
2.2 Sierra Leone and the Limba
The Limba are one of seventeen ethnic groups33 within Sierra

33The other 16 are: Krio, Mende, Temne, Kono, Kuranko, Loko, Sherbro/Bullom,
Kissi, Vai, Krim, Fula, Mandigo (or Mandika), Soso, Yalunka, Kru and Gola
Leone. The country is located in West Africa,34 is bounded on the
North-West and the North-East by the republic of Guinea, on the
South by Liberia, and on the West and South-West by the Atlantic
Ocean (Alie 1990:1; Fyle 1981:1; Bondi 1976:1). It occupies a
total area 27, 925 sq. miles (73,326 sq km) (Alie 1990:1) and is
fairly circular in shape: the distance from north to south is
210 miles (332 km), and from west to east is approximately 204
miles (328 km) (Alie 1990:1). There are two main seasons in the
country, the Dry, from mid November to April, and the Wet, from
May to early November.35 Sierra Leone became an independent state
within the British Commonwealth on April 27th 1961, and
subsequently attained republican status on April 19th 1971 (Bondi
1976:5). The capital city is Freetown and there are four
administrative divisions: the Eastern, Northern, and Southern
Provinces, and Western Area (Fyle 1981:3. cf. Bondi 1976:6). As
a former British colony, Sierra Leone retains English as the
official language, although it is used primarily by the literate
minority, while Krio is the lingua franca.
According to the National Census and Central Statistic offices in
Freetown, the estimated population of Sierra Leone as of July
2002 is 5,614,743. The Limba account for approximately 500,000
people, making them the third largest ethnic group, smaller than
the Mende and the Temne.36 Courses in the culture and languages
of these three largest ethnic groups, as well as those of the
Krio are offered in the country��s schools, colleges and

(Alie 1990:6-9). Fyle (1981:3) excludes the Kru and puts the number at 16.
34See Appendix C for a map of Sierra Leone within West Africa.
35Cf. Hargrave (1944:40); Alie (1990:1); Fyle (1981:1).
36It has been that way for several decades now (Finnegan 1965:10; Fyle 1981:3;
2.3 Origin
After several decades of research, the issue of the Limba��s
origin and traditional immigration into Sierra Leone is still a
mystery (McCulloch 1950:51; Finnegan 1965:14; 1967:3; Fyfe
1979:3; Alie 1990:10). Although other peoples of Sierra Leone
have traditions about their own origins,37 the Limba have no such
tradition. They believe simply that they have always lived in
their present homeland, and sometimes assert that ��God must have
created them there in the beginning�� (Finnegan 1965:14). In
other words, the Limba claim to have no outside origin, and in
that regard have ��been considered deep autochthones�� (Fanthorpe
1998b:18). While there are some traditions pertaining to the
origins of specific ruling families, ��these usually only go back
4 or 5 generations�� (Finnegan 1965:14). Because evidence from
the Limba��s own tradition is lacking, scholars have attempted to
construct an early history out of the few extant stories about
the Limba found in the traditions of other tribes. However, even
these attempts have been largely unsuccessful, as they are
admittedly conjectural and based on very little evidence. The
earliest verifiable account of the Limba in their current
position is on the map of a sixteenth century navigator (Finnegan
1965:14). However, little else is known about Limba history
until the nineteenth century.

Alie 1990:10).
37McCulloch (1950) traces the history and traditions of origin of eleven ethnic
groups. Among the four major ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, the Limba was the
only group whose origin could not be traced (McCulloch 1950:51; Finnegan
1965:14; Alie 1990:10). The Mende presumably originated from the Liberian
hinterland (Alie 1990:9; Fyle 1981:15, 49; cf. McCulloch 1950:7; Yambasu
2002:46). The Temne claim to have immigrated from Futa Jallon, which is
present day Republic of Guinea into their present day Temne-land (Alie 1990:9;
cf. McCulloch (1950:50-51). The Krio are descendants of freed slaves from
England, Nova Scotia, Jamaica and West Africa arrived in Freetown between
1787 and 1863 (Fyle 1981:71-74, 34-35; Wyse 1989:1-5; Alie 1990:78).
Tracing the earliest societies in Sierra Leone, Fyle (1981:10)
offers proof that the Limba may have been the first group in the
Sierra Leone hinterland, stating that a little over two decades
ago some stone tools believed to have been left by the Limba and
dating to the eighth century were found in Wara-Wara Limba
country near Kekoia in the Northern Province.38 Thus, while it is
not currently possible to determine an exact date for the Limba
migration to Sierra Leone, it is known that they have been in
their current location since at least the sixteenth century and
may have been there as early as the eighth century.
2.4 Traditional Homeland and Outside Settlements
Although, for economical and social reasons,39 pocket settlements
of Limba can today be found throughout the country, the
historical homeland of the Limba is in the Northern Province of
Sierra Leone. According to the Ministry of Local Government and
Community Development (MLGCD), Limba settlements in their
homeland are now found in five Districts40 namely: Bombali,
Kambia, Koinadugu, Tonkolili and Port Loko. The Limba share
common borders with the Soso on the north-west, the Yalunka and
Fula on the north-east, the Kuranko on the east, the Loko is on
the south-west and the Temne on the south and south-west.41 Limba
country extends over about 2000 sq. miles which begins east of
Tonkolili up to the Guinea borders north of Bafodea, and in the
extreme south-west reaches a point just north of Kambia (cf.
Finnegan (1965:10). The Limba homeland is mainly comprised of

38 Cf. Alie (1990:10).
39Banton (1957:48) states that the Limba are one of the hinterland people who
have the heaviest emigration rate both long term and seasonal. Finnegan
(1965:123-43) informs us that for economic and social reasons, migration has
long been a feature of Limba social strategies.
40Finnegan (1965:11) lists three.
41Cf. Finnegan (1988: 46; 1965:10); Alie (1990:8). See Appendix D for a map of
the present Limba homeland.
savannah, with occasional areas of farm bush and grass. It is
bounded on the north by two large rivers, the Little Scarcies and
the Rokel. Small rivers and streams flow through the area. In
the northern and eastern areas there are hills between 300 and
2000 feet high, ��interspersed with low plateaus of savannah and
grass land, with some inland swamps. With the exception of the
flood plains along the Little Scarcies in Thonko Limba in the
west, most of Limba country is over 400 feet above sea level��
(Finnegan 1965:10).
Outside the Limba homeland, the second largest population of
Limbas are found in the Western Area. Like other ethnic groups
in the hinterland, migration by Limba people to Freetown in the
past three decades can be attributed to economic, political,
educational, social, and religious (cf. Fyfe 1979:83), including
conflict, jealousy, excommunication, witchcraft and adultery.
The rebel incursion into Sierra Leone, via the hinterland in
1991, also forced thousands of people to flee from their homeland
to Freetown which is heavily protected by military personnel and
civil defence units.
In the Western Area, most Limba settlements are found in
mountainous areas e.g., Dwarzak Farm, Tengbeh Town,
Malamah/Kaniko, Red Pump, Sorie Town, Sumaila Town, Kuntolo,
Malimba Town, and on the shores of Congo Town, Ascension Town,
Kingtom. An interviewee told me that the Limba in Freetown
deliberately settle in mountainous areas because it reminds them
of home. These isolated and bushy areas bring a sense of
belonging because the Limba do not like to mingle with other
groups. One suggested reason for the Limba preference for keeping
to themselves is that they do not wish to upset others with the
offensive smell of poyo.
2.5 Language and Nomenclature
The Limba speak a ��prefix language,�� (Finnegan 1965:10; 1988:46;
SLDE 1993:82) which is classified as part of the West Atlantic
family languages (Westermann 1952:13; Finnegan 1965:10; Migeod
1971:33; Fyle 1981:5; Fanthorpe 1998b:18). The generally
accepted term, Limba comes from the root ��Limba��, which may refer
to anything about the ethnic group depending on the prefix added
to it.42 The Limba language contains five regional dialects (SLDE
1993:83).43 Biriwa Limba is spoken mainly in the Biriwa and
Kasonko chiefdoms in the districts of Bombali and Koinadugu.
Safuroko Limba is the dialect of the Safuroko and Paki Massabong
chiefdoms in the Bombali District, and the Kafe Simira and
kalansonkoya chiefdoms in the Tonkolili District. In the Sela
chiefdom in the Bombali District, the dialect is Sela Limba.
Thonko Limba is spoken in the Kambia District and in the Sanda
Magboloton chiefdom of Port Loko District. Finally, in the
Koinadugu district, in the chiefdoms of Bafodea and Yagala, Wara-
Wara Limba is spoken. Because many Limba from all over have
migrated to the Western Area, all of the Limba dialects are found
there. All five Limba dialects are very similar with only slight
differences between them (SLDE 1993:83; Fyle 1981:52).44

42For example, hulimba, an abstract noun can refer to the Limba language, the
Limba ethnic group as a whole, or a Limba person, singular (Finnegan 1988:46;
cf. SLDE 1993:69). Malimba, is an adjective which means ��in the manner of the
Limba�� (SLDE 1993:71) or ��the Limba way.�� For example, when a Limba wants
something to be done culturally, he/she would say Miõ niyaõ malimba maõ (��let
us do it the Limba way��).
43Properly, there are 12 dialects: Biriwa, Gbonkobo, Kalanthuba, Kamuke,
Kelen, Safuroko, Sela, Sonkon, Thamiso, Thonko, Wara-Wara Bafodia, and Wara-
Wara Yagala (SLDE 1993:83). However, the five regional dialects were
identifiable as early as the mid 19th century (Alie 1990:10) and have been
generally accepted ever since.
44Limba dialects are very similar with slight differences between them. In
fact, most individuals who speak one dialect are also able to understand and
communicate with individuals who speak another dialect (SLDE 1993: 83).
Overall, the similarities outweigh the differences. For a brief history of
the development of the Limba language, sound system, word contraction,
2.6 Political and Administrative Structures
Limba country is divided into eleven chiefdoms:45 Biriwa,
Safuroko, Sela, Thonko, Kasonko, Wara-Wara Bafodea, Wara-Wara
Yagala, Kafe Simira, Kalansonkoya, Paki Massabong and Sanda
Magboloton. Although ethnic divisions existed in Limba country
before colonisation, the current borders are a British invention
intended to harness local politics to colonial rule and
facilitate tax collection (Fanthorpe 1988a:558-59).46 They were
set through a clear re-definition of ethnic borders, which
codified chiefdoms with well-defined ethnic boundaries.47 What
the British did was attempt to set the boundaries by defining
ethnic borders, codifying chiefdoms with well-defined
Since 1946, each Limba chiefdom has been ruled by a Chiefdom
Council, a system inherited from the 1937 British ��Native
Administration�� scheme.49 This administrative structure was an

grammatical structure, type of sentences, tenses, language mechanisms and
orthography, see SLDE (1993:61-82).
45Several earlier works enumerate only seven chiefdoms (Finnegan 1965:11; Opala
& Boillot 1996:8 and Ottenberg 1988a:437); however, the current statistics
provided MLGCD names eleven.
46On the issue of political control by European Powers, Sanneh (1996:86) has
this to say: ��The existing state boundaries of Africa, for example, were
created by Western colonial powers and inherited by the independent
governments. These boundaries still provide the context of state jurisdiction
in modern Africa. Through the artificial colonial creation of tribes as an
amalgamation of ethnic groups and nations as the fusion of tribes, states were
established as the vehicle by which Africans could enter the twentieth
47Divisions that existed can be described as a dialect cluster with fuzzy
edges. This was due to the movement of peoples, inter-cultural intermarriage,
trade, warfare, and other social factors.
48The British were very conscious of ethnic differences in Britain (e.g.,
English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and India) and applied much of the same model
of governance in Africa. They also had the idea that the mixing of the
"races" as they called them in early days, was in general undesirable and
might lead to conflict and disorder. For this reason, they sometimes tried to
set up separate areas for each ethnic group in the cities, although this was
often unsuccessful.
49The Chiefdom Council system within this plan was originally patterned after
attempt by the British to modify and transfer the considerable
economic and juridical powers that was vested in the Paramount
Chief (PC) to a Tribal Authority,50 which was later renamed the
Chiefdom Council,51 the body charged with responsibility for the
welfare and oversight of the chiefdom (Finnegan 165:43; Fyle
1981:117-18; Alie 1990:156-57).
In the Chiefdom Council system of an independent Limba chiefdom,
first in the chain of command is the Paramount Chief (Bathanpi),52
whose position is more supervisory, as the head of his people.
In this regard he should be informed of occurrences and
developments in his chiefdom or jurisdiction as the case may be
(Finnegan 1965:23). His approval and blessing must be sought
before certain things may happen. In Limba practice, the role of
a Paramount Chief or Head Chief is reserved exclusively for men.
However, in the 1970s, government sanction reinforced the
participation of women in ethnic politics (Ottenberg 1983:77) and
today in most Limba chiefdoms and settlements there is a female
chief called ��Ya Almamy�� who works under a male counterpart
called ��Pa Almamy.�� Almamy is an Islamic term meaning ��headman��
(Fyle 1981:29). The Ya Almamy is responsible for settling
certain disputes among females and arranging for the feeding of
visitors as well as certain other duties (Ottenberg 1983:77).

the Nigerian model (Alie 1990:152; Fyle 1981:114, 116-17).
50Finnegan (1965:43, 47-48).
51Cf. Fanthorpe (1998a:563).
52As all chiefs are called, Gbaku, a term which should be only used when
referring to the Paramount Chief, many Limba now use the term Bathanpi (��one
with the staff�� or ��staff carrier��) to distinguish the Paramount Chief from
the junior Chiefs. According to the Ministry of Local Government and Community
Development (MLGCD), chiefdom rulers and officials are considered ��natural
rulers��. Paramount chiefs and other ethnic rulers in Limba land are designated
��natural rulers�� because the land they rule is their natural home. By divine
providence, these leaders descended from the first families that inhabited the
land. As the first families that God placed on the land, they are considered
the owners and custodians of it. Therefore, it is customary to have the ruler
come from one of those homes. Ethnic Limba rulers outside Limba land cannot be
designated ��natural rulers�� because they do not fit the above profile.
Before the government sanction, these duties were carried out by
the chief��s head wife. Unfortunately, the Ya Almamies are still
not as powerful as male leaders.
A government provision made in the mid 1950s and continuing to be
effective to date, dictates that twelve Paramount Chiefs each
representing one of the twelve districts in Sierra Leone, are
elected on a non-Partisan basis through an electoral college,
comprised of Councillors and other Paramount Chiefs, to sit in
parliament.53 This system enables the representation and
participation of ethnic groups in national policy making. The
downside of this system is that it takes away the relationship
and bond between the elected parliamentary Paramount Chiefs and
their people, because they are required to leave their respective
chiefdoms and stay in Freetown during parliamentary sessions.
During my fieldwork in June 2002, the MLGCD list of Limba
Paramount/Regent Chiefs in Sierra Leone is as follows:
Paramount/ Regent Chief Chiefdom/ Chiefdom/ District/Area
Jurisdiction Jurisdiction
Alimamy Kawala II Biriwa Kamabai Bombali
Alimamy Dura II Safuroko Binkolo Bombali
Kandeh Luseni II Sela Kamakwie Bombali
(Vacant) Paki Massabong Mapaki Bombali
Komrabai Turay* Thonko Madina Kambia
Alimamy Hamidu I Wara-Wara Bafodea Koinadugu
A. B. Mansaray* Kasonko Fadugu Koinadugu
(Vacant) Wara-Wara Gbawuria Koinadugu
Sanda Sori II Sanda Mabolon- Sendugu Port Loko
(Vacant) Kafe Simira Mabonto Tonkolili
Momodu Mansaray* Kalansonkoya Bumbuna Tonkolili
*Regent Chief54
Second in the administrative line-up is the Chiefdom Speaker
(Bagboõkoli wo). As the name implies, he acts as spokesman both
to and on behalf of the chiefdom and is the PC��s confidant.
Because the PC is no longer required to participate in the
judicial system, the Chiefdom Speaker represents him at court
sittings and later reports to him. The Court Chairman (Bagb]d]
wo) who follows the Chiefdom Speaker is a government employee and
the official representative at the chiefdom level and presides
over chiefdom court proceedings. With the assistance of other
appointed court officials (k]t membeõ), the chairman presides over
several kinds of cases including, land disputes, theft,
witchcraft, adultery, some divorce cases, loans of money or other
goods and treachery. These matters are judged according to
chiefdom bylaws and customary laws. Capital offences such as
murder, cannibalism and rebellion are beyond the jurisdiction of
the tribal court and are transferred to the national government
through the police. Divorce cases concerning marriages that were
contracted in the church or mosque are also beyond the
jurisdictional limits of the tribal courts, and are therefore
referred to the national courts. A person who has a complaint or
wants a redress takes the matter to the chiefdom court clerk and
pays the required fees. A court summons is then sent to the
defendant stating the complaint and the scheduled date for the

53Alie (1990:213).
54Regent Chiefs are caretaker chiefs until new chiefs are elected and
court hearing. After the Court Chairman is the Court Clerk
(Bagbali wo) also a government employee, who records proceedings
and performs all court clerical and secretarial duties. Each
chiefdom has a chiefdom police force to keep the peace and
enforce the law (Fyle 1981:119).
The British further divided the chiefdoms into section towns and
villages (Finnegan 1965:21). The section towns are ruled by
Section Chiefs (Bathagba ben) and the villages by Village Headmen
(Bamethiõ/Bayaheõ).55 The positions of section and village chiefs
are analogous to that of the Paramount Chief. Unlike the
Paramount Chief, the Section and Village chiefs still preside
over cases. They handle cases similar to those handled by the
chiefdom courts. On the village level, the complainant goes to
the village headman (Bamethi/Bayaha) with a small token gift to
open a case. After questioning by the headman, a writ of summon
is then sent through a court messenger to the other party
regarding the complaint and date for the hearing. In
chiefdom/section and village levels, in most cases the guilty
party pays a very heavy fine and in some instances restitution is
required e.g., theft, destruction of farm and cattle. Most
often, a person convicted of witchcraft is flogged publicly, and
banished.56 The Paramount Chief, Chiefdom Speaker, Section and
Village Chiefs form the Chiefdom Council and are responsible for
electing chiefdom leaders.57
In the Western area where there is no chiefdom policy, all of the
ethnic groups settled there are ruled by the Tribal

55Cf. Finnegan (1965:21, 31-32).
56Formerly, a witch was banished after three offences.
57Cf. Fanthorpe��s Chiefdom Council structure of the Biriwa Limba (1998a:563-
Administration Act which was legislated in 1905 (Banton 1957:14;
Alie 1990:161). The equivalent of a Limba Paramount Chief in
Freetown is the Limba Tribal Headman. B.S. Bangura is the Limba
Tribal Headman for the Western Area. His administrative
headquarters are in Wellington, Freetown. Tribal Headmen for the
individual hinterland ethnic groups living in Freetown first
appeared in the late 19th century. These government officials
functioned in an unofficial capacity until they were given legal
recognition in 1905 (Alie 1990:161). As an elected official, the
Limba Tribal Headman, like any other Tribal Headman, is the
official liaison between the provincial chiefs and their people
in Freetown and often provides direct assistance to the central
government. He provides the initiative for many of the ethnic
group��s activities and provides a bridge for the newcomer in
Freetown to his former life the Provinces (Alie 1990:161). At
the Tribal Headman��s administrative headquarters, he is assisted
by the Court Chairman who with the assistance of Court Elders (a
group made up of between five and seven members), presides over
cases in the central court. The court handles most socially-
based cases as well as certain criminal cases. Land disputes and
major robbery cases are beyond the jurisdiction of a tribal
court. In the Western Area, as in the chiefdoms, divorce cases
concerning marriages that were contracted in the church or mosque
are beyond the jurisdictional limits of the tribal courts, and
are referred to the national courts. Non-literate Limba in the
Western Area take their cases to either the tribal head��s court
in Freetown, or the closest local Limba head. Most literate
Limba likewise, often begin with the tribal heads, but sometimes
prefer the Westernised legal system instead. The Court Clerk��s
job is analogous to that of his chiefdom counterpart. Apart from
the aforementioned officials who work in his administrative
headquarters, the Tribal Headman is also assisted by Section/Area
Chiefs called Pa Almamy, and sub chiefs called Pa Alikali.58 The
Section Chiefs and sub-chiefs fill a socio-political role which
is part chief, part judge (Alie 1990:161).
2.7 Economy
2.7.1 Agriculture
Historically, the Limba have primarily been subsistence farmers
(SLDE 1993:85). Agriculture is the backbone of their economy
with rice (pakala) as their main crop (Finnegan 1965:10-11; 81-6;
Opala & Boillot 1996:5). Finnegan (1967:8) states that, ��the
growing and eating of rice is, in Limba eyes, one of the main
characteristics which differentiate them from the other peoples
with whom they have come into contact.�� This perception cannot
be accurate, because neither the growing nor the eating of rice
has ever been unique to Limba. Rice is the staple food of Sierra
Leone and all ethnic groups in the country grow it (Fyfe 1979:4;
Fyle 1981:68).
The Limba practice two systems of growing rice: the more popular
upland farming and the less popular swampland farming. For many,
the farming season starts in March with brushing (mahi) of the
bush.59 Brushing is the cutting and clearing of smaller trees,
undergrowth, shrubs and branches from the spot where the farm is
to be made.60 The felled trees, branches and shrubs are then
piled up into a big heap and burnt.
Because the brushing is very hard and time consuming work, it

58Alkali is a Temne title from the Islamic word, al quadi meaning ��a judge��
(Fyle 1981:32).
59A few starts earlier in January and February.
60Cf. Finnegan (1967:8).
will be difficult for a single family to do it alone, a group of
hard working men known as Kuneko61 will come and help in exchange
for food and drink. This group is made up of young men often
from each household. Any household that does not have a member
in the group pays to compensate the group for the day they
worked. Kuneko is divided into several units, each of which is
responsible for one stage of farming. Kuneko katha Mahaeõ does
the brushing. Kuneko katha kariya clears and burns the material
that has been brushed out. Hoeing and sowing is the
responsibility of kuneko katha y]la. Kuneko katha puruna works at
weeding time and kuneko katha õ]na brings in the harvest.
As Kuneko and the other helpers brush the bush, they are be
entertained with music, drumming and singing. In some areas,
these entertainers are referred to as the Kalla Band. Other
areas they are called Bira. The older men in the Kalla Band are
called õkali and the younger men and boys are called k]th]bede.
These two groups are each identifiable from their distinct
attire. The music is meant to keep the workers from getting
tired until the end of the day.
Rice is sown in May and June just as the rains begin. This is
followed by the making of fences (kuõku ba/kufiya) to prevent
animals such as grass cutters (Sumbuõ) and other rice-eating
animals from destroying the rice when it grows. Usually, each
family/household fences their own farm without the help of
Kuneko, although some families employ people to help them.
Fencing is usually followed by the weeding (hu puruna haõ) of

61This custom is similar to that of the Mende people who have two major groups
– the kugbe and the bembe, that provide assistance during the faming season.
The kugbe is made up of both young men and women, and the bembe is a group of
about a dozen or so young men (Alie 1990:22).
grass with the help of Kuneko katha puruna who are assisted by a
group of women called Ba Gbeõdeõ/Ba fani Gbeõdeõ who weed with
small hoes.
Children play an important role in the stage that follows: the
scarring/driving away of the birds (hu pama haõ). To many Limba,
this is the most important part of the farming process. If the
birds are not driven away they will eat the rice, and there will
be hardly a grain of rice left to harvest. This task is not
exclusively for children. The wives and any young man or woman
in the household that is under the care of the husband or head of
the house also participate. A farm hut (ku wera) about 10ft high
with a podium is erected for the bird scarers to stand on as they
work. The height of this structure gives the worker an advantage
in seeing the destructive birds. Slings (Lathi/Lathu), which are
used to throw objects at the birds and scare them away. At
harvest, the Kuneko unit called kuneko katha õ]na will be present
to work and musicians will also be around to entertain them.
Millet, groundnut, cassava, and sweet potatoes, some maize are
also grown as secondary crops for food and cash along with
various garden crops such as onions and fruits (Finnegan 1965:18;
SLDE 1993:89; Hart 1989:46). Rice is also grown on a very small
scale on the outskirts of Freetown.
Palm trees (h]tala) grow wild all over Limba country, from its
fruit, red palm oil is made for cooking, and from the palm tree
trunk, palm wine is extracted for drinking. The Limba are known
all over the country for the fondness ��for palm wine and their
skill in tapping it�� (Finnegan 1965:95). At home and away the
Limba are sought as professional palm wine tapers (SLDE 1993: 89;
Finnegan 1965:123). Palm tree products are also sold for cash.
These include medicines, wood, fiber, broom, material for making
shoes, soap, rope, and leaves for roofing huts (Finnegan
Chiefs and affluent people often have a few cattle. Some sheep,
goats and poultry can be found in all villages.
2.7.2 Micro Business
Craftspeople also contribute greatly to the economy and are the
livelihood of some families.62 Blacksmiths provide and repair most
of the important implements for farming, such as hoes, axes and
cutlasses, as well as various kinds of knives for harvesting and
cooking, and guns for hunting (Finnegan 1965:98). Sculptors make
wood carvings and iron sculptures.63 Leather workers cure and dye
skins and use them to make various items. Native cloth (lank]n])
making is also popular (Finnegan 1965:98). Small scale fishing,
hunting and trapping are also common in Limba country,64 and in
the Western Area.
All of the above generate income for individual Limba families as
they are marketed and exchanged at village, town and chiefdom
levels (Finnegan 1965:102-4). These products are also found in
many ethnic communities in the country and are vital to provide
for their socio-economic needs (Hargrave 1944:88-96; Alie
Although community self-help (mamasiteke) development projects
are carried out through communal labour, the village or chiefdom
generates funds through fines and taxes. All adult males in the

62See Ottenberg (1988a:442-59), for visual and performing art forms in Bafodea.
63Cf. Hart (1989).
64Cf. Finnegan (1965:81).
hinterland are expected to pay an annual local tax at the
beginning of every year. In Freetown and urban areas, men and
women alike, who receive a salary pay income tax. Most non-
literate Limba men, in Freetown work as house servants, office
messengers, sanitation officers, while a few have tailoring and
carpentry shops or own businesses. Women engage in small scale
businesses usually termed as ��petty trading.�� Literate men and
women work in offices and national establishments.
In the hinterland, some people who do not have families and who
due to circumstances beyond their control cannot fend for
themselves, are looked after by the chief (Finnegan 1965:26). In
the Western Area relatives and friends help with financial and
material contributions.
2.8 Other Socio-Cultural Characteristics
2.8.1 Household and Gender Roles
The basic social unit of the Limba is the household (baõka) or
family (Kub]ri).65 This unit as in other ethnic groups of Sierra
Leone, comprised of a husband, a wife or wives, their children,
��and frequently also blood and affinal relatives – for example,
junior brothers and their wives, and unmarried sisters – as well
as dependants���� (Alie 1990:20; cf. Finnegan 1965:56).
The household is usually under the charge of the husband or a
responsible adult male. Two decades ago the husband, as head of
the home, was considered to be the sole bread-winner and everyone
in the home depended on him to provide for their needs. In the
hinterland, it was in turn, the assumed responsibility of the
wife/wives to help on the farm, prepare meals, nurse infants,
nurture and instruct the children in the norms of the society
(cf. Ottenberg 1983:78). When there are not grownup children
capable of doing chores, the cleaning, gathering firewood, and
laundry fall on the wife or on the junior wives if there is more
than one wife in the home. In the Western Area, the wife/wives
assume similar responsibilities (with the exception of working on
the farm) and women who work outside of the home take maternity
leave in order to raise their children.
Today, as a result of social and economic changes, some gender
roles have been altered. As well as general living expenses,
families now have to pay head and income taxes, and children who
show academic promise have to be sent to college or university
after secondary school. As these expenses increased, in many
cases, one income was not enough to make ends meet. In rural
regions, produce from the farm often was not enough to meet the
financial demands of the household. For many of those with jobs,
in both rural and urban areas, a single salary was often not
enough to pay the monthly bills and to provide other necessities.
In the hinterland, most married women became involved in petty
trading to supplement their husbands�� farming income. In the
urban areas, non-educated women are also engaged in petty trading
while educated women either took jobs in offices or began their
own businesses. Thus, bread-winning has become a responsibility
which was shared between husband and wife, often with the wife
managing the finances of the home.
Although bread-winning is now a task shared between husband and
wife, traditionally the husband is still seen as the provider.
Even if the wife��s income is greater than that of the husband, it

65Cf. Finnegan (1965:56).
is still seen as the responsibility of the husband to provide the
family with necessities. For this reason, if the husband
requires his wife��s assistance in providing for the family, he
should be very kind and polite to her, because if the family is
not provided for, society will hold only the husband accountable
for the failure to provide, regardless of his wife��s financial
status. This change in gender roles has positively affected the
lives of many Limba women and has made a significant impact on
the status of women within Limba society. Some women have taken
over as much as 70% of the household responsibilities and this
has earned them immense respect and appreciation from their
families and society associates.
2.8.2 The Compound and Beyond
Family relations are traced through both clanship (humpo/mpo) and
kinships nthela).
Kinship differs from clanship in that if people are kin
the exact genealogical links between them are actually
or potentially known, whereas the relationship between
clan co-members is not known in this way even though
they are loosely spoken of as all being ��brothers��.66
Kinship is primarily traced through the mother and father and is
identifiable by household, compound and village. Clanship on the
other hand is a more ethereal relationship that indicates a
common ancestry. Finnegan (1965:52) was able to identify ��eight
or nine clans�� scattered throughout Limba country. The number of
identifiable Limba clan is currently fifteen. Formerly, because
Limba society was predominantly chauvinistic, clan membership was
solely acquired through patrilineage. Today, the custom varies
from dialect to dialect. Some societies, like the Bafodea Limba
Wara-Wara chiefdom, are not heavily patrilineal and clanship may
be acquired from either parent.
Some are strictly exogamous,67 but in others68 clan descendants as
close as first cousins may marry (Fanthorpe 1998b:29), and in
Freetown where clanship is not well recognized clan-based exogamy
is not noticeably practiced.
2.8.3 Respect
In most Sierra Leonean cultures, the elderly are accorded a great
deal of respect (Alie 1990:23; Fyle 1981:64)). Limba culture
teaches that, to gain long life; to be wise; to be blessed and
protected; you must respect not only the elders of your own
family but also those of the society. In general, older people
are addressed by a title of respect and not by their ordinary
names. For example, yapo (Fyle 1981:64), pa, k]tho, hemo (��old
man��), iõa, moyo, ma (��old woman��). The words and counsel of the
elderly are held in very high regard.69 In most Limba homes, as a
sign of respect, a child should not sit in the company of
visiting adults or older people. When an adult enters a home for
a visit, all the children are asked to either go outside and play
or go to their rooms until the stranger leaves. A young person
kneels down slightly to greet the elderly. Children and young
people are expected to greet their parents, and any other elder
around, each morning on rising (heri bahure), and each evening
when going to bed (masanka). When eating with an adult, it is

66Finnegan (1965:54).
67Finnegan (1965:52) stated that clans are strictly exogamous. This may have
been the case for all clans at that time, as it is still true of the clans of
the Wara-Wara Limba (Ottenberg 1988b:43; 1989:59).
68Such as the Conteh clan of the Biriwa to which I belong.
69Cf. Alie (1990:23).
considered disrespectful for a younger person to take a piece of
meat or fish and eat it without first having the consent of the
older person. This type of disrespectful behaviour is called
wutebede. Once in awhile, in most homes the father will eat
together with his son(s) and the other men in the house.
Likewise the mother will eat with her daughter(s) and the other
women in the house. This is not a hard and fast rule, especially
in Freetown, but, the Limba like to eat in this manner so that
the adults will teach the young proper table manners. More
often, the younger children will eat together, while their
parents watch them reprimanding anyone caught doing any
uncustomary thing. The traditional Limba prefers to eat with
his/her hand. It is Limba custom not to talk while eating.
Outside of the home in general, when there are two or three
people of the same sex, the Limba prefer to share a meal of rice
and soup from the same dish. Often, at gatherings, a group of
women will be in one corner eating, a group of men will be in
another doing the same, and a group of youths will be eating in
their own area.
2.8.4 Social Courtesies
Greetings (mande/nseke/nse), with appropriate gestures, show
respect and good relationship. Thanking (kalaõaõ), someone for a
good deed shows appreciation for the efforts of others, and makes
way for future considerations. A person who does not ��thank
you,�� is considered an ingrate. Gift-giving is another way to
express one��s appreciation and respect. Travelling guests carry
gifts called mut]õ]ti (��what I brought for you��) for friends and
host/hostess. Hosts/hostesses and friends also give gifts called
mudeõ (��what I kept for you��) to visitors when they are returning.
Reporting (t]õ dantheke), apologising (theteke) when one is in the
wrong or is presumed to be in the wrong, story and parable
(mb]r]/ngbaõ), telling of riddles (nl]õ) and music
(mathur]k]/muluõ/yakali)70 are also considered essential to Limba
culture.71 Drumming, dancing, singing and story-telling are
considered to be ��cultural inheritances-sometimes referred to as
��Limba things�� or ��Limba times�� (malimba ma) (Finnegan 1967:25).
2.9 Conclusion
Although there is an ongoing religious conflict between them,
Limba Christians and Christian Limbas share the same ancestry.
They are all Limba people. Historically, the Limba are
considered deep autochthones. Although this is impossible to
prove or disprove, it is believed that they may have been the
first people in the Sierra Leone hinterland and have definitely
been in their current location since at least the late sixteenth
century. The largest population of Limba outside of the Limba
homeland is now in Freetown.
The Limba speak, a ��prefix language�� which is part of the West
Atlantic family of languages, and has twelve dialects which have
been categorised into five regional dialects. Politically, the
Limba are governed by the Chiefdom Council system in their
homeland, and the Tribal Administration in Freetown. Both
systems were adopted from the British and given slight
modifications. Judicially, the tribal courts governed by Court
Chairmen deal with most basic cases, excepting capital offences
and divorce cases. Economically, Limba communities make their

70Ottenberg (1989:57-78; 1988b:42-64; 1988a:437-65) portray the importance of
Limba music in weddings, secret societies and other social activities.
71See Finnegan (1965:79-80; 1967:25-28) for a detailed understanding of some of
these cultural traits.
living through rice farming, the harvesting of palm tree
products, animal husbandry, fishing and hunting, petty trading,
craftsmanship, and in Freetown, office employment.
Socially, the household or family is the basic unit. Families
are connected to each other through kinship and clanship, the
acquisition of which varies from dialect to dialect. In Freetown
clanship is not encouraged because of fear that it will create
division in a ��foreign�� land.
Other notable cultural qualities of the Limba are respect for
elders, table manners, an appropriate manner of greeting,
thankfulness, and the giving of gifts.
With this background in place, we now move to chapter three, for
an understanding of the nature and components of Limba religion.
Definition and Components of Limba Religion
3.1 Introduction
There are several reasons why it is necessary to define Limba
Religion. Limba religion, like many other African religions, has
undergone many changes due to influences both external (Alie
1990:31-46)72 and internal. Externally, the intrusion of
comparatively new religions,73 and the complexities of modern
changes have both affected Limba traditional beliefs.
Modernisation in Africa has ��come upon religious societies,
affecting their religious attitudes and life���� (Mbiti
1989a:211).74 It is reasonable to say that, ��through modern
change these traditional religions cannot remain intact����
(1989a:2). ��But though it cannot be denied that changes in
thought and, perhaps, attitude to life are taking place, the past
is not dead; it has very strong clinging influences on the
emotions of the people�� (Downes 1971:6-7). After three decades
the words of Mbiti (1970:xiv) are still applicable:

72See SLDE (1990:205-06) for a discussion on the impact of foreign influence on
the traditional life of the Temne people of Sierra Leone. Parsons (1964:226-
40) addresses the effects of external influences on Kono Religion. See also
discussions on the impact of external influences on Tiv (Dawnes 1971:1-2) and
Yoruba (Awolalu 1979:183-96) Religions.
73See Ottenberg (1984:437-54, 1988a: 437-65) for the external religious impact
on the Wara-Wara Limba. Magesa (1997:4-14) discusses the Christian negative
approach toward African Religion and the latter��s continuity irrespective of
74See Mbiti (1989a:211-22) for a detailed discussion on the causes and effects
of modernisation on African religions.
Africa is going through a tremendous and rapid change
in every aspect of human life. Many individuals are
becoming increasingly detached from the corpus of their
tribal and traditional beliefs, concepts and practices.
On the other hand, these concepts have not all been
abandoned, nor are they likely to be wiped out
immediately by these modern changes.
Awolalu (1979:183-96) describes the intrusion of Islam,
Christianity, Western imperialism and modernisation as militating
factors against traditional rites. This is largely because of
their dedication to ordered views and fixed ideals, and their
criticism and even condemnation of anything different from
Another external factor is the Post-modern ideologies of the
educated elite, who are proud to maintain their traditional
practices irrespective of their westernisation. This has
promoted the freedom of personal expression of opinions and
thoughts that view religion differently from long established
norms.75 The expression of personal opinion is common among the
young and the educated elite. In similar regard, Parrinder
(1962:12) writes, ��all modern peoples��may hold beliefs very
different from those of early man.�� Within this climate, it does
not matter how logical or rational the view is, every opinion
should be respected and accepted.
Internally, the settlement of other ethnic groups within and
around Limba country, and the settlement of Limbas within the
Western Area have brought, not only religious, but social,
political and economic changes to the Limba worldview.76 There is

75Cf. Parrinder (1962: 21).
76Several decades ago Nadel (1954:1) pointed similar situation about the Nupe
people whose religious beliefs and practices differ considerably from region
to region: ��Nupe are internally divided in various ways – by ethnic descent,
by tribal segmentation, partly by political allegiance, by the cleavage
a constant dialogue between the Limba and their neighbours, about
issues including culture, behaviour and practice. Another factor
that should be taken into consideration is the dialectal
divisions which dictate the adoption and promotion of personal
identities. Each dialect within an ethnic group possesses a
uniqueness that contributes to the whole and, just as there are
minor variants in the dialects, so also in religion.77 This is
true because people ��hold differences of opinion on various
subjects; and the myths, rituals and ceremonies may differ from
area to area�� (Mbiti 1989a:3).78
On account of the external and internal factors discussed so far,
one can justifiably say that the concepts of religion among the
Limba of today are somewhat changed from those of their
forebears. Like many ethnic groups in Africa, the Limba are
aware that their ��traditional ideas are being abandoned, modified
or coloured by the changing situation�� (Mbiti 1989a:x). Limba
religion ��like all religions has had to accommodate itself to the
process of social change and the effects of modernisation�� (Opoku
1993:78). This does not imply that ��everything traditional has
been changed or forgotten so much that no traces of it are to be
found. If anything, the changes are generally on the surface,
affecting the material side of life, and only beginning to reach
the deeper levels of thinking pattern, language content, mental
images, emotions, beliefs and response in situations of need��
(Mbiti 1989a:x).

between urban and peasant population, and by the barriers of social class.��
77This is similar to the ideas presented by Cultural Anthropologists Plog and Bates
(1980:16): ��While the culture of any society is by definition shared by all members of
that society, culture is also differentially shared within the subgroups of the
78When talking about what is unique or different about a particular ethnic group, the
Limba commonly make the statement ��my people practice so and so����
For the aforementioned reasons, before these changes progress
deeper, beyond the material side of life, it is necessary to
analyse the traditional beliefs of the Limba while it is still
possible to do so.79 Further, it is hoped that by defining Limba
religion we will be equipped to evaluate those elements that
constitute Limba religion, and that through this process we can
map out Limba religion for the study of its function within the
ethnic group.80 Therefore, it is necessary to achieve an
understanding, from a Limba traditionalist perspective, of what
religion is, and what its components are.
It is the official position of the NPLC that the traditional
religion of the Limba represents a false system of beliefs that
is controlled by evil forces. Limba Christians are discouraged
from having anything to do with traditional religious practices.
Like their forebears the AOG, the NPLC enforces ��a complete break
with the past�� (Olson 1969:192) as a preventive measure against
��syncretism and nominalism�� (Olson 1969:206).
Before defining Limba Religion and its components, we shall first
examine the definitions of Religion (in general) and of African
Religion (in particular) in order to discover how Limba Religion
fits into the wider (general) and immediate (ATR) contexts.
3.2 What is Religion?
It is difficult to define what exactly constitutes religion.

79Similar concern has been earlier expressed by Downes (1971:1) when he wrote:
��As Western influence increases with education, changes in religious thinking
are taking place and it is of some importance to put what little is known on
record before the rapidly changing customs and habits of the people render
their own recollections more hazy, and the task of filling the many inevitable
gaps becomes less likely of even partially accurate achievement.��
80See Parsons (1964:173).
Tremmel (1983:3), in trying to find a good working definition of
��Religion,�� states at the outset that, ��a good definition of
religion is hard to come by, mostly because it must incorporate
an enormous array of beliefs and activities all the way from
magic to mysticism, from private prayer to sacred community.�� To
remedy the situation, scholars of differing interests have come
up with their own varying definitions of religion.81 Tremmel
1983:4) identifies two aspects that constitute religion, namely:
the ��functional�� which deals with the purpose, content and
benefits of religion, and the ��sacred�� which deals with ��the
experience of something mysterious and magnificent�� that happens
to religious practitioners. In other words, ��religion is both
something that people do to deal with certain elements of their
own finitude and something that happens to them that is
mysterious, tremendous, and wonderfully renovating��a definition
of religion must include both the functional and the sacred
experience aspects of religion�� (Tremmel 1983:7).
3.3 What is African Traditional Religion?
African Religion is even more difficult to define (Mbiti
1989a:15). Scholars interested in the study of ATR have used
several terms in their efforts to define ATR, namely:
��Primitive/Tribal Religion��, ��Animism��, ��Dynamism��, ��Totemism��,
Fetishism and Naturism. These terms have been strongly
challenged as inadequate, derogatory and prejudicial (Mbiti
1989a:7. Cf. Parrinder 1962:20-23; Magesa 1997:19-22). When
closely studied, it is apparent that elements of each of these

81For example, the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant, the German theologian
Friedrich Schleiermacher and the sociologist of religion J Milton Yinger
(Tremmel 1983:3,7), the 19th and early 20th century anthropologist Edward Taylor
(Tremmel 1983:3; Mbiti 1989a:7)
designations82 are found in ATR, but any of these terms address
only a minute fraction of African religious beliefs and should
not be therefore considered adequate on its own as description of

82African Religion is described as ��Primitive/Tribal Religion�� (Cf. Lucas
1948:33; Parrinder 1962:18; Mbiti 1989:8) because there is often no written
history or scripture in ATR (Parrinder 1962:18; Magesa 1997:22). Unlike
Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Judaism, Limba Religion like other African
religions has no sacred writings or documented theology for guidance in their
spirituality. Magesa (1997:22) arguing for a universal recognition of ATR
opposed liberal Western scholars who:
Could neither conceive nor allow that a religion dependent on oral
traditions, such as African Religion is, could be regarded as an
equal�� These scholars failed to consider that Judaism, for
example, was an orally-based religion for many centuries before
its oral story was codified in writing. The same is true for
Christianity and Islam, although for a shorter period of time.
Other things being equal, orality alone cannot disqualify a
religious system from qualitative greatness. In fact, the
existence of written scripture must be seen as only one criterion
among many.
ATR theology is written on the hearts, minds, words, actions and symbols of
the African people (Mbiti 1989a:3). This is one of the factors responsible
for the survival of African Religion and so long as those who follow ATR are
alive, it will never be extinct (cf. Mbiti 1970a:xiv), and they are proud to
discuss it and to live it out.
��Animism�� is the belief that beings and objects like trees, stones, snakes or
wild beasts may possess spirits to be worshiped (Trowell 1947:126). Although
many African groups do hold religious beliefs about nature spirits, Parrinder
(1969:26) argues that ATR ��is more than a personification of nature, and some
of its most important beliefs are in a Supreme Being and in the departed
ancestors, neither of which is a strictly animistic belief.�� See also Sawyerr
(1970:1-2); Parrinder (1962:20-23); Mbiti 1989a:7-8) and Magesa (1997:14-15).
��Dynamism�� is the ��belief in, and the practices associated with the belief in
hidden, mysterious, supersensible, pervading energy, powers, potencies,
forces�� (Smith 1966:16). Cf. Parson (1964:163).
��Totemism�� is ��a complex system of ideas, symbols, and practices based on an
assumed relationship between an individual or a social group and a natural
object known as a totem. The totem may be a particular species of bird,
animal, or plant, a natural phenomenon, or a feature of the landscape with
which a group believes itself linked in some way. The term totem is derived
from the language of the Ojibwa, a Native North American tribe�� (Microsoft
Encarta Encyclopedia 2003).
��Fetishism�� is a ��form of belief and religious practice in which supernatural
attributes are imputed to material, inanimate objects, known as fetishes
(Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2003). See also Parrinder (1962:15); Mbiti
(1989a:10) and Magesa (1997:14-15).
��Naturism�� applies to ��religious devotion paid either to nature as a deified
collective entity or to all things in nature, including the elements,
celestial bodies, plants, animals, and humanity (Microsoft Encarta
Encyclopedia 2003). Cf. Mbiti (1989a:10).
African scholars have also encountered problems in seeking an
appropriate definition for ATR. One major reason for this
difficulty is that African religion is not universal; rather it
is tribal or national (Mbiti 1989a:4). On the basis of the
multiplicity and differences of ATR, Mbiti (1989a:1-5) has argued
that we should speak of ATR in the plural and not in the
singular. He argued that African beliefs are so entwined with
tribal structure that they are virtually indistinguishable.
There are about 1000 tribes, each of which has their own
religion, and each religion is limited to the tribe in which it
evolved. Because there is no system of dogmas in ATR, each
person assimilates ideas and practices from his/her own family
and community. In the absence of founders,83 reformers or
scriptures, African Religions have no identifiable standard and
there is no evidence of a common origin. This said, Mbiti was
unable to ignore the overwhelming similarities between these
��religions�� and proposed that the unifying force was a single
underlying ��African Philosophy�� (1989a:1).
Idowu (1973:104) has responded contrary to Mbiti��s position on
the grounds that African people have a common racial origin and
therefore all African culture and religious beliefs have evolved
from a common source. He describes these common factors as
��negritude�� an expression of their common Africaness. More
importantly, Africans have similar concepts about God and the
names of God and the meaning of those names are also similar.84
Because the belief in a Supreme Creator God is the basis of all
African Religion,85 it is proper to speak of ATR in the singular.

83See also Mbiti (1989a:59).
84For a detailed study and comparison on these issues, see Mbiti (1970).
85In ATR: ��The supremacy of God above all created order is the starting point.
��African Religion never questions nor debates God��s ultimate importance��
Recently, Magesa (1997:14-18) has also argued for the homogeneity
of ATR in the sense that African Religion is one in its essence.
He argues that there is a ��basic world-view�� which is
fundamentally the same throughout Africa. The varieties that
exist within ATR cannot be taken to mean a diversity of
fundamental belief.86 The differences within African Religion are
the result of the distinctive life styles of the peoples of
African peoples. Such varieties are also found in many of the
major religious belief systems of the world. For example, there
are varieties of expression within Christianity in the form of
denominations nonetheless they remain Christian. This is also
true of Islam with its different sects (Shia, Suni, Sufi)
nonetheless they remain Muslim.87
African Religion generally consists of a belief in the
Supernatural and the practices by which the African relates to
the Supernatural. There is a hierarchy of Supernatural forces
which consists of a Supreme Being, Ancestral and Non-Ancestral
spirits, as well as Deities or Divinities. The practices
employed by African Religion include both those showing reverence
to these beings (e.g. sacrifice) and those intended to control
supernatural forces (e.g. magic and medicines). While the
various African cultures, and resultantly various scholars, hold
differing views on the interrelationship of these elements,88 they

(Magesa 1997:40).
86In similar vein, Taylor (1963:27) writing over three decades earlier stated:
��there is not one homogeneous system of belief throughout Africa ��
Nevertheless anyone who has read a number of anthropological works dealing
with different parts of Africa must be struck not only by the remarkable
number of features that are common but by the emergence of a basic world-view
which fundamentally is everywhere the same.��
87The argument of the varieties in Christianity and Islam was also earlier
taken up by Parrinder (1962:10-11).
88Parrinder (1962:25) represented the relationship between spiritual powers by
a triangular formula. At the Apex is the Supreme God, on one side of the
triangle is the Ancestors, and on the other side of the triangle are the gods
or nature God, and at the base is the earth where the dead are buried and
form an identifiable core. By this core, we are able to define
ATR as the institutionalized beliefs, teachings, practices and
behaviors of various African societies in relation to the
Supernatural, in the context of their respective societies and
experiences. This definition addresses both the sacred and
functional aspects of religion.
3.4 What is Limba Religion?
In the words of an interviewee, ��Religion is what we call Dina
(��a way of life��). It is our culture (dina/namu/mab]r]).��89 In
Limba the word Dina means both ��Religion�� and ��Culture��. This
makes it hard to draw a dividing line between the sacred and the
secular. The Limba believe that God not only created them, he
also instituted their culture and showed them ��how to grow rice,
tap palm wine, make sacrifice, exercise their strength, and cook
food; it was he who travelled around to find a wise and kind man
to be the first chief �� He was and is behind all the institutions
and values of Limba society�� (Finnegan 1965:108). In this
regard, Limba Religion is typical of ATR, ��there is no sharp
dividing line between sacred and secular such as is usually
assumed in Europe. Material and spiritual are intertwined, the
former as a vehicle of the latter�� (Parrinder 1962:27). In Limba
Religion as in other African religions, ��there is no formal
distinction between the sacred and the secular, between the
religious and non-religious, between the spiritual and the
material areas of life�� (Mbiti 1989a:2). The inseparability of

where humankind lives and its intermediaries. Idowu (1977:139) states that
the beliefs in God, in the divinities, in spirits, in ancestors and practice
of magic and medicine are the five components that make African Traditional
Religion. In Mbiti��s opinion, the beliefs in God, Spirits and Divinities are
part of the elements of African Religious beliefs (1989a:7). According to
Magesa (1997:35-36), ��God, the ancestors, and the spirits are all powers or
forces that impinge on human life in one way or another.��
89Brima Kargbo (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
the sacred and the secular in African Religion is another factor
that ensures that the longevity of ATR, will match that of the
culture. Every part of African society is thoroughly religious
and each ��society is maintained by its religious outlook��
(Sawyerr 1996:10). The pervasive nature of religion makes it an
inevitable component of everyday life. As another interviewee
put it, ��life is religion and religion is life.��90 Life cannot be
divorced from ��Religion�� and ��Religion�� likewise cannot be
divorced from life. This worldview was clearly echoed by Magesa
when he said that African religion is ��quite literally life and
life is religion�� (1997:25-26). Religion permeates the whole
life of the African - ��their personal, family, and socio-
political life�� (Mulago 1991:127). It is a living organism, so
to speak, that regularly operates in the life of the society.
Because religion is the life-blood of the society, the Limba
believe that life must be lived ��holistically.�� Although
religion gives them spiritual and physical strength during times
of distress, hardship and disappointment which, without a doubt,
helps them to understand the reality of life and provides
significance to the mystery of life, these are not the factors
that compel them to stay connected to the supernatural. In other
words, religion is not practiced only in times of need, or so
that they can deal with life��s troubling and challenging
experiences. Kanu is served not merely for what he can do, but
for who he is. As Erickson (1992:83) a Christian writer puts it,
God ��is of value to us for what he is in himself, not merely for
what he does.�� Limba Religion is an ongoing process in times of
joy and of sadness.91
Limba Religion is a way of life that is expressed both personally

90Bagbon Samura (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
91This is reminiscent of Paul��s exhortation to the Romans (Rom. 8:35, 37-39).
and corporately through ��belief (kulaniya) in a Supreme God (Kanu
Masala), Angels (malekeõ), Ancestral spirits (fureni be) and non-
ancestral spirits (mbaalin), in religious objects (sebe, kudori),
sacred places (õkaniyki), in social institutions (kahu), in
religious officials and leaders, in the observance of ceremonies
and festivals (kahuin) and in the teaching and practice of morals
and ethical values.��92
Although a precise definition of Christianity is hard to come by,
like Limba religion it has been described as ��a total way of
life���� (Mbiti 1986:7). While it may be argued that this is not
an accurate description of the lives of many Christians in other
parts of the world, it is an accurate description of the lives of
Christian Limbas within the NPLC. To them Christianity is ��a
total way of life.�� This is due at least in part, to the
traditional religious upbringing of church members:
With all the evil we have attached to traditional
religion, I believe without that heritage our church
would not have been the fastest growing ethnic church
in the whole country. Without it the Limba would not
have been renowned as the most religious group in
Sierra Leone. All of us here were born into homes that
practiced these beliefs. The idea of bringing religion
to social functions was gotten from our heritage��In our
day to day discussions; we use the religious phrases we
inherited from our people. Devout Christians developed
religious devotion from their cultural roots. Because
we grew up in a culture that sees religion as an
everyday event that is the tradition we have brought
with us to the church...93
Looking through the NPLC��s supplementary song book entitled, Buku

92Brima Kargbo (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
93Rev. MacFoday Kamara (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown). In similar vein,
��we can rightly say that African religion has prepared the religious and
spiritual ground for many of its adherents to listen carefully to the
teachings of the Bible���� (Mbiti 1986:11).
Wo Ka õaiõeõ õaõ woõ (��The Book of Christian Songs��) this devotion
is immediately apparent. The very first song is an exhortation
to religious devotion and church attendance:
Sa ka s]nde woõ Come for Sunday
Sanka iõ h]n]k]le Morning and evening
Tuside iõ wenside Tuesday and Wednesday
mene fraide also Friday
Limba religion is a way of life based on their beliefs, practices
and teachings. Let us now look at these three components of
Limba religion.
3.5 Components of Limba Religion
The Limba believe in four types of spirits: the Supreme Being,
Angels, the Ancestors, and Non-Ancestral Spirits. A majority of
the Limba have categorised these spirits according to a scale of
preference.94 At the top of the scale is the Supreme Being. Next
are the angels, and the ancestors. Most Limba place the angels
just above the ancestors, but a few reverse this order (cf.
Finnegan 1965:107-16; 1967:19-22).95 Non-ancestral Spirits are
ranked fourth in the Limba worldview.96
Outside of this ranking, the Limba also believe in certain other
powers of a spiritual nature. These include artifacts/objects
for protective purpose like amulets, objects on farms and door

94This formula is similar to most African worldviews where ��the spiritual
powers are ranked in hierarchies and approached according to need�� (Parrinder
95It is only the positions of angels and ancestors which are disputed and
whichever a person considers second, the other is third.
96Other Sierra Leonean groups, like the Mende consider three strands in the
concept of the supernatural: a belief in the Supreme or High God, veneration
of the ancestors, and belief in nature divinities (Sawyerr 1968:3; cf. Gittins
1987:40-41). The Kono believe in a Supreme Being, followed by lesser gods,
ancestral spirits and impersonal powers (Parsons 1964:9).
posts; objects used for ordeals like ��swears��, traditional
clothes, medicines, and sacred places, like shrines, caves, trees
where the supernatural could be present and venerated. These
powers are also manifest by the secret societies of Gbangba and
Limba religion is not limited to a belief in Supernatural
entities and abstract powers. There is also a strong belief in
sacred specialists/officials97 as God��s mortal agents who are
gifted with spiritual abilities for the good of individuals and
of the community. Sacred specialists are believed to have a
special relationship with God, humans and spirits of all levels.
Although sacred officials are not worshipped, they are trusted
and respected as intermediaries and people gifted with spiritual
prowess to maintain harmony between the community and the
Limba belief in the supernatural is expressed through practices
including sacrifice, offering, prayer, libation and cleansing
rites,98 all of which are seen as means to stay connected to the
Supernatural. God is worshipped mostly through sacrifice and
prayer. The ancestors are venerated, through the same means as
God, for their interest in the living as mediator between the
individual, the community and God, and for the guidance and
instruction they provide for better living, both physical and
spiritual.99 Offerings are made to both malevolent spirits and
benevolent spirits.100 The practice of participating in the

97See Finnegan (1965:115). Sacred Specialists also play a vital role among
Sierra Leonean ethnic groups: Kono (Parsons 1964:69, 81). Mende (Sawyerr
1968:54-87; Gittins 1987:179-202). Temne (Shaw 1985:286-303; 1996:30-55). ATR
Parrinder (1962:100-09) and Mbiti (1989a:162-82).
98See Finnegan (1967:21). Cf. Parsons (1964:68-78); Parrinder (1962:79-100);
Mbiti (1989a:58-71) and Magesa (1997:201-09).
99See Finnegan (1965:110-13; 1967:21).
100See Finnegan (1967:22).
annual priestly celebrations is an expression of the belief that
the Limba have in the work and office of the priesthood.
Limba religious and ethical teaching is primarily a result of
their belief in the supernatural. Apart from their teachings
concerning the components of the supernatural, worship and
veneration; they teach about evil and its consequence.101 They
teach that sin is both anti-spiritual and anti-social, and
includes offences against God, spiritual agents, humankind,
animate things or inanimate things. These may take the form of
witchcraft, or any other anti-social deed or intention. Because
sin, of any kind, offends the Supernatural, it forms an important
part of Limba teaching and must be dealt with in order to restore
a healthy relationship with the Supernatural and with the
society. The process of eradicating evil and restoring harmony
through the courts, or through ��swears��102, ordeals and curses is
seen as justice. God is believed to be behind all the moral and
ethical values held by the Limba (Finnegan 1965:108). On moral
issues, the Limba refer to God ��as being responsible either for
everything or for some feature under discussion�� (Finnegan
1965:109). You frequently hear statements like ��Kanu does not
like tale-telling�� or ��It was Kanu who gave us the custom that
Limbas don��t steal – that��s what we��re like�� (Finnegan 1965:109).
These values play an important role in the Limba worldview.
Moral and ethical teaching is done at home and in secret society
bushes, and is accomplished through story telling and discussion.
There are many stories about God and about ethical relationships
with both animate and inanimate objects because all of creation
comes from the same spiritual force (Finnegan 1967). Everything
that exists (animals, birds, reptiles, plants, rocks, the land,

101Cf. Mbiti (1989a:199-219); Magesa (1997:161-91).
102See Finnegan (1964:8-26).
the sea, the sun, the moon and the stars, and people) possesses
the same spiritual qualities. We all share the same origins;
therefore all of God��s creation should be treated with
appropriate reverence and attention.
In their descriptions of all these beliefs, practices and
teachings, ��the Limba explain and interpret the world around them
and the place of humans in society�� (Finnegan 1967:22). At the
centre of all these religious phenomena is humankind. The Limba
believe that humankind is created with a spiritual entity which
enables him/her to relate to a higher power or powers as a means
of keeping in balance the supernatural, self, family, clan and
the society. Humankind then is a spiritual agent that makes the
sacred functional by transmitting what is on the heart and mind
into words, actions and practices. As Nyamiti (n.d.:11) points
out: ��African religious behaviour is centred mainly on man��s life
in this world, with the consequence that religion is chiefly
functional, or a means to serve people to acquire earthly goods��
and to maintain social cohesion and order.��
Christianity is also composed of beliefs, practices and
teachings. Not unlike Limba traditionalists, Christians believe
in and teach about four kinds of spirits: God (John 4:24), the
ancestors/saints,103 angels (Heb. 1:14) and non-ancestral spirits
(Eph. 6:12). Christian belief in God and in the communion of
saints is enshrined in the Apostles�� and Nicene Creeds. There is
also a common belief in spiritual leaders as God��s agents.104 In
the practices of the church, as in ATR worship plays a vital

103The NT refers to Abraham (Matt. 3:9, Acts 7:2); David (Matt. 11:10, Acts
2:29) and Jacob (John 4:12) as ancestors. The church especially the Roman
Catholics venerates the saints.
104The activities of the Apostles in the Book of Acts are testaments to this
belief. A similar leadership is accorded to Judges, Prophets and Kings in the
Old Testament.
role. In their teachings, ethics, as well as sin and its
consequence are important. If the description of Christianity
and its components that we have outlined, and the earlier general
definition of religion are acceptable, then it is right to say
that although the two systems bear different frameworks,
Christianity and African Religion share affinities in terms of
description and components.
3.6 Conclusion
Like most African Religions, external and internal influences
continue to affect Limba Religion. In spite of the changes and
challenges, Limba Religion continues to thrive105 because of its
organic nature as a way of life that is deeply rooted in the
hearts and minds of its believers and is expressed through their
words, actions and symbols as a way to maintain a cordial and
healthy relationship with the supernatural, the community, and
the self. The fundamental concepts of Limba Religion are vested
in their belief in the Supreme Being, Angels, Ancestral and Non-
ancestral Spirits; in religious objects, in sacred places and
social institutions, in religious officials and leaders. Their
Religion is also vested in their practice/observance of
ceremonies and festivals, and in their teaching and practice of
morals and ethical values.
The expression of their belief through practice and teaching
makes Limba Religion both sacred and functional. Religion can,
of course include a wide range of beliefs, practices, and
cultural behaviours, and each religion, whether organised or
organic consists of different amounts of each of these elements.

105Finnegan��s (1967:19) discovery that Limba religious ��beliefs are not
contradicted�� by the influences of Islam and Christianity is still valid,
Although Christianity and African Religion are different in
several ways, they share many of the same characteristics. We
now move to the study of the highest Being in Limba religion the
Supreme Being.

almost four decades later.
The Supreme Being
4.1 Introduction
The Limba hold, ��as an integral part of their world view��
(Parrinder 1969:39) a belief106 in a Supreme Being called Kanu
Masala. The existence of this being is not a point of discussion
among the Limba, it is simply known. ��God is no stranger�� (Mbiti
1989a:29),107 and he looms large in the consciousness of the
people. Limba ��speech, proverbs, prayers, and worship are all
imbued with man��s awareness of God and an ardent desire to enter
into intimate communication with him�� (Metuh 1981:viii). ��But
what is He? What is His role in the life of the average human
being?�� (Sawyerr 1970:x). Is he the same as the Judeo-Christian
The NPLC does not dispute the fact that Limba traditionalists
have a belief in a God: the church��s contention is that the
traditionalists do not serve the one true God. The God who has

106Smith (1966:v) provides us with references of scholars that have collected
evidence that most Africans have a belief in a Supreme Being. While working as
a missionary in Africa, Smith was asked by Emil Ludwig, ��How can the untutored
African conceive God?�� Ludwig was surprised when Smith responded that it was
irrelevant to persuade ��Africans of the existence of God: they are sure of
it���� In disbelief he asked, ��How can that be?�� He went on to say ��Deity is a
philosophical concept which savages are incapable of framing�� (Smith 1966:1).
While it is likely that Ludwig��s statements simply express a gross
misunderstanding of the African nature, if they were ever applicable, it is
clear that they are now outdated.
107In African traditional life, even to a child the Supreme Being needs no
��revealed himself as the eternally self-existent ��I AM��, the
Creator of heaven and earth and the Redeemer of mankind. He has
further revealed himself as embodying the principles of
relationship and association as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
(Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10-11; Matthew 28:19; Luke 3:22)��
(Statement of Faith: Doctrine 2). In that regard, the Christians
do not equate the traditional God with their own. However,
although the vital Christian teaching of the Trinity is not part
of Limba religious concept, the traditionalists, continue to
argue that the God of the Christians is the same God they serve.
There is a familiar saying among the traditionalists that they
��serve the same God; there is no difference between the Christian
God and Kanu.��108 Hargrave (1944:63) writing about the three main
religions (ATR, Islam and Christianity) of Sierra Leone said that
��the belief in God, the Creator, all powerful, invisible��is
accepted by all religious groups.��
In this chapter, we shall study Limba notions about God as they
are expressed in his names, his attributes, his works, and his
relationships as well as through the worship he receives.
4.2 Names of God
Among the Limba, great importance is attached to names. In most
African cultures, names function not merely as ��identification
marks�� applied to people (Metuh 1981:19), but they ��often express
qualities for which the owners are conspicuous�� (Smith 1966:4).
Usually a name either portrays or denotes a defining
characteristic of its bearer. In other words, a name, in Limba
worldview, is often an indication of a person��s character,

pointing out�� says an Ashanti proverb (Metuh 1981:viii).
108Dura Conteh (Interviewed July 2002: Binkolo Town).
nature, or rank, or an expression of some peculiar quality. A
name denotes essence, identity and power. It is upon these
premises that the Limba traditionalists base their understanding
of God.
In Judeo-Christian tradition, as in Limba tradition, the meaning
of a name is crucial (Packer 1980:445-47; Erickson 1992:83). In
Biblical times, names were significant because ��they revealed
character and identity and signified existence�� (Achtemeier
1996:736). Names indicated who people were, their conduct, and
the way they lived their lives. Care and attention to
significance were very important in the choice of names (Erickson
1992:83; Houtman 1993:71). For the Israelites, the revelation of
God��s name and its continued use were of great significance
because it was the means by which God could be reached and known
(Achtemeier 1996:736). Theophoric personal names are a valuable
guide to qualities associated with God, and the personal names
containing God��s divine name Yahweh depict his nature, character,
and peculiar qualities (Achtemeier 1996:734).
The tradition and terminology of God��s names in the NT was
��inherited from the OT and Judaism as mediated by the Septuagint
(LXX)�� (Achtemeier 1996:734). However, this inherited tradition
was greatly modified both by the ��understanding of the teaching
of Jesus�� and by the ��understanding of the person of Jesus as the
definitive expression of God�� (Achtemeier 1996:734).109 The names
and titles of Jesus, tell us about his character, peculiar
qualities, rank and power. For example, the name ��Jesus�� (= Heb.
��Joshua��) means ��Saviour.�� The instruction of the angel to
Joseph was that the child Mary bears should be named ��Jesus, for
he will save his people from their sins�� (Matt. 1:21). The name
��Emmanuel�� (Heb.) ��means, God is with us�� (Matt. 1:23). The
title ��the Christ�� (= Heb. ��Messiah��) means the ��anointed.�� Jesus
was the long awaited Saviour and Deliverer. The ��Lord�� means
Let us now discuss the names of the Limba Supreme Being to
discover what light they shed on their concept of God.
4.2.1 Kanu Masala
The origin and meaning of any name in Limba culture is crucial.110
The personal name of the Limba Supreme Being is Kanu Masala. The
first word, ��Kanu�� is believed to have come from the Biriwa and
Safroko Limba peoples (Finnegan 1967:107).111 Two theories exist
about the origin and meaning of the name Kanu.
The first theory is a story about a caring king (God) who was
living side by side with humankind, and who fled because of the
increasing demands of his people:
There once lived a king who had a few subjects. He one
day called to assure them that they could come with
whatever problems they had and he would help to solve
them. The king indeed kept his word by solving all
degrees of problems that were brought to him. He used
to meet with his subjects in person to fulfill their
requests. As the people began to increase in number,
their problems also increased. The king, who lived in
a place where he could be easily reached, then said to
himself: ��Now that my subjects are increasing rapidly,
and their problems and requests continue to rise
immensely. They have left me with no time and privacy
of my own. If things continue this way, these people

109Cf. the name ��Emmanuel�� (Heb.) ��means, God is with us�� (Matt. 1:23).
110This perspective is shared by many African peoples (Metuh 1981:19-21;
Awolalu 1979:10).
111Cf. Ottenberg (1988a:441).
will send me to my grave before my appointed time.�� So
one evening when most of his subjects had gone to bed,
the king moved from his usual place to an unknown
location. The following day, some of his subjects
went, as usual, to meet him with their problems.
Unfortunately this time, their king was not there to
help them as usual. As they were returning home
disappointedly, they came across other subjects who
were also going to see the king with their problems.
Likewise the second group could not find the king.
Later, when both groups were together in the town, they
all said, ��Kanu niõ ka dethiya�� (��let us go and find
him��). Then the search for the lost king began. The
people looked on tree tops, caves, deep streams, thick
bushes and forests. Occasionally, offerings and
sacrifices were made to plead with the king to return.
All their efforts went in vain. The king never
returned. Therefore, the subjects called the invisible
king ��Kanu�� (��the one we all continue to search for��).
The Limba believe that God is hidden in some place
where he cannot be easily seen or reached.112
This story is also one of the stories that some Limba use to
explain Kanu��s transcendence.
The second theory is theological. The name Kanu is:
A lengthened word for Kan which means the sun. This
does not imply that Limba worship the sun. It is just
a matter of comparison between God and the sun. As the
sun is felt during the day by everyone, so also is the
presence of God felt in every life. Whether you like
it or not, the sun shines during the day on good and
bad people alike, likewise God��s goodness is to all
people, to believers as well as unbelievers. As the
sun is bright and clear so also is God��s magnificence
and glory. Nothing is hidden from the sun, this is
also true with God who sees and knows all. Literally,
the name Kanu means ��like the sun.��113
This theory about the origin of the name Kanu begins with the

112David Kallon (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
113Hamusa Kargbo (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
etymology of the word Kanu.114 God is likened to the sun which is
above.115 The Limba are careful to specify that they do not
worship the sun as a deity.116 The likening of God to the sun is
rather a way of explaining their perception of the nature and
activity of God using a familiar human experience. If then, the
sun is not a manifestation of Kanu; it is rather used as a type.
Hence the literal meaning of Kanu is ��like the sun.�� The Limba
call God Kanu, because of the striking similarities between God
and the sun. Some of the attributes of Kanu are found in these
Just as the existence of the sun is not disputed, the same is
true of God��s existence. Attempts to prove God��s existence117 are
rare in Limba society. As with other African peoples, the
existence of God is taken as a matter of course118 by the Limba.
It is rare to find a Limba who does not believe in the existence

114Smith (1966:3) has cautioned that ��Etymological methods are not invariably
helpful and indeed may lead astray.�� As truthful as this statement may be, the
etymological explanation is of theological importance to the Limba and throws
light on some of the attributes of God.
115Finnegan (1965:107) argued that the Limba do not ��have any explicit theology
about Kanu.�� The theological ideas expressed in this etymological explanation
prove otherwise.
116Similarly, Parrinder (1962:34) states: ��An apparent identification of God
with the sun has been thought to exist among peoples in the northern parts of
Ghana and Nigeria. However, although they use a word for the Supreme Being
which means ��the sun��, they are not sun-worshippers���� The same can be said in
many African cultures. Among some East and West African peoples, the sun ��is
such a potent representation of God that�� he is ��simply named after it or in
reference to it�� (Magesa 1997:59).
117Theologians have tried to prove God��s existence through the following
arguments: cosmological- that because there is wisdom and order in the
universe there is a first Cause who planned it; teleological- that because
there are significant ends and not accidental conclusions there is Master
Design; rational- that because the universe moves with reasonableness there is
a Mind behind it; moral- that because man feels there are some things he
��ought�� to do there is a law Giver who put that moral sense in us;
ontological- that because the idea of God exists there must be something
behind the idea; human- that because humankind seeks to strive upwards often
with considerable sacrifice there is a God who is Lord of this history.
Although these arguments do have a cumulative effect and may bolster the
reasonableness of faith, they are not sufficient to prove God��s existence.
of God. The existence of God is, to Limba traditionalists,
unquestionable119 and should not be debated.120
Further, the Limba sees the indiscriminate attribute of the sun
as a portrait of God��s character. The sun does not discriminate.
It shines on everyone irrespective of his/her status or beliefs.
In the Limba view, God gives his blessing and grace impartially.
Finally, as the light of the sun makes it possible for one to
distinguish things, so God shows the Limba how to discern between
right and wrong. Kanu is the light that guides the Limba on the
right path. Discerning between right and wrong is important for
the harmony and continuation of the community.
In the OT, like in Limba tradition, God is likened to the sun:
��For the LORD God is a sun and shield�� (Psalm 84:11). In the NT,
the basic assumption of God��s existence is shared by scripture
(if not always by Christians). On the basis of Hebrews 11:6,
Erickson (1992:82-83) states ��that scripture does not argue for
his existence. It simply affirms it or, more often, merely
assumes it��Thus existence is considered a most basic aspect of
his nature.�� God��s indiscriminate character is also a vital
Christian teaching, for he ��makes his sun rise on the evil and on
the good�� (Matt. 5:45).
Let us now move on to discuss the other half of the Limba name

118Cf. Awolalu (1979:3).
119Sawyerr (1970:8) states: ��God��s existence is never questioned�� by the
120My attempts to question some of my interviewees about their belief in the
existence of God were met with strong resentment. One of my interviewees
remarked, ��If you do not believe that the sun exists then you are out of your
mind. Worse than that, if you do not believe that God exists you are a
��kaf��ri�� (Kalawa Conteh Interviewed July 2002: Kamabai). Kaf��ri is an Arabic
word to denote an unbeliever or Atheist.
for the Supreme Being ��Masala��.121 This part of the name is
believed to have come from the Thonko and Sela Limba peoples.
There are three theories about the origin of the word Masala.
One theory is that the word Masala is a Limbanised form of the
word Allah (the name of the Muslim God). Another theory is that
Masala is borrowed from the Kuranko122 word Mansa (��Chief��). The
final theory is that Masala is a Limbanised form of the Temne
word Masaba (��Supreme��).123 This is perhaps the most probable
origin; the generally accepted meaning of Masala is ��supreme.��
Therefore, Kanu Masala means ��God Supreme.��
The AOG missionaries to the Limba adopted the use of the name
Kanu Masala for the Judeo-Christian God. As a result, it is
still used by the NPLC. In songs,124 prayers, preaching and
conversations, Christian Limbas continue to use the name Kanu
Masala for God. It is because of God��s supremacy that NPLC
members in one of their original choruses sing: Kanu Masala yan
th]n dungu dayina yah (��God Supreme I give all of myself to
you��). Most Limba Christians and Christian Limbas simply use
Kanu for short and it is the name used commonly in Limba circles.
A majority of ��Christian missionaries in their teachings and
translations of scripture have adopted African names of God��

121The Nuba people of Sudan also refer to God as Masala (��the great Mother��)
(Smith 1966:215; Mbiti 1970a:334).
122The Kuranko are another ethnic of Sierra Leone. As the closest neighbours in
their homeland, they are also one of the ethnic groups with which the Limba
have intermingled.
123The Islamic, Kuranko and Temne sources show how foreign influences have
impacted Limba culture. The Temne full name of God is Kuru Masaba (��God
Supreme��). Like the Limba, the Yoruba refer to God as Olokun ��Supreme�� and
the Akan also call him Nyame ��The Supreme, Omnipotent Being�� (Setiloane
124The title of the Limba hymn book is õaluõa õa ka Kanu Ka Hulimba Ha ��Songs of
God in Limba.��
(Smith 1966:34).125 They ��proclaimed the name of Jesus Christ.
But they used the names of the God who was and is already known
by African peoples���� (Mbiti 1980:818). Sanneh (2001:114) writes
that ��the adoption by missionaries of African names for God was
key to the effective transmission of the Gospel. It implied the
abandonment of arguments of European ascendancy and, too, of the
moral logic of permanent colonial and missionary tutelage.��
In the LXX, the often used word Theos (��God��) a translation of
the Hebrew word Elohim (��God��) was also used for the gods of
other nations, ��just as it was the standard word for the gods of
the Greeks and Romans of NT times�� (Achtemeier 1996:735).
4.2.2 Kanu kabekede/wobekede/kathinthi
Kanu Masala (��God Supreme��) is believed to live above the sky126
just as the sun, and in that regard he is also called Kanu
kabekede/wobekede/kathinthi (��God above��).127
There is a story about ��Why Kanu is now up above in the sky.��128
In the old days Kanu, humans and animals lived together on earth.

125Missionaries to the Katonda and Banganda peoples adopted the local names for
God (Parrinder 1962:35).
126In some African culture the name for God is sometimes the same as the word
for sky. For example the Temne God Kuru Masaba the prefix kuru means ��sky��
(Sawyerr 1970:4). The Mende God õgew] is likely derived from the words õgele
w]l]õg] ��the sky is great�� (Sawyerr 1970:4) or õgele ��sky�� w]] ��long ago�� a
combination that means ��In the sky, from long ago�� (Sawyerr (1968:6). See also
Gittins (1987:49). The Supreme Being among the Tiv people is A]ndo which is
the name for the ��above and firmament�� (Downes 1971:17). The Nupe refer to God
as the Etsu na da sama (��The God who is in the sky��). In Nuer Religion, the
Supreme Being Kwoth is the Spirit who lives in the sky (Evans-Pritchard
1956:5). In Yoruba, Olorun means ��Lord of the sky or of the heavens�� (Lucas
127Cf. Finnegan (1965:107).
128The ��withdrawal theory of God�� is common among the Africans. Some ethnic
groups in Sierra Leone, ��Ivory coast, Ghana, Togo, Dahomey and Nigeria, at
least, say that God was formerly so near to men that they grew over-familiar
with him�� (Parrinder 1969:31).
Because the animals and the elements (such as fire and water)
kept quarrelling and involving God in their disputes, and because
they refused to heed his advice to stop, Kanu became angry and
went to live above (Finnegan 1965:107). This is how the story
The deer and python were in search of food in the
forest when they bumped into each other. The python
asked the deer ��What are you looking for?�� The deer
replied that it was looking for food and the python
said you will be to me the food that you have come to
look for. The deer pleaded for its life to no avail.
Then it ran to Kanu for help. The python went after it
and they both presented their cases to Kanu. Kanu
accused the python of starting trouble and advised
the python to let the deer go free. The python refused
to listen to Kanu and seized the deer and swallowed it.
Some time later the python disturbed an army of ants
and the ants followed it to eat it up. Like the deer
the python ran to Kanu again Kanu could not prevent the
ants from eating the python. In like manner, the fire
claimed that the ants disturbed it and it licked them
all up. The water claimed that fire disturbed it and
it ate up the fire. Because of this unending fighting
Kanu became upset and went to live above the sky.129
The belief that God lives above in the sky, out of reach of
humankind suggests that ��He is obviously a transcendent Being��
(Sawyerr 1970:9).130 The transcendence of Kanu portrays his
supremacy over any other spiritual being (Finnegan 1965:107).131
Kanu is not only transcendent in terms of time and space, but he
also transcends human understanding. He is conceived of as being
��incomprehensible�� (Finnegan 1967:19).
The Limba believe that God��s transcendence is appropriate and
necessary so that God can effectively watch over his creation and

129Finnegan (1967:231-33).
130See also Finnegan (1965:108).
131Cf. Mbiti (1970a:15).
seek the interests of his people. It is also necessary so that
his people might, in turn, focus on him: ��...he lives far off in
the sky overseeing the everyday activities of every individual on
the earth below. God is in the sky so that we can focus on him
and not be distracted by the troubles of the world around us.��132
It is a generally accepted concept that Kanu ��lives in the sky,
and his spirit is present everywhere to influence the activity of
his creation, especially the activities of the Limba.��133 His
transcendence is not a concern to Limba traditionalists because
they maintain a strong belief that God takes part in everyday
human affairs. In other words although God is conceived as being
physically out of reach, he is accessible through worship,
natural manifestations and his establishment of and participation
in human activities. Thus Kanu is both transcendent and
immanent.134 God��s transcendence ��is a difficult attribute to
grasp, and one which must be balanced with God��s immanence. The
two attributes are paradoxically complimentary: God is ��far��
(transcendent), and men cannot reach him; but God is also ��near��
(immanent), and he comes close to man�� (Mbiti 1970a:12).
However, the association of God with the sky and the fact that
although God is far away from humankind, he is still reachable
are two vital components of the African concept of God (Sawyerr
In Judeo-Christian theology the transcendence of God is displayed
in the concept that God dwells in heaven (Erickson 1992:27).
Shamayim (��heaven(s)/sky��), ouranos (��heaven/sky��) is the abode

132Santigie Sesay (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
133Kabba M. Bangura (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
134In ATR, the transcendence of God is considered in several ways: In terms of
Time, Space, Distance, and Outreach, worship and exaltation, God��s
limitlessness, human��s understanding of God and God��s supreme status in
relation to other beings, divinities, objects, and human institutions (Mbiti
1970a:12-16). God��s immanence is generally conceived of as God��s involvement
in the affairs of the African (Mbiti 1970a:16-18).
of God. Rehab talking about Israel��s God says: ��The LORD your
God is indeed God in heaven above�� (Josh. 2:11). Moses
encouraged Israel to acknowledge and take to heart that ��the LORD
is God in heaven above�� (Deut. 4:39). At Jesus�� birth the angels
praised God: ��Glory to God in the highest heaven�� (Luke 2:14).
When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, a voice came from
heaven (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11). Jesus taught his disciples to
pray ��Our Father in heaven�� (Matt. 6:9). He spoke of ��your
father who is in heaven�� (Matt. 5:16, 45: 6:1; 7:11; 18:14).
Like the Limba, Christians balance their belief in God��s
transcendence with their belief in his immanence. Although the
Judeo-Christian God lives in heaven he ��is not far from each of
us�� (Acts 17:27b).
4.2.3 Kanu Wopothi
It is no longer a fact that all Limba traditionalists believe
only in a single high God that lives in the sky.135 Some
juxtapose their belief in Kanu Wobekede with a belief in a God
below, whom they call Kanu Wopothi (��God below��).136 Kanu Wopothi
is not perceived of as a personal being, but is used as a general
category to describe any evil spirit.137 In other words, there is

135As suggested by Finnegan (1965:107).
136The Bakuta people of the Congo speak of two Supreme Gods: Nzambi above and
Nzambi below who are often regarded as twins and they act heroic roles in many
stories (Parrinder 1969:43).
137Cf., Finnegan (1967:274-75). Finnegan states: ��Limba do not generally speak
of Kanu below, but occasionally this term is used (especially in Kamabai, I
think) to cover all the spiritual agencies other than Kanu (above)—i.e.
spirits, the dead and, especially, witches. This terminology may possibly be
an effect of mission teaching�� (1967:274-75. Cf. 236). The statement that
��Limba do not generally speak of Kanu below, but occasionally�� may be true in
the 1960s and perhaps in the early 1970s. This is no longer the case in the
past three decades. As a Limba growing up in Sierra Leone, I was familiar with
the phrase Kanu below before even starting my secondary schooling. The concept
played a vital role during my fieldwork as will be shown in the discussion of
Non-Ancestral spirits.
a Supreme God who lives in the sky and who is considered to be
the good God, and there is a God who resides on earth, who is
held responsible for all the evil and mischievous occurrences in
the universe. There are stories that make references to both
Kanu above and Kanu below for example, ��Kanu gave food to the
Limba�� (Finnegan 1967:235-38) and ��Kanu above and Kanu below��
(Finnegan 1967:274-76).
The Judeo-Christian God is acknowledged as being ��God in heaven
above and on earth below�� (Deut. 4:39; Josh. 2:11). This speaks
not so much of a perceived residence, but of God��s domain. God
controls both ��heaven above�� and the ��earth below�� (Gen. 24:3;
Luke 10:21; Isa. 66:1; Matt. 5:34-35 and Acts 7:49). While
Christians do not acknowledge a ��God below�� they do identify a
personal force responsible for much of the evil in the world:
Jesus referred to Satan as the prince and ruler of this world
(John 12:31, 14:30).
4.2.4 Kanu Masaraka
Another name of Kanu that is used somewhat less frequently is
Kanu Masaraka138 (��God of Sacrifice�� or ��God who accepts
Sacrifice��).139 This name is probably derived from the word
saraka (��sacrifice��), and is often used to distinguish between
Kanu above and Kanu below. Kanu Wobekede is Kanu Masaraka who
accepts sacrifice (saraka) while Kanu Wopothi does not deserve
sacrifice.140 Sacrifice is the primary means through which the
Limba stay connected with Kanu. An in depth discussion of this

138Cf. Mbiti (1970a:332). However Mbiti misspells the word as ��Masaranka��. The
correct spelling is ��Masaraka��.
139Similarly, because the Abaluyia sacrifice to God, they refer to him as ��the
One to whom sacred rites and sacrifices are made (or paid)�� Mbiti (1970a:179).
140Rev. MacFoday Kamara (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown). Gifts offered to
Kanu Wopothi are referred to as kudamaõ (��offering��).
issue is found below under the topic ��Worshipping Kanu.��
While it seems that this aspect of God��s character may be a point
of contact which might build much understanding between
traditionalists and Christians, it has instead become one of the
most contentious issues between the two groups. On the one hand,
the NPLC condemns sacrifices made by traditionalists on the basis
that they are offered ��to demons and not to God�� (1 Cor. 10:
20a). On the other hand, they preach the death of Christ as a
sacrifice made by God for the redemption of humankind. Limba
traditionalists, in turn, find Christian teaching about the
sacrificial death of Christ to be strange and contradictory:
They tell us that Jesus was offered by God as a
sacrifice for our sins. Then the very missionaries
were the ones who were condemning the olden practice of
human sacrifice. If human sacrifice is ungodly, why
did God kill his son for us? I will find it very
difficult to believe that Jesus died for our sins.141
Like in Limba religion, God is also presented as a God of
sacrifice in the Judeo-Christian tradition. God requires
sacrifice as a form of worship (Exod. 20:24) and requires blood
sacrifice for the propitiation of sin (Heb. 9:22)142 In the OT,
both requirements were met through the sacrificial system in the
Temple. In the NT, the propitiation of sin was accomplished
through the sacrifice of Christ (1 John 2:2) and believers are
called to offer their lives as ��living sacrifices�� (Rom. 12:1) as
an act of worship.

141Yelie Conteh (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
142Thompson (1974:34) argues that the OT prophets express an attitude that
��sacrifice had never been part of Yahweh��s original requirement�� and that this
attitude leads to the conclusion ��that sacrifices were not originally offered
to Yahweh in Israel�� (1974:35). His arguments, though interesting, are
4.3 Attributes of Kanu
An attribute is a quality regarded as a natural or typical part
of someone or something. The attributes of God then are the
qualities which constitute his nature and are characteristic of
who God is. These attributes comprise his intrinsic, eternal and
moral characteristics,143 and should not be confused with his
activities.144 God��s attributes are not humankind��s conceptions
projected upon him (Erickson 1992:79), but are eternal and cannot
be separated from his being and essence. We have already dealt
with the attributes of transcendence and immanence in our
discussion of the names for Kanu. We shall proceed to deal with
the rest of Kanu��s attributes.
4.3.1 Omnipotence
The Limba use two ascriptions to describe the omnipotence of God:
Basembe wo (��The Powerful One��)145 and Womandi wo (��The Great One/
The Almighty��).146 God is the one to whom absolute power and
might are attributed.147 Kanu is who he is, and can do what he
chooses because of his omnipotence. Ultimate responsibility for
everything that happens from birth until death is attributed to
God.148 Kanu is considered the ultimate cause of a person��s
fortunes or misfortunes in life and death, the determiner149 of

143See Mbiti (1970a:xiii; 1989a: 30-38).
144Some scholars have discussed God��s activity of Creation as an attribute
(Awolalu 1979:13-16; Metuh 1981:33-34, 40).
145The Akan and the Ashanti, describe God as ��the Powerful One�� (Mbiti
1970a:9); the Yoruba call God ��Alagbara gbogbo�� which means ��All-powerful��
(Parrinder 1966:228) and the Ng]mbe elders say ��Anjombe�� is ��All-powerful��
(Davidson 1966:167).
146In Yoruba Olodumare means ��the Almighty�� (Mbiti 1970a:8).
147Sawyerr (1970:5) says that the African God is ��a God of Power and is the
ultimate source of all power.��
148Kabba Bangura (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
149Another meaning for God��s name Nyame in Akan is ��Determiner�� (Setiloane
the number of children born in a household, of all events and
even of the existence of the world (Finnegan 1967:19).
Therefore, the Limba depend on Kanu for every aspect of their
daily endeavours and for their welfare.
In the Limba worldview, every plan is made and every human
achievement is reached ��th]k] ba Kanu�� (��by the grace of God��).
Humankind lives and exists ��by the grace of Kanu�� (Finnegan
1967:19). No human effort will ever succeed meme Kanu tha me (��If
Kanu does not agree��). His ��stamp of approval is indispensable
to make any activity effective. Even when all necessary actions
have been taken ��to have a good farming season, to hunt many
animals and to rise to positions of prominence, if Kanu is not
consulted for his approval and blessing����150 human efforts are in
Anything that happens in a person��s life is attributed to the
will of God that is why the Limba say, ��mani moka Kanu�� (��it is
God��s doing��).151 This does not imply that God is held
responsible for evil or for unfortunate happenings it simply
infers that God has allowed these situations to happen.
Therefore during times of serious problems or disappointments the
Limba say ��yaõ piy] mafeõ ma ka Kanu�� (��I will leave everything in
the hands of God��). There is a cause behind every problem or
disaster that befalls humankind. When something out of the
ordinary happens, the Limba often say bagbonte (��not for
nothing��), which means that there is something responsible for
the problem. God��s overriding power surpasses that of any being,

150Santigie Sesay (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown). A similar ideology is
found among the Yorubas: things that receive Olodumare��s approval are easy to
do and the things that do not receive Olodumare��s sanction are difficult to do
(Awolalu 1979:14).
151Cf. Magesa (1997:41).
natural or supernatural. He ��has no equal.��152 He knows what is
right for the Limba. Kanu is ultimately responsible for each
person��s ��life and status�� for everything in creation.��153 He is
��the ultimate cause and justification of all things�� (Finnegan
1965:107). The Limba traditionalist sees the omnipotence of God
as the source of all his other attributes. God��s omnipotence is
the basis upon which his other attributes are discussed.
God��s omnipotence is also evident in Judeo-Christian tradition.
In Genesis 17:1, the Judeo-Christian God is called as El-Shaddi
(��God Almighty��). It is seen in human life and personality,154 in
his ability to overcome apparently insurmountable problems155 and
in his control of the course of human history156 (Erickson
1992:85-86). There are overwhelming Biblical references to God
as the possessor and source of power.
It is also clear that Christians share a belief that humankind
lives by God��s grace. Grace is God��s unmerited favour and we are
what we are because of that favour. Paul says ��But by the grace
of God I am what I am�� and he attributes his success to ��the
grace of God that is with�� him (1 Cor. 15:10). This all-powerful
God calls for humankind��s total submission to his will. Even
Jesus submitted to the will of God (Matt. 26:42; Mark 14:36 and
Luke 22:42).
4.3.2 Omnipresence
The Limba say Kanu kin kame kame (��God is everywhere��). He is

152Rev. MacFoday Kamara (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
153Hamusa Kargbo (June 2002: Freetown). For many Africans, ��life, and the power
that is life or existence, flows from God�� (Magesa 1997:47).
154Cf. Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15.
155Cf. Jer. 32:15-17; Matt. 19:26.
156Acts 17:26.
like the Kono God Yataa (��the one whom you meet everywhere��).157
The Limba believe that Kanu manifests himself to them during
times of worship and religious gatherings. They strongly assume
his presence at all sacrifices. He is there with them. The
omnipresence of Kanu is also seen in connection with ��natural
occurrences such as thunder and lightening.��158 The Limba, like
many other Sierra Leonean people are especially afraid of
curses/��swears�� relating to thunder and lightening.
Similarly, in the Judeo-Christian tradition God is not subject to
the limitations of time and space and ��there is no place where he
cannot be found�� (Erickson 1992:84). God declares ��Do I not fill
heaven and earth?�� (Jer. 23:24). Christians also believe that
God is especially present when they gather to worship him. Jesus
said ��For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there
among them�� (Matt. 18:20) and later commissioned his disciples
saying ��I am with you always, to the end of the age�� (Matt.
4.3.3 Omniscience
Because Kanu is omnipotent, he is also omniscient. He is ��The
One Who Knows All��159 (Wo k]the wo / Wo hakiyando). He knows and
��understands the thoughts of everyone on earth��and he knows what
is right for us.��160 God��s omniscience means that his wisdom and
knowledge are limitless and that even if we may know ��some
things, it is only God who knows all. No one else is worthy of,
or is given, the attribute of omniscience�� (Mbiti 1970a:3).
Often it is because of our imperfect and incomplete knowledge

157Parsons (1964:165; 1966:261).
158Kabba Bangura (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
159Other African peoples like the Akan refer to God as ��He who knows all�� and
the Bacongo say ��God knows all�� (Mbiti 1970a:3).
that we affirm God��s omniscience. There is a common view in West
Africa that originated from Nigeria that says: ��No one knows
tomorrow.�� You can make your plans ahead but from a human point
of view you cannot tell exactly how things will turn out; in the
final analysis only God knows. As a result of this limitation of
imperfect and incomplete human knowledge, the Limba are
accustomed to making decisions and plans ��by the grace of God��
(��th]k] ba Kanu��). Because of God��s omniscience, he knows what is
right and suitable for us. Kanu not only knows, he also sees,
for ��nothing is hidden from the sun, this is also true with God
who sees and knows all.��161 There is nothing hidden from God.
Everything is under God��s observation. ��God sees whatever we do��
(Parsons 1964:165). Like the sun, God ��beams into the entire
universe�� (Mbiti 1970a:4; 1989a:31). The Limba, like the Kono
and Yoruba, believe that ��wrong-doers cannot escape the judgment
of God�� (Mbiti 1989a:31). In this regard, the Limba when they
have been wronged and are unable to discover the person who has
wronged them, say ��Kanu k]tena yi koni penki�� (��God sees you, you
will meet him) which idiomatically means, ��I did not see you
doing the act but God saw you and you will meet him in judgment.��
The omniscience of God is also central to Judeo-Christian
theology. ��We are completely transparent before God...He sees
and knows us totally�� (Erickson 1992:85). There is nothing which
escapes God��s knowledge. Man cannot hide himself from God (Psalm
139:7, 13; Jer.23:24) and even what may be hidden from humankind
is laid bare before God (Heb 4:12-13).

160Santigie Sesay (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
161Hamusa Kargbo (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
4.4 Activities of Kanu
4.4.1 Kanu the Creator
Like most Africans, the Limba ��attribute the creation of the
universe to God�� (Sawyerr 1968:13). In that respect Kanu is
known as, Wolehine Kafay wo (��The One Who Made The Universe��).
To the Limba there is no one with such power to have created the
world except Kanu.162 The Limba word lehinia (��creation��) ��means
not so much ��creation from nothing�� as ��fixing or ordering��
(Finnegan 1965:107). Apart from the belief that they ��are
created by God��163 for which reason they refer to him as
Wolehine wo/wameti/ mina (��The One Who Made Humankind/Us��), the
Limba believe that they were God��s primary creation, followed by
the different clans and races of the universe164 (Finnegan
1965:107; 1967:259). For the Limba God did not only create them
he owns them in that respect Kanu is further referred to as
Wobile mina (��Our Owner��).165
Kanu, as creator, is ��the ultimate cause and justification of all
things�� including ��animals, the palm trees, and the bushes��
(Finnegan 1965:107). Limba traditionalists believe that ��God is
the source of all life, human and non-human�� (Sawyerr 1968:12),
everything seen and unseen, animate and inanimate.166 In some
prayers God is thanked for the creation of the river, forest,

162In most African societies, ��creation is the most widely acknowledged work of
God�� (Mbiti 1989a:39).
163Samuel Koroma (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown). See also Finnegan
(1965:107; 1967:238, 259).
164In Africa, myths and accounts about the order of creation vary widely (Mbiti
165Similarly the Nupe refer to God as Tsoci ��The Owner of us�� (Setiloane
1986:49). The Tonga refer to God as, Syatwaakwe ��The Owner of his things��
(HopGood 1966:74). Similarly, the Ngoni call God ��the Owner of all things��
(Mbiti 1970a:72).
166Cf. Colossians 1:17. In ATR there is abundant information about God as the
mountains and trees, and for the benefits which come from them.
In such prayers, God is thanked for the fish in the river, for
wild food and medicine in the forest, for the awesomeness of
mountains and hills. The Limba see nature as representing God��s
creative power and provision for their needs. The belief that
God is the creator implies that God exists and that he is ��the
fount and apex of all existence�� (Sawyerr 1968:12). That is why
in both African religion and Christianity, God is ��the object of
worship, praise, and obedience�� (Erickson 1992:125).
In the Bible the creative work of God plays a prominent role
(Erickson 1992:121). In Genesis 1:1 ��God created the heavens and
the earth.�� Unlike the Limba belief, the Biblical account of
creation shows God creating ex nihilo167 (��creation out of
nothing��). ��God created humankind��male and female he created
them�� (Gen. 1:27). In Genesis 3:19, God declares ��I made the
earth, and created humankind upon it�� (Isaiah 45:12). Moses told
Israel ��that God created human beings on the earth�� (Deut. 4:32).
John 1:3 asserts that ��All things came to being through�� God. In
that regard, we can say ��there are a connection and an affinity��
among the creatures of God (Erickson 1992:125). We are ��at base,
one with nature, for we are members of the same family�� (Erickson
1992:125). Therefore, we should have concern for all of creation
��to preserve and guard and develop what God has made�� (Erickson

creator and his relationship with his creatures (Mbiti 1970a:48-177).
167The concept of creation ex nihilo is also reported among several African
groups (Mbiti 1989a:39-40).
4.4.2 Kanu the Chief and Judge
Because of his outstanding power and his ability to rule well and
to dispense justice without prejudice,168 Kanu is referred to as
Gbaku (��Chief��),169 Gbaku wunthe (��The Only Chief)170 and Gbaku
Womandi (��The Great Chief��).171 Chieftaincy is the greatest
institution and ��most Limba would find it difficult to conceive
of social life�� without it (Finnegan 1967:9). It is by the
chief��s authority that the people in his jurisdiction ��carry on
their daily lives or hold their respective position�� (Finnegan
1967:9-10). As in the case of the human chieftaincy, the Limba
would find it very difficult ��to conceive of social life�� and
��carry on their daily lives�� without God��s rule and provision.
As a chief, Kanu is always thought of as ��a political head who
performs the functions of a judge, and maintains justice and
equity.�� 172 Among other things, a Limba chief173 must be able to
��cool people��s hearts,�� ��Know everything that happens in the
country�� and should be kind, ��generous and continually helping
people�� by looking ��after orphans and those with no relations and
help those who are poor.�� It is implied in one story that the
purpose of the chieftaincy is to look after orphans and the sick
(Finnegan 1967:239). For this reason God has been referred to as
Kanu Wol] hoy (��God is good��). Kanu does not only do good to the
poor and needy, he is also the one to whom the marginalized and
the victims of injustice turn in times of distress. When taken

168For information on the governing work of God as chief/king and judge, see
Mbiti (1970a:71-78).
169The Mende refer to God as Maha-Ngew], ��God the Chief�� (Harris 1966:278). The
Nupe call him Etsu, ��chief�� (Sawyerr 1970:6). One of the titles the Ambo used
for God is Pamba, ��chief�� (Dymond 1966:141).
170The Mende refer to the Supreme Being as Maha-yilei, ��The one Chief�� (Harris
171Another title for God in Mende is Mahawa, ��the Great Chief�� (Sawyerr 1970:5;
Harris 1966:278).
172Santigie Sesay (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
173See Finnegan (1965:20-35) for details.
advantage of, the Limba are quick to say Yaõ peneni ka Kanu (��I
leave my case with God��). God as a chief fits this profile.
Most Limba chiefs I have met are not shy to tell you that the
ability to rule well is a task that only God can handle
perfectly. The village/town and section chiefs who, as well as
ruling, also judge cases will tell you that interpreting the
traditional by-laws and giving right judgements is not easy
without a conscious dependence on God��s wisdom.
The role of Kanu as Chief and Judge is similar to that of the
Judeo-Christian God. In the OT, God is the Everlasting King (Ps.
10:16) who rules over creation (Ps. 47:7). As ruler of the
universe, God cares for people (Ps. 145) and for other creatures
(Ps. 147). In the NT, Jesus is described with royal terminology
(Rev. 2:5; 3:21; 4:14; 17:14; 19:15-16).
God is not only the ruler of the earth, he is also the Judge
(Isa. 33:22; Heb. 12:23). God is the righteous and
indiscriminate judge (1 Sa. 24:12, 15) who grants justice to the
poor and needy (Jer. 22:16; Luke 18:7). In the NT, God has
ordained Jesus as judge of the ��living and the dead�� (Acts
4.4.3 Kanu the Teacher and Adviser
The Limba believe that the skills and abilities they possess and
by which they make their livelihood or perform religious
requirements are learned from God, Bathanani iõ Bamaõ wo (��The
Teacher and Adviser��).174 Traditionalists believe that the trade
skills that their forebears passed on to them and the present
skills and abilities that they now have were all given by God.
In stories,175 it was Kanu who ��showed the Limba how to grow rice,
tap palm wine, make sacrifice, exercise their strength, and cook
their food�� (Finnegan 1965:108).176
Like Limba traditionalists, most NPLC members attribute their
knowledge and skills to God. In the Bible, God is a Teacher and
Adviser (Ps. 25:4-5). God is the one who imparts knowledge (Ps.
94:10; Isa. 40:14c) good judgement (Ps. 119:66), and skills (Ps.
4.5 Anthropomorphic attributes of Kanu
The concept of Kanu as father is currently popular among the
Limba. It appears that this may be a recent development, as
Finnegan earlier observed that ��Kanu is never addressed as
��father���� (Finnegan 1965:107).
Kanu is seen as a male figure and is now often referred to as
��Our Father�� (Fandantu/Handantu).177 The Limba understanding of
God��s fatherhood is influenced by the role of the father in their
family structure. The father is looked upon as the ultimate
authority and there are several ideal qualities that belong to
him, for instance, the giving of life, love, faithfulness,
continued care, and protection, and the wisdom that guides and
instructs.178 The notion of God��s fatherhood indicates an
intimacy that can be compared to that which exists between a

174Samuel Koroma (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
175Finnegan (1967:235-39, 246-47) contain the stories of Kanu teaching and
advising the Limba how to cultivate their culture.
176Likewise the Tiv, the Kakwa and the Acholi consider God as the ��Teacher�� who
showed humankind how to cultivate food and all the essentials of life (Mbiti
177Santigie Sesay (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
178In ATR, ��God is father in terms of his position as creator and provider��
(Mbiti 1970a:92). See also (Mbiti 1989a:48-49).
parent and child.179 The Limba strongly believe that God has
��parental compassion for his creatures��180 and ��if disobedient
children as we are, make the appropriate ceremonial sacrifice for
restoration, pardon and forgiveness, no doubt, God will have pity
and restore us.��181 In that regard God is known as Kanu wo peneni
biya (��God who forgives people��) and Kanu kin kinikini (��God has
pity��). Because Limba society is still dominated by male
chauvinistic ideals, the consideration of God as a female figure
seems very remote. Kanu as a male or father figure is
comfortably accepted without reservation in Limba communities.
In the Bible, as in Limba tradition, the father��s love and
blessing (Gen. 27:27-40; 49) are the basis for the image of God,
the Father of Israel (Exod. 4:22; Deut. 14:1; 32:6; Hos. 11:1;
Jer. 3:4, 19; 31:9; Ps. 103:13). In the NT, ��father�� is used in
most cases to refer to God (Achtemeier 1996:333). ��This
Christian practice probably derives from the intimate term for
father that Jesus used to address God (Heb. and Aram. abba; Mark
14:36; cf. Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6)�� (Achtemeier 1996:333). Jesus
did not only refer to God as ��Father,�� but he also taught his
followers that God was their father (Matt. 5:16, 45; 6:1; 7:11
and 18:14), and to address God as father (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2).
4.6 Worshipping Kanu
Worship is the way in which the Limba ��stay connected with the
Supernatural��182 and continue their existing intimate relationship
with God. The Limba also worship to achieve hu/kuthebeõ lima (��a

179Cf. Mbiti (1970a:93-94, 212).
180Rev. MacFoday Kamara (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
181Rev. MacFoday Kamara (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
182Rev. MacFoday Kamara (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
peaceful heart��)183 because living at peace with the Supernatural
and the world around you, requires inner peace. A mind that is
divorced of greed, envy, hate and bitterness of any kind is
considered peaceful. Outward peace and health come as a result
of inner peace and a cool spirit. In particular, God is
worshipped for who he is and for what he continues to do for
The primary method through which the Limba worship God is the
offering of sacrifices (Saraka). Pouring libations (Agbumandi),
invocations (Kama-gbonkilitande), prayer (Kuramine) and singing
(Kamaluõa) are all part of the sacrifice liturgy and ritual.184
It should be noted that although libation usually takes place as
part of a complete sacrifice, it can stand alone as worship in a
few instances, such as at the ground-breaking for the
construction of a new building, when dedicating a house/building,
at state functions, and in most cases when welcoming a newly
wedded person into a family. These ceremonies provide continuity
for the survival of the community. Also, through these
ceremonies, believers are reminded that they all share a common
As mentioned above, sacrifice also plays a role in Judeo-
Christian worship. In the Old Testament, ��sacrifice was the
principle act in Israel��s cult�� (De Vaux 1997:415).185 Because

183Cf. Finnegan (1965:111).
184Santigie Sesay (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown). For the types, the
history and the origin of Israel��s sacrifice and ritual see De Vaux (1997:415-
185Thompson (1974:19-35) argues that the sacrificial cult of the Hebrews was
not originally intended for the worship of Yahweh, but was a primitive
religion which was eventually incorporated into the Yahwhistic cult by priests
in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E. His argument, although interesting is
largely incomplete and entirely inconclusive.
there has been no centre of sacrifice for Judaism since the
destruction of the second temple in CE 70, Jewish worship now
centres on the synagogue. Christian worship, while it does not
offer physical sacrifices, remembers the sacrifice of Christ
through the sacrament of the Eucharist.
The items offered as sacrifices to Kanu vary according to the
level and purpose of the sacrifice, to the social and financial
status of the bearer, and to the advice of the sacred specialist.
If the ceremony requires the offering of an animal, it may be a
cow, a sheep, a goat, or a chicken. An animal sacrifice may be
either a blood sacrifice or a bloodless sacrifice. In the
former, the animal is slaughtered. Some of the meat is cooked
and eaten by the worshippers, while the remaining uncooked meat
is distributed to households.
When the animal is not killed (in the case of a bloodless
sacrifice) the animal is set free after the ceremony and it
should be left for the remainder of its life to die a natural
death, because it is God��s living sacrifice-property belonging to
God. It is sacrilegious to kill and eat such an animal. The
offering of plants and fruits to God is also considered a
bloodless sacrifice. Bananas, oranges and kola nuts, are the
most common choices for fruit offerings. Rice can also be used
as an offering.
In every case, three items must be present to make a Limba
sacrifice complete: water, kola nut and moulded rice flour mixed
with sugar. Often there is also wine, charcoal and a prepared
meal. These items are all symbolic:186

186Rev. MacFoday Kamara (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
(1) Water (mandi) has several symbolic meanings;187 it stands for
peace and harmony, and life. It cools and refreshes, and ��it
is also the simplest and most acceptable manifestation of
hospitality�� (Sawyerr 1996:49).
(2) Rice-flour (hudege), because of its whiteness, symbolises
purity and cleanliness.
(3) Kola nut (huthugeõ) is a means of communicating with the
(4) If wine (maõpa) and charcoal (tere) are included in the
ceremony, they are for happiness/merriment and misfortune
(5) A prepared meal (kutuõ) is for joy and satisfaction.
Sacrifices for forgiveness, cleansing, protection, health, well-
being, fortune and the aversion of misfortune, thanksgiving, the
various degrees of sin, politics, victory and as required by the
worshipper, are all offered on five levels. Acquiring the items
for sacrificial purposes does not present a challenge for the
Limba. The main concern is the ability of the worship leader to
��speak well�� (gboõkoli/thenlika) in order to achieve a positive

187Among the Mende and Creoles of Sierra Leone, water cultivates harmony, and
it cools and refreshes (Sawyerr 1996:49).

Sacrifices for thanksgiving are less stressful than those made
for liberation from sin, the aversion of plagues, protection and
welfare, because they are not for the removal of sin or
misfortune (although a brief intercession for the forgiveness of
sin is made at the start of the occasion in order to stand
In thanksgiving, the worshipper comes with the assurance that
he/she is fulfilling God��s purpose by being grateful in return
for His goodness to them. Because the Limba are grateful by
nature, the skills for expressing appreciation and thanks are
known by the majority of the people.
When it comes to penitentiary and petition worship, it is a
different case. The ability to speak well to the supernatural is
not treated lightly. The duty of the leader could be rightly
compared to role of a solicitor/advocate, in a judicial matter,
as he/she pleads for clemency on behalf of a convicted client. A
defence lawyer who wants a more lenient punishment, or perhaps no
punishment, for a guilty client(s) must mount a strong appeal in
order to win the mind of the judge or jury. In the Limba view, a
lawyer who succeeds in liberating a guilty client is considered a
person who ��speaks well.��
Penitentiary worship is a pleading for forgiveness and salvation.
Therefore, ��speaking well�� to the supernatural is of vital
importance to attain this end. Speaking is a key component of
Limba philosophy and society and plays a prominent role in the
entire Limba cosmology. A comment made frequently in Limba
circles is: ��If humans know how to talk to one another with
respect and with the proper use of words, what about talking to
God who owns us with far more honour?��
4.6.1 Levels of Worship
There are several levels and forms of sacrifice offered to God in
different places and at different times of the year. Five levels
are prominent:
(a) Chiefdom level
Of all the levels, chiefdom sacrifice is the most elaborate
because it involves all the villages and sections within the
chiefdom. The most common occasions which call for a chiefdom
sacrifice are natural disasters (such as floods, droughts, and
sickness) or accidents.188 Less common occasions, on which
chiefdom sacrifices may be offered include the installation of a
new chief, the death of a chief or a notable chiefdom official,
as well as the ceremonies held on the 40th day after and on the
first anniversary of the death of such an individual. In a later
chapter we shall deal with the sacrificial rites pertaining to
the installation or death of a chief made both in the Limba
homeland and in the western area.
(b) Section, Village or Town Level
Sacrifices on the section and village levels are less elaborate
and deal with issues that do not affect the entire chiefdom. The
purposes are often the same as those of the chiefdom level
sacrifices. Because of the size of the crowd attending, at least
one cow is required to be killed at the section level. At the
village level, a cow or a sheep might be slaughtered depending on

188In Freetown disasters of any kind are investigated by the central
government. Usually, the government encourages people to pray for the
situation according to their faith or beliefs.
the population and wealth of the chief. As in the case of the
chiefdom, either the priest or oldest person officiates.
(c) Compound or clan level
Sacrifices made on the compound level are offered mostly for the
welfare of the compound��s members, to return thanks for their
prosperity, and to make requests for the various needs of the
members. At this level acceptable sacrifices can be either a
fowl or a sizeable animal which is killed at the centre of the
compound. Weekly sacrifices are made in some compounds.
(d) Household
Sacrifices on the household level are usually bloodless. Kola
nuts, rice flour, fruits and cooked rice are common items for
household level sacrifices. The oldest active member of the
family leads the worship. This may be done at the grave site of
a family ancestor or in the house. In many homes, for the first
forty days after the death of a relative, white rice and any of
the palm oil sauces are cooked daily without salt and pepper
(kulemeti nuth]õ) and placed near the head of the deceased
person��s bed. In some homes, simple sacrifices and prayers are
offered daily.
(e) Personal Level
Sacrifices made on a personal level are essentially the same as
those made at the household level. The difference is that at the
personal level as the name implies, the ceremony can be done by
an individual, or in some cases, an uncomfortable individual may
seek the help and guidance of a sacred specialist to perform the
rite on his/her behalf. For instance, if an ancestor gives an
instruction to be carried out by an individual (such as to offer
a sacrifice), the person may inform a sacred specialist about
his/her experience. He/she relays the full message or received
instruction to the sacred specialist who, in turn, performs the
4.6.2 Acts of Worship
Sacrifices on the chiefdom, section, village and household levels
all involve groups of people, share similar communal
characteristics and contain numerous rituals. Because of these
similarities we shall only consider rituals on the chiefdom and
personal levels. Chiefdom Level
(a) Prelude
When a disaster of large proportion occurs within a chiefdom,
people come together to try to make sense of what has happened
and to give support to those who are directly affected. The
diviner is called upon to find out what was responsible for the
calamity. Most often, when the tragedy is natural, a sacrifice
for propitiation is recommended. A date for the sacrifice will
be fixed and a message sent to all the villages and sections of
the chiefdom to participate in the arrangements and the ceremony.
The main components for the sacrifice are cows (the number
depends on the crowd expected) which must be provided by the
Paramount Chief. The ceremony may take place at the Paramount
Chief��s compound or at the source or location of the disaster.
For example, in the case of flooding, it may take place on the
banks of a river, or in the case of a mudslide, it may take place
on a mountain top
Representatives from all the villages and sections of the
chiefdom (mostly chiefs or dignified officials) are expected to
travel to the PC��s compound a day or two before the event to
present their gifts and contributions, and to give support where
it may be required. Upon arrival, the local arrangements team,
which is normally made up of important personnel, welcomes the
visitors as they arrive and further explains the rationale behind
the sacrifice and concludes with the usual customary way of
expressing thanks and appreciation for the gifts and
contributions through a well-spoken oratory.
On the day of the sacrifice, the occasion may begin with dancing,
led by several musical groups within the chiefdom, at different
spots around the compound. A traditional meal is served after
the dance or at the end of the sacrifice. In some communities,
the cooking of food for the occasion is the sole responsibility
of the men, and women are not allowed to enter the cooking area.
When the sacrifice is ready to be made, the cow (manaõ) and the
other items prescribed by the diviner are brought and placed at
the centre of the compound. Because of the deference given to
old age, and the belief that older people are closer to the
ancestors, and that they posses the experience needed to ��speak
well��, the oldest active male in the community (or the one
appointed) is called upon to officiate. Where there is a
community priest, he takes charge instead. Men who are wearing
hats immediately remove them. Women are required to cover/veil
their heads and stay behind the men. All participants are
obligated to sit or kneel on the floor and stretch their right
hands over or towards (depending on proximity) the gifts to be
(b) Invocation
If the consent and readiness to accept worship was not sought
earlier using the kola nut, the leader then moves on to invoke
the presence and attention of God:
Ka bari bena ye, l]õthaõ (3 x) Excuse us, let it be so...
Ya mandi ye - manenite (3 x) Here is water - it is not tears
Te beõ/be foma nabgeleku: All of you/to you all as you go
Yi yapoõ ..., You old men... (here the names of the
outstanding ancestors are called)
iõ yapoõ... with the other old men (their names
are also called)
Yi ndo komisa w] bohite mina You as our parents and guide
Beõ kay na nde kay; You went to your place
Beõ pey mina dondo You left us here
Miõ ndo thebine lima na-pethe helping us so that we may have perfect
After every completed phrase, the participants respond with the
word amin/amina (a Muslim word for Amen).
Because the Limba have enormous respect for age and position, no
one casually approaches an elder with a request. For this
reason, it is customary to seek permission when approaching the
supernatural. It shows deference, and it ensures that God or the
ancestors will not be disturbed by the worshippers. The Limba
concept is that if humans can give respect and reverence to
elders, greater respect should be given to God. The word bena
(��us��) is the first person plural is commonly used when
addressing God and the ancestors. The usual word for ��us�� is
mina which is used later in the prayer. If God is the focus the
second person singular pronoun yi or yina (��you��) is used.
References to non-ancestral spirits are clearly stated.
Water is poured out as libation to God or the ancestors in order
to ��cool�� their minds. In Limba culture, one way a victim
expresses forgiveness to an offender is to accept water from the
latter and drink it as an indication that his/her anger or bad
feelings have been cooled down or washed away. Water is both
qualitatively better and quantitatively and greater than tears
which are not adequate to fulfill this requirement. That is why
worshippers offer water, and specify that it is not tears.
After water has been poured out three times as libation the focus
of the sacrifice is then identified. ��All of you/to you all,�� is
a reference to God and the ancestors who are believed to be
��going around�� as spirits. This is one of the many times that
God and the ancestors are jointly referenced. In most cases, God
is addressed, in prayer, through the ancestors. This action
buttresses Finnegan��s findings (1965:108-9) that Kanu is
worshipped in prayers and sacrifices both through the ancestors,
and at times concurrently.189
The word yapoõ (��old men��) used here to refer to the ancestors is
the common word of respect for old men who are alive. This is
the part in the prayer where the names of the community ancestors
as many as the worship leader can remember are then called. The
relationship between the living and the ancestors is like that of
a parent and child. The ancestors are in the ��abode of the dead��
manifesting great interest in the living.

189The Kono and Temne of Sierra Leone also pray to God and the ancestors
concurrently (Taylor 1963:69).
The above invocation is common in sacrifice performed on all five
levels. In invocations, the supernatural is approached in
reverence with water and invoked to be present and pay attention
to the worship and needs of the people. This enables the
worshippers to then express the purpose of their worship.
(c) Purpose of worship
The invocation is followed by a statement of the purpose of the
worship. Here the leader states the reason for which the
sacrifice is being offered. If the nature of the sacrifice is
for propitiation, the leader may say:
Kere nthonani na kunthe mina But sickness has overcome us
Awa miõ luwe na miõ thake bena So we heard that we offended you
Beõ na se mina thetiyeke That is why we have come to apologise
Iõ miõ bena penkita yiki bambaõ And to present you this respect
saraka satham] bali ye Sacrifice is capable of handling any
In this case, the sacrifice is necessitated by an epidemic.
Although God/the ancestors are helping the living,
sickness/disaster has struck. The cause of the epidemic might be
that the supernatural has been offended. In that case, the
people have come to apologise and make amends to God/ancestors.
As we have already discovered, apologising is a prominent
characteristic of Limba culture. The worship is both an
expression of apology and an offering of respect through
sacrifice which is the highest respectable means of relating to
God and to the ancestors. It is also the most capable means of
handling problems. Literally, the prayer ��Saraka satham] bali
ye�� means, ��Sacrifice does not get tired in handling problem.��
This expresses the confidence and belief that the Limba have in
the power of sacrifice.
Or the following will be said:
Yi k]then nambara/nampara You know what has
ba penka kub]ri ko befallen our community
Mina npati nda/be kenda We are your children
Miõ se iõ huberina do We have come with our crying to you
Ba masitay mina So that you can help us
ka nambara/nampara ba kantu ba with our problem/suffering
Na yer]koy yi ba miõ sa he/fe As you have allowed us to come to you
N]õ yibe yer]koy thanaõ tha May you accept the gifts
sise miõ than we bring
Because God is ��All-knowing�� and he is considered a parent, in
some prayers, as in this case, the reason that necessitated the
sacrifice is not given. As their God and parent par-excellence
Kanu already knows their predicament. The word ��cry�� may mean
real tears, sorrow, problems or needs. God as their parent is
the only Being to whom they can cry for help. He is the only one
who is more than capable of wiping away their tears, soothing
their sorrow, taking away their problems and providing for their
needs. The strength and ability to stand before God in worship
is a privilege that comes through God��s grace. God should
further allow them to present their gifts of sacrifice and to
accept them in the spirit in which they are presented.
(d) Presentation of Gifts
The purpose of worship is followed by the presentation of the
items to be offered for the sacrifice. The size of the gifts for
the sacrifice depends on the number of worshippers and the
chiefdom��s financial capability. One by one, the items brought
for the sacrifice as the case may be, are called out to God and
their significance is stated.190 For example:

190This is the case on all five levels of sacrifice.
Ya manaõ kendaõ here is your cow(s)
Ya manpaõ kendaõ here is your wine
(e) Intercessory prayers
After the presentation, the main prayers are said to the
ancestors for God��s approval (yer]k]y) and blessing (thaduba) for
the sacrifice about to be offered. The leader prays either:
N]õ miõ be tha th]m] bali May we have power to confront any
Ba thankaha tha kantu And to protect our lives
Heere kobekede, heere kapothi; Peace above, peace on earth;
N]õ mu be niy] mu kantu May it be ours
Ho, masala! O God!
Miõ be d]õ] iõ kub]ri ko May we have peace in our families
N]õ nthonay be mina gbarih], May sickness escape us,
ho, Masala O God
Ka piriõine miõ, Where we wronged you,
beõ be mina peniye- ho Masala forgive us, O God
N]õ miõ be bariõande May we stay away
iõ gboroho-baliõ ba gbaraheõ from evil matters and problems,
ho Masala O God,
Te beõ kay, The day you will go,
teõ tuma do that is the time we will come
Na wuõ pate mina As we end it
ka barika- woo-l]nthaõ in peace Amen
Mawumaõ, sekinthaõ ko kandeõ Right now, take yours
e mina dununa ko kantu and give us ours
In life��s journey and struggles, Kanu is the source of
empowerment to confront the known and unknown challenges that
threaten our harmony and success. We also need the protection of
God as the battle rages. As peace is vital for oneself and for
keeping the society together, the worshippers need on earth the
peace that comes from God for themselves and their families. The
sickness which has caused the sacrifice is not a sign of peace
and well-being; therefore God��s healing is required. Suffering
is believed to be a measure from God for wrong doing. If the
epidemic is due to a wrong deed, the people are seeking God��s
forgiveness so that they will be healed. They need a heart that
is divorced from all evil and that will guard against destructive
motives and actions. On account of their supposed wrong doing,
if God does listen to them this time, they will come again even
if he is not there. Assuming that all has gone well, it is
fitting to end the prayers with an assurance that peace has been
made with God. An immediate response by God to their worship is
then sought by the throwing of kola nuts to know God��s mind. The
effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a sacrifice is determined by
the response of the supernatural.
Alternately the following prayer may be used:
Miõ th]nth]n n]õ tha duba abekede We ask that blessing from above
be mina penki ka kekeõ do be granted to us below
Miõ kiõ ka berina kenda We are here to pour out our cry to you
Masala the Mighty One;
Yi wuntheõ ko sekiti nampareõ You alone can take away
ba kentu our plight
iõ dunkuna mina ma thebe and restore peace
iõ mal]holima and happiness to us
Dunkuna mina mal]holima Grant us peace (within and without);
N]õ nampara be tha mina penki May we not experience trouble anymore
Miõ se iõ sarakabaõ We come with this sacrifice
ba mal]holima so that we can have happiness.
Gbaku wo sise manaõ The chief has brought a cow
ka hera ba dunku yi ninbaõ out of what you have given him
Ba yina miõ be kutu mal]lima So that we can give it to you and find
The worship leader may start by asking God to bless them with
blessing from above and proceeds to tell God the reason they came
to Worship. As in other cases, the worshippers are pouring out
their cry to God Almighty. He is the only one that is capable of
taking away their troubles and giving them peace and harmony.
Therefore, he is implored for the absence of disaster through
sacrifice which is the most vital means of worshipping and
reconciling with God. The prayer concludes with a statement
expressing the effort of the chief for providing the sacrificial
animal to be offered for the attainment of peace.
(f) Offering and sharing of Gifts (saraka baõ)
The items are then offered to God. Cows are bound and thrown
down by the young men before they proceed to cut the animals��
necks. The cows are then skinned and the meat is shared amongst
the participants. The one who kills the animal always gets the
neck, the PC gets the breast portion and front leg, and portions
are given to the village and section representatives. The rest of
the meat is shared amongst the elders and participants.
(g) Conclusion
At the end, the leader concludes with the words l]õtha na wuõ pate
mina, kabarika oo l]õthaõ (��we have finished, excuse us Amen��)
indicating an end to the ceremony. Then the cultural dance
resumes. Personal Level
The invocation ritual for the chiefdom and personal levels are
virtually the same. Words in the plural on the chiefdom are
changed to the singular on the personal level. If the worship is
done without the assistance of a sacred specialist, the
individual may say the following:
Kanu yina leyine mina kafaido God you created us in this earth
Hati wo kenda se iõ huberina do Your child has come crying to you
Ba masitay yan ma ka bali yan so that you can help me solve my matter
Yi k]then wo kin yan You know mine
N]õ yi yer]koy yiki baõ May you accept the honour
yan sise bena I bring to you
God who is solely responsible for the creation of Limba knows the
situation and solution to the worshipper��s predicament that is
why he/she has brought sacrifice not only to him (Kanu) but to
the ancestors (bena ��you��) as well.
Or the following alternate prayer will be said:
Kanu yan K]te yan thake bena God I know I have offended you
Awa bena se yan So, that is why I have come
ba thetiyeke bena to apologise/beg you
Iõ yan bena sisa yiki And to bring you respect
Ba bena duõkun yan In order that you will give me
ma mal]holima rest and happiness.
Misfortunes are believed to be the result of wrong doing, it is
therefore not uncommon for a worshipper at the outset to
acknowledge that his/her actions have offended God (Kanu) and the
ancestors (bena). The only way to be at peace with the
supernatural is to beg (thetiyeke) for forgiveness in order to
attain rest and happiness. The achievement of rest and happiness
which is true peace is in a sense salvation for the Limba.
If the ceremony is performed by a sacred specialist, when the
items for the sacrifice are acquired, the individual takes them
to the officiating person who will say the following on behalf of
the worshipper:
Yan sise hati/pati wo kenda I have brought your child (the name of the
Wunde tepe yan ma ni He/she told me to tell you
ba tepe bena na be mase to help him/her
Nambara/nampara na kunthe ni Problem/trouble has overwhelmed him/her
Yi wunthe pe na bile sembe You alone have the power
ba mase ni to help him/her
Wunde sise saraka He/she has brought sacrifice
ba bena mase ni so that you can help him/her
As the worshipper stands and watches, the sacred specialist
introduces him/her by name to God and the ancestors, and proceeds
to relate the cause and purpose of the sacrifice on behalf of the
worshipper with the understanding that God and the ancestors are
the only ones able to help.
The following intercessory prayers may be said personally. If
the worshipper is assisted by a specialist, the same words are
used in the third person.
Yan se ba niya yina thubu I come to worship you
N]õ malekeõ beõ saõ ba mase yama May the angels come and help me
Fandaõ wo kinyan yan dunku yina My father I give to you
dayina yah my entire being
K]t] ko iõ sieba; My body and my spirit;
yan thon dunku dayina yan dan mu I give to you, look at them
Sa punku ba t]ta I am unable to carry
doni ba kiyan woõ... my burden...
Sarakaõ baõ iõ wuõ ramine The sacrifice and prayer
kon mase yama will help me
Nambara kabanka ba sekiti Take away the trouble at home
Nambara ka bonsh] sekiti Take away the problem in our family
yan pe bali wo bali kenda I leave every matter with you
Yina k]te baiyo bai You know everything
For the first time in these prayers we have come
across the word, thubu (��worship��) a word that denotes
prostrating and expressing a longing for God. In desperation,
the worshipper has come to seek and implore God to send his
angels as support during this time of anguish. In dedication of
his/her entire being (both the physical and spiritual), the
worshipper expresses inability to bear his/her burden and goes on
to name it. With confidence that sacrifice and prayer will solve
the problem, a plea is made to God for an eradication of the
trouble at home. After making his/her request known, the
worshipper leaves everything in the care of God who is all-
4.7 Conclusion
The highest being in the Supernatural hierarchy, according to
Limba belief, is the Supreme Being called Kanu, in short, or in
full Kanu Masala. Kanu exists and lives above. He is Almighty
and Omnipotent, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, who is
therefore all-knowing. He is the Chief that rules from above,
their Teacher and Father. The names or epithets, and attributes
of Kanu portray his character, abilities, qualities and
peculiarities. Kanu is worshipped through sacrifices, offerings,
prayers and libations.
Some traditionalists juxtapose their belief in Kanu Masala (��God
Almighty��) with a belief in Kanu Wopothi (��god below��). The
latter is considered less powerful and is seen as being
mischievous. This is not a personal being, but a descriptive
category applied to any evil spirit. Unlike Kanu Masala, Kanu
Wopothi is not generally understood to be an object of worship,
except to those who have ��spiritual eyes�� or who have taken a
personal spirit. While the majority of Limba will bring gifts to
Kanu Wopothi, these are not sacrifices, but acts motivated,
admittedly, by paranoia.
Although the NPLC adopted the name Kanu Masala from the
traditionalists, and similarities between the Limba and Christian
teachings of God are found in both systems, the church continues
to argue that it does not serve the same God as the
traditionalists. In spite of that the traditionalists who attend
the NPLC continue to equate Kanu with the Judeo-Christian God.
In response, NPLC out-rightly dismisses that claim, and has
continued to view the traditionalist beliefs and worship of Kanu
as idolatry.
The overwhelming similarities between Kanu and the Judeo-
Christian God suggest that they may, in fact be one and the same.
It is therefore, not unreasonable to conclude, that the God of
the Bible who is at work in the Judeo-Christian tradition is the
same God worshipped by African traditionalists (Mbiti 1989b:61;
Fashole-Luke n.d.). With this conclusion we can now move on to
the study of Angels.
Angels (Malekeõ)
5.1 Introduction
Until recently, the positions of angels and ancestors within the
Supernatural hierarchy were a matter of debate among the Limba.
Although there are still a few who continue to debate this, at
present, a majority of traditionalists believe that angels,
because they are natural spirits, who act as direct agents of
God��s will and have an intimate relationship with him, are higher
spiritual beings than the ancestors who are human spirits and
have attained their spiritual status by human design.
Very few African societies speak directly about angels. However,
most Africans speak about ��gods��, ��spirits��, ��divinities��, or
��deities�� with characteristics similar to those of angels found
in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Limba, however, do not
have words or synonyms for ��gods��, ��deities��, or ��divinities��.
Angels are what the Limba ��know and talk about,��191 but their
understanding of these beings is limited.
The Yoruba speak of orisa (��divinities, deities or gods��) who are
believed to be ministers of Olodumare (��God��) with
responsibilities similar to those of angels (Adelowo 1982:161-
66). The African gods, deities or divinities are believed to be

191Kandeh Samura (Interviewed July 2002: Kamakwie Town).
created by God and are subordinate to Him. ��Their intimate but
subordinate relationship with God is conceptualised in terms of
Father/Son, Chief/messenger or lord/servant relationships��
(Metuh-Ikenga 1981:81). Their status is not very different from
the Christian ideas of angels. In Nuer Religion the ��little
gods�� are the Malaika (��Angels��) from the Arabic word Mal��ak
(Nadel 1954:247).
Lockyer, a British missionary to Kenya, recounts a story of
angelic encounter told to him by a native Mau-Mau who converted
to Christianity:
One dark night the men of the Mau-Mau tribe were
climbing the hill up to the school to capture and kill
the missionary children, and fulfill one of their vows
by eating a white man��s brain. Suddenly men in white
robes appeared all around the school, with flaming
swords, and the natives ran back down the hill. Then
the new Christian asked, ��Who were these men; were they
angels?�� A missionary replied, ��We do not have enough
men on the staff to surround the school, and we have no
flaming swords,�� With wide eyes the native shouted,
��They were angels!�� (Lockyer 1995:ix).
This story, suggests that although the belief in angels appears
to be less prominent in African Religion, some ethnic groups,
like the Mau-Mau people, hold some belief in angels. The Mau-Mau
man��s question and the missionary��s response suggest that the
Mau-Mau man��s knowledge about angels may have predated his
conversion to Christianity. A solid effort by scholars to
examine Africa angelology might reveal even more groups with such
a belief.
The NPLC has dismissed the traditionalist��s belief in angels
saying that the traditional belief has no affinity with the
Christian belief, as Limba traditionalists claim. The church
believes that the angels known to traditionalists are actually
the fallen angels (Ezek. 28; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6) which are also
called ��demons�� (Matt. 4:24; 7:22; Mark 1:32, 34; Luke 4:41).
In this chapter, we shall look at the two main issues that are
discussed on the subject of angels in Limba Religion - the nature
and the role of angels.
5.2 Nature of Angels
The Limba believe angels are natural spirits with wings (bapey),
who are also capable of assuming human likeness. They can
rightly be described as hylomorphic because they have both a
spiritual and a physical nature. They are spirits because they
dwell with God, they have wings because they fly (akain), and
they assume human form because this is how they appear to people,
whether physically, or in dreams. They appear to people in
physical human form as ��strangers�� who help them in times of
great need.192 The following is an example of one such encounter:
I remember before the war when I was home, it was the
time when my youngest daughter was to be initiated into
the bondo society. That year, the farming season was
bad. My crops did not do well and a portion of them
were eaten by animals. I had no money for the ceremony
to take place. Three weeks before the scheduled date
as I was walking home from my farm and entering my
village, I came across a man I have never met in my
life he was wearing white and carrying a bag. We
exchanged greetings, and he asked me for directions to
Makere village, two villages from ours, which I gave.
But before he left he asked me if I could offer him a
cup of water to drink. I took him to my place and gave
him some water, he drank and thanked me. I then
accompanied him out of the village to ensure that he
took the right road. In appreciation of my

192An example is the story above about the Mau-Mau man.
hospitality, he opened his bag and gave me a
substantial amount of money, more than what I needed
for my daughter��s initiation ceremony. I could not
believe what was happening to me. One thing that was
puzzling about this man was that his face was very
difficult to look at and he could not give me his name
or address. There is no doubt in my mind that he was
an angel sent by Kanu Masala to help me.193
From the Mau-Mau man��s story and this one, we see that angels in
Africa protect people; they have the ability to communicate, and
possess human needs like thirst.
The Limba also believe that angels possess moral attributes.
Angels as Patibeõ Kanu (��children of God��) are endowed with love
(matimo), and they are kind and good (hay]h]). Even the angel of
death (maleka wo bile hutuka) is considered good because he
fulfills God��s mission. There are male and female angels.
Irrespective of their closeness with God, angels are the only
kind of supernatural being that does not require worship or
veneration. Like humans, they are under God��s instruction and
were not created for worship or veneration.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, angels are spiritual beings
(Heb. 1:14), some of whom have wings (Isa. 6:2). They are also
��able to manifest themselves as active and effecting agents in
the empirical world�� (Lockyer 1995:5). They appear in dreams
(Matt. 1:20, 24; 2:13, 19; Acts 10:13; cf. Acts 12:9) to ��both
Christians and some would-be-converts�� (Mbiti 1997:514). Dreams
��are vehicles of communication from God to people – to reveal,
warn, and inform�� (Mbiti 1997:514). Angels sometimes appear in
human likeness to visit people (Gen. 19:1; Judg. 13:16) and
welcome hospitality (Gen. 19:2). For this reason Hebrews 13:2

193Bagbon Samura (telephone interview: March 2004).
exhorts Christians not to ��neglect to show hospitality to
strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without
knowing it.�� In their ��ability to assume human likeness, angels
are able to affect material conditions and historical events��194
(John 5:4; Acts 5:19; 12:7, 23). Angels are endowed with proper
names, for example, Gabriel (Dan. 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26) and
Michael (Dan 10:13, 21; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7) which imply that they
have personalities. Anytime that the Bible identifies the gender
of an angel, the reference is male195. This is contrary to
Adelowo��s (1982:159) statement that the Bible does not make any
serious attempt in associating gender with angels. Angels are
also called children of God (Luke 20:36).
5.3 Role of Angels
Angels have several roles to play. Their primary role is that of
a messenger/servant (bat]ntiw]). The Limba believe that as
��messengers/servants of God, angels are the carriers of God��s
message, and the fulfillers of God��s plan.��196 Angels relay God��s
messages mostly in dreams. As messengers/servants, angels are
mediators between God and humankind which puts them in special
relationship with God, of whom they are agents, and with humans
who, in most cases, are the object of their service.
It is on account of this mediatory role that the angels and the
ancestors are sometimes confused. In much of ATR, ��a similar
role seems to be given the ancestors, whose continued existence

194Lockyer (1995:5).
195The masculine pronoun ��he�� is used in reference to angels Gabriel and
Michael, see Achtemeier (1996:356 & 682). In several other passages,
strangers who are identified as angels, are also referred to as ��men��, for
example Genesis (19:1-12).
196Madam Kumba Koroma (Madam Koroma was also interviewed on the phone on March
in a metaphysical state which takes them ��nearer to God�� allows
them to help their descendants�� (King 1994:10).
God also assigns angels to look after particular individuals.
This duty entails caring for (atima), protecting (apaõ), guiding
(adinki), guarding (akinkinti), and helping (masite) the person.
Although God does not delegate to the ancestors duty of seeking
the interests of people as he does to angels, the roles of angels
and the ancestors as mediators, and caretakers of humankind
overlap. Unlike the ancestors, the role of angels as caretakers
and protectors goes beyond death. The final job of an angel is
to take the deceased to katile (��the home of dead��), after which
the angel returns to God to give a report of his/her duties.
Angels in Limba Religion and Judeo-Christian tradition are not
only similar in nature; they are also similar in the roles they
play. In the Bible, angels are portrayed ��as messengers or
servants of God who are of unquestionable integrity, good will
and obedience to Him��(Gen. 16:7-13; 21:17-20; 22:11-18; Judg.
6:11-23; 1 Sam. 29:9; 2 Sam. 14:17, 20)�� (Adelowo 1982:158; cf.
Locyer 1995:3). The Hebrew word mal��akh in the OT, and the Greek
word angelos in the NT mean simply ��messengers�� (Lockyer 1995:3).
As messengers, angels are God��s ambassadors and emissaries (1
Tim. 5:21), and as such they simply follow whatever directive God
gives them. They are ministering spirits (Heb. 1:14). Like in
Limba Religion, their functions as ��God��s messengers cannot be
limited to specialized categories, but rather they are presented
in broad and varied auxiliary functions�� and as such ��they appear
as helpers and protectors to people in need, as proclaimers of
news or mediators of revelations from God, and as guides and
guardians�� (Lockyer 1995:4).
Individual Christians (Matt. 18:10) and Christian communities
(Rev. 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14) are attended to by angels. God
assigns angels the duty of protecting and guarding the faithful
(Exod. 14:19; 2 Kings 6:17; Ps. 34:7; 91:11), and they also
��serve as a source of veritable succour�� (Adelowo 1982:159) for
the faithful here on earth (1 kings 19:5-7; Matt. 4:11), and in
eternity (Luke 16:22).
Angels not only effect good, they can also effect affliction and
judgement (2 Sam. 24:16; 2 Kings 19:35; Job 33:22; Ps. 35:5, 6;
Pro. 16:14; Acts 12:23; Rev. 12:7-9; 14:14-20; 15-16).
5.4 Conclusion
Angels occupy the second place after the Supreme Being in the
supernatural hierarchy of Limba Religion. Unlike most other
Africans, the Limba do not teach about or belief in ��gods��,
��divinities��, ��deities��.
Angels are hylomorphic. They are natural spirits with wings, but
are also capable of assuming human form. They are believed to be
spirits because they are with God. They are believed to assume
human likeness because that is how they appear to people, whether
in dreams or in person. They communicate and have human needs.
There are male and female angels. As children of God, they
possess the moral attributes of love, kindness, and goodness to
Angels are God��s messengers and servants. In that regard, they
carry God��s messages and fulfill his plans. In their capacity as
messengers and servants, angels play the role of mediators
between God and humankind; they care for, protect, guide, guard
and help people. When an angel completes his/her service to the
individual assigned to him/her he/she takes his/her charge to the
place of the dead (if the deceased is qualified to go there).
Although the NPLC condemns Limba angelology, the above study
shows that there are striking similarities between Biblical
angelology and that of Limba Religion. The differences in the
two are very slight. We now move to the study of Ancestral
Spirits/Ancestors which appear next in the hierarchy of the
supernatural, after the Angels.
Ancestral Spirits/Ancestors (fureni be/hureni/nbembeõ)
6.1 Introduction
The word which the Limba most frequently use for the ancestors is
the plural Fureni be/Hureni (lit., ��old people��).197 It has been
suggested, that, fureni be is the lengthening form for the word
furu/huru (breeze/wind/spirit).198 The word furu is from the root
fu (��to sleep,�� ��to spend the night��). Synonyms for Fureni be
include bila, biya beb]r] be and betiy] be199 all of which mean
(��old people��).200 An alternate word for Fureni be/hureni is
nbembeõ (��Forefathers,�� ��Great grandfathers��).201
As in most African cultures, the ancestors are of ��central
importance�� in the lives of Limba traditionalists (Finnegan
1967:20). Their presence ��is felt all through Africa in spite of
Christianity and western sophistication�� (Setiloane 1978:407).
Africans are still attached to their ancestors. Therefore, to
take the ancestors away from them is to ��destroy their roots in
the past, their culture, their dignity and their understanding of
communion sanctorum�� (Hollenweger 1993:x; Setiloane 1978:406).
It is ��not surprising, therefore, that it was and still is, at

197Santigie Sesay (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
198Kalawa Conteh (Interviewed July 2002: Kamabai Town).
199Kabba Bangura (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
200Finnegan (1963:12).
201This parallels the Mende, kekeni, and ndeblaa our ��Forefathers�� (Sawyerr
1968:2, 16; Gittins 1987:62-63). Later Sawyerr (1996:44-45) refers to kekeni
as ��the fathers�� and ndeblaa as ��the forebears.��
this point, that Christianity has met with the stiffest
resistance in Africa���� (Fashole-Luke 1974:209).
The NPLC leaders like their AOG forebears have unanimously
condemned ancestor veneration as a heathen and superstitious
practice.202 For this reason, the church attempts to completely
avoid the use of the word ��ancestor.�� This is because in Limba
vocabulary the word fureni (��ancestor��) and its synonyms are only
used in reference to the venerated dead. Therefore the church
feels strongly that use of the word in the church��s vocabulary
would create a great misunderstanding. The designation ��hero of
faith�� is instead used when dealing with any Biblical passage
that uses the word ��ancestor�� or ��ancestors��.
Like the Limba word nbembeõ (��Forefathers,�� ��Great grandfathers��)
which serves as a synonym for Fureni be/Hureni, the Hebrew word
��av (��Father��) is also translated ��Ancestor�� (Gen. 10:21),
��Forefather�� (Gen. 15:15), and ��Grandfather�� (Gen. 28:13). In
the NT, the Greek word pater (��Father��) is also translated
��Forefather�� and ��Ancestor�� (Mark 3:9; Luke 1:73, 16:24).
In this chapter, I intend to first discuss which of the three
terms ��the Dead�� ��Ancestral Spirits�� or ��Ancestors�� best suits
the Limba context. We will then discuss the requirements for and
process of becoming an ancestor, the role of the ancestors, the
question whether the reverence afforded ancestors properly
constitutes worship or veneration, and rituals involving the

202This is exactly the case in many parts of Africa where Western missionaries
have ��unanimously rejected African ancestor cults as pagan superstition����
6.2 The Dead, Ancestral Spirits or Ancestors?
Scholars are divided as to which designation appropriately
represents the status of the venerated dead. Although Finnegan
(1965:109-13), uses the term ��ancestors,�� in a few instances when
discussing the spirits of the dead relatives of the Limba, she
prefers the general term ��The Dead.�� She states that when an
adult who is not a witch dies, a ceremony is performed on the
third day during which, the deceased goes to be with the other
dead in an unknown place called katile. She went on to say that
the burial rites of a known witch203 are, ��correspondingly,
somewhat different.�� Finnegan��s statements infer that children
and witches do not attain ancestorship, which stands to reason
that the Limba do distinguish between their dead as to who
qualifies to attain ancestorship. Two years later writing about
the ancestors she stated:
They cannot be represented as a separate category of
beings with special supernatural characteristics of
their own juxtaposed to humans, for in Limba eyes the
dead are merely human beings who were once alive and
now are dead and buried, basically resembling their
children who are now on earth��. Possessing essentially
human qualities as they do, there is no point in
introducing the dead into the stories as a special
category. For in spite of the important part played in
Limba life by prayers and sacrifices to the dead, they
are at root not special separate beings at all, but the
human beings of the old days-��they are us�� (Finnegan
This statement sharply contradicts the contemporary Limba view
that tends to separate the ancestors from the general body of the

(Fashole-Luke (1974:209).
203The burial rites of a witch are different in order to ensure his/her spirit
does not return to continue malevolent practices.
dead and humankind.204 A majority of the Limba I came in contact
with during my fieldwork represented the ancestors as a separate
category with special supernatural characteristics of their own
juxtaposed to humans. They are closer to God than humans and
therefore possess a supernatural entity. ��They are understood to
have maintained their human qualities, yet they are thought to be
much more spirit���� (Sawyerr 1996:44).205 Therefore, the term ��The
Dead�� is a misnomer.
In a wider perspective, Mbiti has argued that:
��Ancestral spirits�� or ��ancestors�� are misleading terms
since they imply only those spirits who were once the
ancestors of the living. This is limiting the concept
unnecessarily, since there are spirits and living-dead
of children, brothers, sisters and barren wives, and
other members of the family who were in no way the
��ancestors��. One would strongly advocate the
abolition of the two terms��and replace them with
��spirits�� or ��the living-dead�� whichever is applicable
(Mbiti 1989a:81-82).
However brilliant and useful the terms, ��spirits�� and ��the
living-dead�� could be to designate the ancestors; from the
worldview of the Limba (as well as most other Africans) they are

204Some African ethnic groups also demarcate between the dead who are ancestors
and those who are not. Gittins (1987:60-61), differentiates between the
ancestors and the dead in Mende belief. He uses three terms, ndëubla, halabla
and kambeihubla, which are certainly used to refer to the deceased. Ndëubla,
in particular he says applies simply to the ��dead and buried�� and does not
carry any implications about ancestorship. They are the people who had not
had the tenjamei, performed. The word is strictly applied to the non-ancestral
dead. Metuh-Ikenga (1981:76) tells us that the Igbo of Nigeria call the dead
who have attained ancestorship, Ndichie, and these they venerate as benevolent
spirits. The dead who do not meet the requirements for ancestorship are
called, Ogeli. These are wandering, malevolent spirits, which are frequently
exorcised. Junod (1927:373-75), states that the Thonga people of South
Africa, differentiate between the ancestors who receive veneration from the
living, and ghosts whose existence is considered malevolent.
205In Creole view, the ancestors, ��live in the world of truth and do discern
truth and therefore no longer subject to the effects of deception�� (Sawyerr
not adequate replacements for the terms ��ancestral spirits�� or
��ancestors�� Death itself does not qualify one for ancestorship.
In Limba view, ��not every person that dies necessarily becomes an
ancestor,��206 as we shall see later certain conditions should have
been met while the deceased was alive and a ceremony of inclusion
into the rank of an ancestor must follow the death of such an
For the Limba, the terms ��ancestral spirits�� or ��ancestors�� are
appropriate to differentiate ��the ancestors�� from the ordinary
dead and the spirits of ghosts and witches all of which are
categorised as Human Spirits, because they were once human.207
The general category of non-ancestral spirits also includes
nature spirits and non-ancestral human spirits.
The ancestors in Limba view are the spirits of those individuals
(both male and female)208 who have successfully gone through the
stages of life to attain prominence and who, after death, have
been included in the community of the venerated dead.209 The
visibility of the graves (thaloma thaõ), the movement of the
ancestors furu (��breeze��) which they do not see, but feel, and
the appearance of the ancestors in dreams are the reasons they
believe that the ancestors are in their midst and are
accessible.210 Their proximity does not constitute a threat in
any way.

206Santigie Sesay (Interviewed 2002: Freetown).
207Cf. Finnegan 1965: 112; Gittins 1987:53).
208It is this understanding that makes the gender biased term, nbembeõ
(��Forefathers�� ��Great grandfathers��) less popular because ��there is no gender
differentiation; both male and female could be ancestors�� (Kalu 2000:57).
209Cf. Finnegan (1967:20).
210Cf. Finnegan (1965:109).
In view of the aforementioned, I join the likes of Parrinder
1962: 57-66), Sawyerr (1968:13-33; 1996:43-55), Fashole-Luke
(1974:209-21) and Gittins (1987:53-61) to name a few, in using
the terms ancestral spirits/ancestors interchangeably in
reference to the venerated dead. We now consider the Limba view
of who is qualified to be an ancestor.
6.3 How Does One Become an Ancestor?
The qualifications for becoming an ancestor and the methods of
installation as an ancestor vary slightly among the Limba. As in
many African societies, death by itself does not make one a Limba
ancestor. Usually, a potential ancestor is recognised as such
before death because of his/her achievements, status, moral
standards and positive contributions to society. It is on the
basis of these qualifications that the living decides who becomes
an ancestor. For the Limba, the following requirements are taken
into consideration:
(1) At the time of death one must have attained old age,211
hence the term fureni be and its synonyms, bila, biya beb]r]
be and betiy] be ��old people�� (Finnegan 1963:12, 1965:109).
Being an adult by itself does not qualify someone to become
an ancestor. Finnegan (1965:109) fails to mention the
requisite level of adulthood when she describes the
ancestral rites applied to ��an adult who dies��.��
Technically, a person is considered an adult after
initiation, in reality one is not considered an adult until
the age of forty.212 The Limba believe that death at a
ripe old age is natural death and it is God��s death. This

211Cf. Yambasu (2002:65). See Idowu (1973:187) and Kalu (2000:57) for a summary
of the general requirements for ancestorship in ATR.
idea parallels current Limba view, ��to say that death is
through ��Kanu�� would therefore be rather like our speaking
of a ��natural�� death-Kanu kills old people, for one expects
them to die���� (Finnegan 1965:108).
(2) The deceased must have been a married adult and had at
least one child.213 Marriage in Limba view conveys ��higher
economic and social status�� (Finnegan 1965:65, 76). A
child is important so that the name of the deceased will be
remembered in prayer and offering and not be lost. The
rational is one cannot be an ancestor to the ethnic group
unless one is an ancestor to a member of the group.
Finnegan (1965:110) mentions that at the household level of
ancestral veneration the oldest son or a surviving brother
calls to his father.
(3) The deceased must have been a member of a recognised secret
society:214 the Gbangban for men, the Bondo for women.215 By
becoming a member of a secret society one joins the ranks
of the forebears, from ��whose life-blood the existence of
the community was derived and on which it continues to be
sustained with the aid of the contemporary leaders��
(Sawyerr 1996:44).
(4) During his/her life-time, the deceased must have performed
a heroic task.216 Heroism constitutes professional
expertise and outstanding ability or prowess. The ancestor

212Finnegan (1965:76); cf. Sunberg (2000:3).
213Santigie Sesay (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown). Cf. Yambasu (2002:65).
214Santigie Sesay (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
215The Gbangban corresponds to the men��s Poro societies and the Bondo
corresponds to the women��s Sande or Bundu of the Mende (Little 1949; Sawyerr
1968: 1 & 1996:44) and Temne (Dorjahn 1982:35-62). As in these other Sierra
Leonean ethnic groups, the Limba secret societies are the principle ethnic
cults. These societies are the defenders of their culture and society.
of an ethnic group may include a master hunter, a master
witch catcher, and a master healer and many others.
(5) The deceased must not have been a witch. Witches are
considered to be destroyers of personal and communal
harmony. They kill and destroy by spiritual means. The
Limba are afraid of witchcraft which makes life more
stressful to cope with because the power of witches
transcends distance and no one knows when he/she will
become a victim of witchcraft.217 Because of ��their evil
ways�� witches cannot live with God.218 ��They do not have
place in God��s presence�� as good spirits do,219 and will not
be permitted to enter Katile to join the other dead
(Finnegan 1965:109).
(6) Death must have come from natural causes, and not unnatural
causes such as accident or suicide. Deaths from diseases
considered to be unclean (small pox, leprosy, epilepsy,
tuberculosis etc.) are also considered unnatural deaths and
are indications of God��s punishment of the wicked and
The first four requirements indicate that a person��s
achievements and/or status in life determine his/her future in
the spirit-world. The last two requirements prohibit ��bad
deaths.�� When a person who has met all of these requirements
dies a ��Good death,�� the final step is the performance of the
necessary funeral rite for the attainment of ancestorship. This
rite is the process by which deceased persons are installed as

216Santigie Sesay (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown). Cf. Yambasu (2002:65).
217See the discussion below on ��witchcraft�� under ��Non-ancestral Spirits.��
218Hamusa Kargbo (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
219Hamusa Kargbo (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
ancestors and ��once the proper rites were performed, the
deceased took their place among the ancestors�� (Yambasu
2002:64). In most Limba societies, this inclusion occurs three
days after the person��s death. Upon death,221 and before his/her
burial, the prospective ancestor is considered kubeli ��a corpse��
(as in the case of all Limba dead). After burial in huloma ha
(��the grave��), the dead person becomes hure (��a ghost��). At the
ceremony on the third day (kudigbi ), it is believed that the
deceased joins the other dead at an undisclosed place of the
dead called katil /katiy . The dead person is then considered a
fure wo (��an ancestor��). In the hinterland, arrangements are
made for burial to take place within a day. The prospective
ancestor is buried by his or her respective secret society
amidst great wailing and singing. After burial a hen is killed
over the grave. On the third day those who were unable to
attend the burial itself, find time to attend this important
funeral rite of passage.
On the household, compound, village or chiefdom level; it is
very important that the oldest available person leads this
particular ceremony because he or she is considered to be the
closest to the ancestors.222
On all levels, the ceremony of induction may follow this order:
the leader begins by saying: ��Excuse us, let it be so�� (3
times). It is customary to approach the supernatural with these
words in order to show deference, and for fear that God or the

220Santigie Sesay (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
221A discussion on Limba view on ��death�� is below under ��Life Cycle.��
222Cf. Finnegan (1965:110). At the Krio funeral rite, Awujoh, ��an old female
member, preferably the oldest, of the family is generally the first to invoke
the spirits, presumably, because she has the longest and the farthest memory
of the family line�� (Sawyerr 1996:45).
ancestors might be disturbed by the worshippers.223 The names of
current ancestors are called; usually the walk of life of the
candidate determines which particular ancestors are to be called
upon. For example, if the deceased was a chief, a hunter, a
diviner or priest, his/her ancestral predecessors will be called
upon by name. This is followed by a general reference to Kanu
and to the rest of the ancestral spirits that were not named,
��All of you/to you224 all as you go around: You old people.��225
This statement identifies the focus of the veneration as God and
the ancestors who are believed to be ��going around�� as spirits.
Although God and the ancestors are known to reside in the sky
and the place of the dead respectively, as spirits they are
capable of roving around. This is one of the many times that
God and the ancestors are jointly referenced. In most cases, God
is addressed, in prayer, through the ancestors. This action
buttresses Finnegan��s (1965:108-9) findings that Kanu is
worshipped in prayers and sacrifices through the ancestors, and
at times concurrently. The leader proceeds to determine the
willingness or readiness of the ancestors to listen to, and to
accept the veneration that is about to be offered by throwing
two halves of kola nut on the floor. If both the inside halves
of the kola nut turned upright it is an indication of acceptance
and the leader can proceed with the rest of the ceremony. The
first stage is concluded by expressing thanks to both Kanu
(��God��) and the ancestors for their willingness to listen to
what they are about to say.
Next, the death is officially reported. Although it is believed
that the ancestors are aware of what goes on, they still need to

223In this regard, as a sign of respect to the supernatural, a priest always
knocks at the door of the shrine to alert the spirits before entering it.
224This is similar to the Creole concluding phrase of invocation, ]l den wan wi
(��you all�� ��all those��).
be informed officially by invocation and prayer of important
occurrences in the community. The ancestors are then invoked to
accept the deceased into their ranks. The achievements and
qualifications of the deceased are mentioned and the same kola
nuts are again thrown on the floor to ascertain the mind of the
ancestors. If the ancestors accept the inclusion of the
deceased as mentioned above, the items for the sacrifice are
First, water is poured as libation with the words: ��Here is
water-it is not tears.�� Which are repeated three times as the
libation is being poured. The reason for the libation and for
the clarification that ��it is not tears�� is the same as that
discussed earlier in ��Worshipping Kanu.��
On the household level if the family can afford it, a hen is
killed and cooked. If not red and white kola nuts and rice-
flour will suffice. Usually at the compound, village or
chiefdom level, a sheep or cow is killed and the meat is shared.
The number of animals slaughtered depends on the size of the
crowd. When the ceremony is concluded musicians and dancers
take over to entertain mourners and guests. This may go on
until the early hours of the following day.
Some people have a shrine in their homes where stones
representing the ancestors of the family/clan are kept.226 At
the death of a would-be ancestor, a stone representing him/her
is added to the receptacle or the place in the house where the
other stones are kept. This system enables the family/compound
to keep records of the number of their ancestors. This system

225Cf. Finnegan (1965:110).
226This is similar to the Temne Boro ma sar (��shrine of stones��) a boat-shaped
receptacle to mark the memory of their dead heroes (Sawyerr 1970:6).
makes provision for honouring a deceased family member who did
not meet the community��s requirements but was not a witch and
did not die from ��unnatural�� causes.
The time, energy and resources invested in these ceremonies, and
the continued trust and belief that Africans place in the
ancestors demonstrate the essence of ancestral spirits in
traditional spirituality. What part really do the ancestors
play in the lives of believers? Let us proceed and consider
their role in Limba view.
6.4 The Role of the Ancestors
The ancestors are ��very closely involved in all Limba life��
(Finnegan 1965:113). They manifest interest in the welfare of
the communities to which they belonged, and still belong.227
They do not only belong to the village, but also order the lives
that are led there (Finnegan 1965:112). Even though spatially
they are primarily associated with their graves, because of
their spiritual characteristic, they are capable of following
their children wherever they go. This makes it possible to call
on them everywhere and from anywhere in the world. Not only are
they ever-present, they are also conversant with everything that
goes on in the community. The traditionalists�� relationship
with the ancestors is not one of paranoia, but one of intimacy
and deference as is evident in their relationship with their
living elder kin (Finnegan 1965:112-13). The ancestors are
around for the good of the people, not to afflict them. They
are in a better world, in God��s realm because they are good

227Cf. Parrinder (1962:58); Griffins (1987:53).
228Cf. Yambasu (2002:64).
The ancestors inherited from God and bequeathed to the community
farming methods, hunting skills, skills of interpreting weather
conditions and the seasons of the year, story-telling, the rules
of their secret societies, and songs and dances. They continue
to uphold all of the social institutions, techniques, values and
ideals of Limba life. They teach the living new songs,
��composed according to the traditional style, ��which are often
said to be inspired by the dead�� who put them ��into the heart of
the singer�� (Finnegan 1965:112). Like good parents, the
ancestors reprimand the living when they are aggrieved or
neglected and nothing is done on the part of the living to make
amends.229 Suffering or punishment from the ancestors is for the
welfare of the victim. As a parent punishes a child for his/her
welfare, the ancestors consider their living relatives as their
children and do their best to help them. They are the closer
link between the people and God.230 The Limba believe that the
ancestors beg God to help the living, ��to give them, for example
offspring or wealth or much rice�� (Finnegan 1965:112). In this
context the ancestors are seen as earthly parents who beg the
chief to give help to their children. They communicate directly
with God, ��and for their children��s sake, intercede with Kanu
who is over all things�� (Finnegan 1965:112). The ancestors
cooperate with Kanu and represent the social ties within the
community. In Limba view as in that of most African peoples,
ancestors are good spirits who continue to interact and seek the
welfare of their people in several ways.

229Cf. Mbiti (1989a:83).
230Cf. Mbiti (1989a:82).
Mbiti (1989a:82) aptly describes the role of the ancestors in
some African communities:
They return to their human families from time to time
and share meals with them, however, symbolically.
They know and have interest in what is going on in
their family��. They are guardians of family affairs,
traditions, ethics and activities.
Setiloane (1978:407) expresses it this way:
Ah��yes��! It is true.
They are very present with us��
The dead are not dead; they are ever near us;
Approving and disapproving all our actions,
They chide us when we go wrong,
Bless us and sustain us for good deeds done,
For kindness shown, and strength made to feel at home.
They increase our store, and punish our pride.
One can rightly say that the Limba and other African peoples
have a high regard for their ancestors. This leads us to the
question: ��Do Limba worship or venerate their ancestors?�� We
shall now look into this issue.
6.5 Ancestor Worship or Ancestor Veneration?
Finnegan (1967:21) states:
The exact relations between Kanu and the dead are not
clearly defined. In a sacrifice Kanu is often called
on as well as the dead, and some Limba, when the
question is raised, tentatively suggest that perhaps
the dead convey the requests of the living to Kanu in
somewhat the same way as a father intercedes for his
children with a dominant chief.
Today, the relationships between Kanu and the dead are clearly
defined by the Limba. No one debates the fact that Kanu is
higher than the ancestors and he ��is over all things�� (Finnegan
1965:112). Although the Limba offer the same sacrifices and
prayers to the ancestors as they do to Kanu and sacrifices are
often offered concurrently to the ancestors and Kanu,231 and
although in these acts of sacrifice and prayer they express
their submission and dependence on both Kanu and the ancestors
which would seem to constitute worship, most Limba will argue
that they are venerating the ancestors and not worshipping them.
An interviewee made it clear in these words: ��I wish to make it
clear that we do not worship the ancestors as we do in the case
of God, we merely venerate them as our dead relatives who
brought prosperity to our communities and who continue to care
for us.��232
The question of whether Africans worship or venerate their
ancestors has been a matter of interest for several decades.
Fashole-Luke (1974:210-11), poses the question: ��Do Africans
worship their dead ancestors or do they venerate them?�� To him
the question is not just academic because it involves, ��the
problem of whether African ancestral cults are merely idolatrous
practices,�� and ��the problem of whether the rituals and
practices offered to the ancestors constitute true worship.�� He
challenges the reader to assess ��whether the quality of the so-
called worship offered to the ancestors is of the same nature as
that offered to the Supreme Being.�� His considerations are
vital in our attempt to explore an adequate answer to the

231This is evident in prayers like: ��Kanu Masala and you dead��may we have cool
hearts��if anything remains for me to say, may you complete it for me you
dead; may you complete it Kanu Masala�� (Finnegan 1965:110),
232Santigie Sesay (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
After a close look at ancestral rites, practices, and prayers,
Sawyerr (1966:33-39) argues that ancestral cults constitute true
worship. Much later in another published work (1996:43-55),
after discussing his views and the views of several other
scholars on the appropriateness of the term ��ancestor worship��
Sawyerr (1996:55) concludes that, ��Africans do worship their
ancestors as they do their divinities�� and this worship, he
continues, ��consists of prayers, sacrifices, and divination on
communal occasions or prayers and divinations on private
occasions.�� In Sawyerr��s understanding, the rituals and
practices offered to the ancestors both in public and in private
constitute legitimate worship and are of the same nature as
those offered to God.
Parrinder (1962:65-66), after considering the various scholarly
debates on the issue suggests: ��Perhaps the African attitude to
the different classes of spiritual beings might be expressed
approximately in terms used in Roman Catholic liturgy��It might
be helpful to speak of Latria for the Supreme Being alone in
Africa, with Hyperdulia for the gods and Dulia for the
ancestors.�� Latria, Dulia and Hyperdulia are Greek terms that
were developed to differentiate between different types of
honour in order to make more clear which is due to God and which
is not. Latria is used to designate the honour that is due God
alone, Dulia is used in reference to the honour that is due
humankind especially those who lived and died in God��s
friendship, i.e., the Saints. Hyperdulia is a combination of
the words hyper and dulia meaning ��beyond dulia.�� This is
reserved for the honour given to the Virgin Mary, who is worthy
of honour higher than the dulia given to other saints.
On the basis of these distinctions Catholics have sometimes
said: ��We adore God but we honour his saints.�� Fashole-Luke
(1974:211-12) in a similar view states:
The basic axiom of the Christian faith is that worship
should be offered to God alone; but throughout the
history of the church there have been rituals and
prayers offered to saints which sometimes come very
close to worship. Critics of the cult of saints and
martyrs have often described these rituals as ��Saint
Worship��, but their practitioners have replied that it
is neither Christian worship in a debased form, nor
does it contradict the basic Christian premise that God
alone is worshipful. This reply is grounded on the
distinction between various qualities or levels of
worship, so that a Christian can honestly say that he
worships only the true and living God and venerates the
saints. This does not mean that veneration of the
saints is not genuine; it is merely an acknowledgement
that it is at a lower level than worship of God. We
suggest, therefore, that this distinction is equally
valid in African religious beliefs and practices
concerning the ancestors and provides us with an
adequate paradigm for understanding these rituals and
practices: worship of the Supreme Being, veneration of
the ancestors.
Fashole-Luke further argues that, ��the phrase ��ancestor worship��
is emotionally charged, conjuring up primitive and heathen ideas
of idolatry���� while in contrast, ��the phrase ��ancestor
veneration�� is neutral,�� and does not present us with the
negative images provoked by the phrase ��ancestor worship��. He
strongly recommends we discard the phrase ��ancestor worship�� and
adopt the phrase ��ancestor veneration�� in discussions pertaining
to African ancestral cults.
Having considered the arguments of Parrinder and Fashole-Luke,
��ancestor veneration�� seems a more appropriate term for the
African regard shown to ancestral spirits than does ��ancestor
worship.�� The Limba venerate their ancestors on account of the
mediatory role that they play between God and the living, and
the service they render as elders of their families. The
ancestors deserve veneration ��for what they are and do for
us.��233 Let us now look at some rites of ancestor veneration.
6.6 Ancestral Rites
Like God, the ancestors are reached mainly through sacrifices
and offerings which are made for various purposes and at
different levels.234 Ancestral sacrifices may be offered in
response to the advice of a sacred specialist whose advice was
sought out for the appropriate response to some present or
imminent misfortune. They are also offered for regular and
recurring purposes including, the accession of a new chief, the
dedication of a new house and at important points in the rice
farming cycle. Smiths, hunters, diviners or the owners of
swears make their own special sacrifices to dead predecessors
(whether their actual ancestors or not)�� (Finnegan 1965:110).
At the chiefdom and village/town levels a sacred specialist or
occasionally, the oldest person present leads the ceremony. On
the compound level, the ceremony is conducted by the oldest
person in the clan. At the household level, the oldest son, or
the brother of the deceased, leads the ceremony, which may be
held at either the house or the graveside. It is common to find
a small shrine in a home where food is occasionally placed for
an ancestor. On the personal level, a competent individual who
knows the procedures and formalities may offer sacrifice to an
ancestor or ancestors. However, most people prefer to engage

233Santigie Sesay (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
234Cf. Finnegan (1967:20).
the services of a sacred specialist to perform the ceremony on
their behalf because of his/her religious status.
At all levels, the ceremony follows a similar order starting
with an invocation, followed by a libation, a prayer, the
offering of gifts and a concluding prayer. On the chiefdom and
village/town levels, music and dancing precede and follow the
ceremony. ��In most cases, kola nut (huthugeõ) and rice flour
(hudege) are used to contact the ancestors.��235 At certain levels
Kanu and the ancestors are addressed jointly in prayer. Because
the ancestral rites are nearly identical at all levels, and
because the rites at all levels are very similar to those
offered to God, we shall avoid eminent repetitions by only
considering the unique household and personal graveside
(kahuloma/kaboõa) ceremonies.
6.6.1 Household
The Limba, like other ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, go to the
cemetery to speak to an ancestor or ancestors.236 In the
hinterland people go to the cemetery as often as they want. In
Freetown, most people go to perform ceremonies at the cemetery
only on New Year��s Day. In general, Limba traditionalists
believe, that it is more respectful and effective to go to the
graveside when time permits in order to speak to the deceased
than to attempt to do from home. The family will take along red
kola nuts, rice-flour, fruit and water for the ceremony.
A family may find time to go to the graveside to offer sacrifice
is to seek help to resolve family disputes or to help straighten

235Hamusa Kargbo (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
236For example, the Mende (Harris 1968:20-22), the Krio (Wyse 1989:12), & the
out a recalcitrant family member who is causing trouble for
him/herself and for the family or community. In these
situations the family consults an ancestor who was capable of
resolving family dissensions amicably or whose advice the
troubled family member was known to heed.
The oldest son or the brother of the deceased or the oldest
family member present will lead the ceremony. The kola nuts
will first be opened and, as they are being rolled on the
deceased��s grave, the leader may say the following words:237
Pa Sori, yu fambul d]n kam f] si yu Pa Sori, your family has come to see you
Wi want f] tuk to yu We want to talk to you
Mak wi si yu mind thru den Let us see your mind through these
kola ya so kola nuts
As usual, the ancestor is named. In this case he is called Pa
Sori.238 As expected, his family came to speak with him because
they needed help. To the traditionalist the mind and voice of
the Supernatural is visible through kola nuts. When both sides
of a spilt kola nut lie flat, it indicates a positive response
or answer; otherwise it is a negative response. From the
contents of the prayer that follows, we may conclude that Pa
Sori gave the visitors the go-ahead to continue their ceremony.
This favourable response is followed by the pouring of a

Kono (Parsons 1964:26).
237The prayers in this section are in the Krio language because that was the
language the interviewee (Santigie Nyankuthegbe Interviewed August 2002:
Freetown) decided to communicate in. The Krio language as stated earlier is
the common parlance in Sierra Leone. All Sierra Leonean ethnic groups speak
Krio as well as their own language.
238The term Pa is a title of respect when addressing an older man or somebody
in position of trust. Sierra Leoneans used to call the former military head
of state Capt. Valentine Strasser (who was in his late twenties) by that
title because he was the head of state. Male Teachers and Pastors are
frequently called by that title. The term is frequently used in reference to
an older man.
libation, after which, the reason for the veneration is made
Pa Sori, wi n] kam f] dist]b yu pis Pa Sori, we have not come to disturb your
Wi get pr]blem we yu no bot We have a problem that you know about
Yu na bin di p]sin we bin de hep wi You were the person helping us
Di tr]bul we you lef na di hos The trouble that you left in the home
de go ]n still goes on
As no yu bin abul f] mek pis As you were the peacemaker,
we done cam to yu we have come to you
Yu de naw na di tru w]l hep wi You are now in the true world
]si G]d de where God is
In Limba spirituality, the good dead are always presumed to be
in peace. Therefore, the visitors make it clear that they have
not come to disturb the peace of the deceased. They came with
an old problem that the deceased already knew, and which he had
tried to help resolve while he was alive. Now that he is in the
true and better world where earthly occurrences are no longer
hidden from him,239 the family believes they can now count on him
for help even more than before because he is in a better place
and has the resources to help resolve the problem.
After making their purpose known, a request is then made:
Mek G]d gi yu the pawa f] hep wi May God give you the power to help us
dis tem this time
Hep wi setul dis pr]blem Help us settle this problem
N] tay ya pan wi Do not be weary with us
Hep the fambul f] ti nap tranga Help the family to stand strong
Luk wetin wi bring f] yu Look what we brought for you
Mek G]d hep wi ]l. Emen. May God help us all. Amen.
In the first line, we see that the venerators attribute power to
God and not to the ancestor. If the matter is going to be
settled once and for all, it is God who will give the deceased

239Cf. Sawyerr (1996:45).
the power to fix it. Pleas are made, for patience because the
venerators are concerned that they might have already wearied
the deceased with their problem and for help to enable the
family to stand strong in times of challenge and struggle. The
sacrifice is then offered and the ceremony is concluded with a
request for God��s help for both the venerators and the ancestor.
6.6.2 Private
When a deceased relative appears in a dream240 and complains
about being mistreated, the person who has offended the deceased
goes to the grave to make amends. He may take along a sacred
specialist with the usual kola nut, rice-flour. If the
individual decides to go alone, he/she may start by saying:
Mi papa/mama a d]n kam f] tuk to yu My father/mother I have come to talk to
en setul di pr]blem we a d]n kawz And settle the problem that I have caused
A tek G]d naym beg yu I take the name of God to beg you
f] padin mi f] di bad a d]n du to forgive me for the bad I did to you
Na G]d in naym a beg f] padin In God��s name I am begging for
Mi na m]tal man a de mek mistek padin miI am human I make mistakes forgive me
The opening statement shows that the individual has come to talk
to either a parent or an older deceased person.241 The deceased
was offended through either neglect or some other unacceptable
behaviour by the venerator. The phrase ��I take the name of God
to beg you,��242 is a tool to encourage a positive response where

240Cf. Harris (1968:20-22).
241It is common to hear people addressing a non-parent father/mother as the
case may be. This is also a sign of respect reserved for the elderly.
242I was told that usually when the name of God is sincerely used to ask the
ancestors for forgiveness, no kola nut or any other means is needed to know
the mind of the dead because the deceased or ancestors will surely respond
positively. However, most traditionalists feel that worship without kola nuts
will be empty, so they are always used even when God��s name is invoked to win
the favour of the ancestor(s).
this may be difficult to obtain. Among the Limba as well as
among the other ethnic groups of Sierra Leone, no one expects to
be turned down when asking for forgiveness or making another
request in the name of God. This is thought to ensure a
positive outcome.
The worshiper proceeds to acknowledge his/her failures and
throws the sides of the spilt kola nut on the ground to
determine the result. When a positive result has been obtained,
the ceremony is concluded with an expression of thanks, and as
in the concluding phrase of the previous ceremony��s prayer, God
is asked to help both the worshipper and the ancestor:
Tenki, tenki, a gladi f] padin mi Thanks, thanks, for forgiving me
Mek dadi G]d mek we f] wi ]l May God make a way for us all.
Israelite funeral rites ��have sometimes been explained as
evidence for a cult of the dead�� (De Vaux 1997:61). Sometimes,
��the argument is that the deceased person was feared, and that
the living therefore wanted to protect themselves from him, or
to secure his goodwill; at other times, it is argued that the
living attributed a kind of divinity to the dead�� (De Vaux
1997:61). In Israelite history:
Excavations show that there was a time when the
Israelites followed the Canaanite custom of depositing
food in the tomb��similar customs continued for a long
time, and still do continue in parts of the Christian
world; they indicate nothing more than a belief in
survival after death and a feeling of affection
towards the dead. They are not acts of worship
directed towards the dead, for that attitude never
existed in Israel. Prayer and sacrifice of expiation
for the dead (both incompatible with the cult of the
dead) appear at the very end of the Old
Testament��Finally, these ceremonies were regarded as a
duty which had to be paid to the dead, as an act of
piety which was their due (1 Sam 31:12; 2 Sam. 21:13-
So far there is no Biblical or historical evidence that the cult
of the dead originated from Israel nor was it a part of their
religion. Biblically, ancestors are not involved in the lives
of the living, nor do they attempt to contact the living.
Attempts by the living to contact the dead are condemned, and
the possibility of such contact is never confirmed (Ferdinando
1996:120). In this regard, ��we conclude that the dead were
honoured in a religious spirit, but that no cult was paid to
them�� (De Vaux (1997:60-61).
6.7 Conclusion
The ancestors are the ancestral spirits of adult dead relatives
who during their lives had attained physical and/or moral
prominence, and have made positive contributions to their
communities, and on the basis of these qualifications have been
included in the community of the venerated dead. Ancestral
Spirits are believed to be very active in the affairs of the
living as mediators between God and the living, as guardians of
the culture, institutions and values of the ethnic group. In
that respect, the Limba like most African traditionalists
venerate their ancestors.
The rituals used to venerate Limba ancestors are very much the
same as those used to venerate God. However, a close look at
the prayers offered during ancestral veneration makes it clear
that the ancestors are regarded as subordinates to God.243 For
example, the last lines of the closing prayers of the household

243Though the ancestors are intermediaries between the living and God, and may
have more power and knowledge than humankind, ��they do not grow spiritually
and private graveside ceremonies: ��May God help us all�� and
��May God make a way for us all�� show that the venerators pray
for God��s help and God��s way for themselves and for the
ancestors as well.244
The NPLC, like their AOG forebears unanimously condemn ancestral
veneration as heathen superstition. As they strive to enforce a
complete break from traditional practices, in their preaching
and teachings they try to avoid the use of the word ��ancestor��
(which in Limba vocabulary refers to only the venerated dead) in
order to prevent a possible misunderstanding. They substitute
the phrase ��hero/heroine of faith�� where the word ��ancestor��
appears in the Bible.
Although the Bible prohibits Ancestor worship (Deut. 18:11-12)
and Moses found it necessary to specify such worship was not
compatible with the worship of God (Deut.26:14b), there is
Archaeological evidence that shows that the ancient Israelites
deposited food near the tombs of their venerated dead (De Vaux
1997:61). This custom still continues among many Christians in
the world. In Sierra Leone, on January 1st of each year, many
Christians take food and gifts to the graves of their departed
The Roman Catholic tradition makes provision for the veneration
of departed Christian saints, and defines it in the Doctrine of
Dulia. Christians who are involved in these practices, like
their Limba counterparts, are careful to specify that their

towards or like God�� (Mbiti 1989a:160).
244The Mende conclude their ancestral prayers with õgew] jahun (��by the will of
God��), and the Krio bai God pauer (��by the power of God). Like the Limba,
��this suggests that the ancestors are thought of as capable of fulfilling the
requests expressed in the petitions, but also somewhat dependent, in the
ultimate analysis, on the sovereign Will of God, who has greater power than
actions are not acts of ��worship�� directed towards the dead.
Rather, they indicate a feeling of affection for the dead and
are regarded as an obligation which the living have to pay to
the dead as an act of piety that due them.
The major difference between ATR and Christian teaching is that
ancestors in the Bible are only heroes of faith, and are not
involved in the lives of the living as intermediaries between
God and humankind, or as helpers and providers for humans.
Having thoroughly discussed Ancestral Spirits/Ancestors let us
now move on to the study of Non-Ancestral Spirits and their
various roles.

the ancestors��and controls all that happens in the world�� (Sawyerr 1996:47).
Non-ancestral Spirits
7.1 Introduction
The Limba, like most African peoples, believe that their
spiritual world is full of a myriad of spirits.245 ��We have
hundreds of spirits roving around us��246 the traditionalist would
say. These non-ancestral spirits are believed to be quite
different from ancestral spirits (Finnegan 1965:113).247
Finnegan (1965:113) states that non-ancestral spirits ��are not
and never have been human.�� According to Limba pneumatology,
this is not true of all non-ancestral spirits. Ghosts, who are
considered non-ancestral spirits, like the ancestors were also
once human and fall under the category of Human Spirits.
Further, these spirits live outside the social order of the
village (Finnegan 1965:113), while the ancestors are in the
village and fall within the social order. For this reason,
unlike the ancestors, the spirits are considered to have more in
common with animals than with humans (Finnegan 1965:113) and to
relate only to individuals who have ��double sight�� thaya thale
(lit. two eyes) to see them and communicate with them.

245See Mbiti (1989a:77) and Harris (1968:1).
246Samuel Koroma (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
247Gittins (1987:53) in his work on Mende religion draws a distinction between
the ancestral and non-ancestral spirits. In a footnote he states that the
Mende, ��are perfectly aware of the distinction of what I call ��ancestral�� and
��non-ancestral�� spirits��.�� The former, are considered social, and the latter,
The NPLM based on Ephesians 6:12 and the deliverance miracles of
Jesus and the apostles, also believes that our world is infested
with myriads of benevolent and malevolent spirits. However, the
church holds the traditionalists responsible for encouraging
evil spirits by having personal and collective relationships
with them and for venerating them because of their powers. For
the NPLC, Christ has authority over evil spirits (Matt. 8:28-34;
Luke 8:26-36; Mark 1:32-34; Luke 4:41)), and has bestowed that
authority on his disciples (Mark 3:13-15; Luke 10:17-20).
Therefore, when a Christian��s life is believed to be threatened
by demons or evil spirits, prayers claiming the authority of
Jesus are offered to rebuke these forces.
In this chapter we shall look at the various categories of non-
ancestral spirits, their characteristics, and how they are
7.2 Categories and Characteristics of Spirits
7.2.1 Natural Spirits
Non-ancestral spirits are classified as either natural spirits
or human spirits.248 Natural Spirits249 are believed to be either
celestial250 or terrestrial251 beings.252 They were created as
they are and are either associated with natural features, or
rove disassociated (Ferdinando 1996:113). Because of the
��mysterious, fearsome and somatic nature��253 of thabekede
(��mountain/hill top��), thasili (��lake��), gb]nk]ni (��forest��),

are considered non-social.
248See Gittins (1987:92-97), Mbiti (1989a: 74-89) and Magesa (1997: 53-57).
249Cf. Harris (1968:3, 34-53); Parrinder (1962:43-54).
250Cf. Evans-Pritchard (1956:28-62).
251Cf. Evans-Pritchard (1956:63-105).
252Cf. Magesa (1997:53).
õagb]r] (��cave��) and kutene/õatene (��cotton tree��), spirits are
commonly believed to inhabit them.254
Natural spirits are varyingly considered good, bad, or
ambivalent in their operations.255 The good spirits are called
kukahi/mabakaõ, and the bad ones are called
waali/mbaaliõ/mbaayiõ. In general, nature spirits are
characterised by an unpredictable ambivalence and must therefore
be treated cautiously.
The acquisition of special skills and good fortune is often
attributed to good spirits. It is believed that bathaya (a
person gifted with a ��spiritual eye��), will take ��a good
spirit��256 to become wealthy, or renowned or to attain certain
skills. It is a common notion that people with outstanding
abilities or talents in the village have ��taken a spirit��
(Finnegan 1965:114-15). For example, ��a young boy who performs
especially well in the athletic dance before initiation��hunters,
smiths, leaders in the societies, strikingly good drummers and
singers, and, above all, the diviners of various kinds��257 are
all believed to have obtained their outstanding abilities from
spirits.258 What is generally said to have happened is that, a
double sighted man or woman wandering in the bush meets a
spirit, that says it is willing to help him or her to get
whatever he or she wishes. An agreement is reached and the
recipients return home carrying the spirit in the form of a
round smooth stone (Finnegan 1965:114).

253Harris (1968:1-2).
254Kalawa Conteh (Interviewed July 2002: Kamabai Town). Cf. Finnegan
(1965:116), Parrinder (1962:43-54), and Magesa (1997:53).
255Cf. Ferdinando (1996:113).
256Samuel Koroma (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
257Finnegan (1965:114).
258Harris (1968:44-46) classified these spirits as ��land spirits�� because they
cater for the land-activities of the people.
Although people may be aware of the causes of a particular
misfortune, suffering, accidental or inexplicable deaths, as
well as the deaths of young people are usually considered to be
the acts of evil spirits (Finnegan 1965:108). Natural
disasters, such as floods and the consequent destruction are
attributed to the anger of nature spirits.259 Destruction caused
by thunder and lightening, wind and rain, are similarly thought
to be the work of spirits.260
The following are the most commonly consulted spirits in Limba
(1) Ninkinanka262 is the spirit consulted by chiefs for power
and influence. To gain skill and prominence in his
chieftaincy, a chief has to be in constant touch with the
supernatural. Apart from this understanding,
traditionalists believe that the chief, as a powerful
figure, derives his power from a greater power that makes
ruling possible. This power may be the Supreme Being, the
ancestors or the spirits.
(2) Yaar] is the spirit that possesses other prominent men in
the community. Prominence is difficult to attain
exclusively through human power or influence.
Traditionalists believe that rich or famous people have

259In ATR, it is believed that spirits dwell in ��wells, springs, rivers, lakes
and the sea�� (Parrinder 1981:50). See also, Harris (1968:39-44), Jell-Bahlsen
(2000:38-53) and Wicker (2000:198-222).
260Cf. Magesa (1997:53). In Sierra Leone ��a country in which natural forces
often oppress at their most awesome. Religious belief is accordingly
inculcated by thunder-storms, great rains and winds���� (Harris 1968:3).
261Information on Ninkinanka, Yaar], Kolidonso, Sokoro and Gbaõgba was sent to
me by Rev. MacFoday Kamara after my fieldwork.
262Finnegan (1967:280) states that this spirit ��seems sometimes to be conceived
of as like a snake, living in the forest�� and ��sometimes as like the
rainbow.�� The association of Ninkinanka with the description of a rainbow
fits well with the story that is told about him (Finnegan 1967:280-83).
taken the spirit Yaar] to make them what they are, and to
maintain their status.
(3) Kolidonso is the spirit for hunting. Good and excellent
hunting skills are attributed to the patronage of the
spirit Kolidonso.
(4) Sokoro263 is a dwarf spirit that is also contacted for
hunting purposes. As the counterpart of Kolidonso, Sokoro
is believed to be equally powerful, but much shorter in
stature which makes him very swift to find game.
Clan and Personal spirits also fall under the category of nature
spirits. Some spirits are thought to stand in a special
relationship with certain clans for example; Kumba is connected
with households in Bumban and Bafodea, and the spirit K]yande is
identified with the Biriwa chiefdom.264
The most popular and revered of all nature spirits is Gbaõgba.
It is the spirit of the male secret society and also the main
spirit of the ethnic group. Although it is not known how the
females have, along with the males, come to accept Gbaõgba as the
main spirit of the Limba. As the main spirit of the Limba, it
is not surprising that Gbaõgba is feared by a majority of the
people, and also why the Gbaõgba secret society is found only in
the Limba homeland. There are also several other kinds of
spirits, which are referred to as Thumbu, Sumuyenke, Kondeyo,
Hukoko, and by several other names.

263Cf. (Finnegan 1967:280).
264Finnegan (1965:115-116); cf. Mbiti (1989a:75), Harris (1968:3).
There are a number of similarities between the pneumatologies of
ATR and of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Like Limba tradition,
in the Judeo-Christian tradition there is a strong belief in the
existence of spirits (Ferdinando 1996:120) both good and evil
(DeHaan 1972:10; cf. Achtemeier 1996:236).
The good spirits are allegiant and obedient to God. In this
category we have the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, and ��a
great number of angels called ministering spirits�� (DeHaan
1972:10). The Spirit of the LORD/God and the Holy Spirit are
one and the same (Acts 2:16-17) and represent God��s mysterious
power or presence which he gives to individuals and communities
that empower them with ��qualities they would not otherwise
possess��265 (Achtemeier 1996:432; see also Erickson 1992:266-67).
In the OT, leaders like Moses, Joshua, the Judges, David,
Solomon, prophets, and kings receive their prowess from the
presence of the Spirit of God. In the NT, it is God��s Spirit
that endows Jesus with power to fulfill his mission (Matt. 3:13-
17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:16-21) and
that empowers the apostles and the early church as seen in the
book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles. Today it is believed
that the Holy Spirit continues to sustain the church and
believers (Erickson 1992:268-275).
The evil spirits are believed to be disobedient to God and
��under the direction of Satan who controls an organised host of
wicked spirit beings. They are a formidable foe arrayed against
God and His people���� (DeHaan 1972:10; cf. Achtemeier 1996:236).
The notion that there are myriads of ��evil forces in the world
that manifest themselves in various ways�� is still valid in the

265Unlike the Limba traditional spirit kukahi/mabakaõ which is taken by a
person with a ��spiritual eye�� for empowerment and prosperity, God bestows his
Holy Spirit on people on his volition.
Judeo-Christian worldview (Achtemeier 1996:236). A close
reading of the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles reveals
��that Christ and His apostles accepted the reality of evil
spirits, and taught their followers to fear them�� (DeHaan
1972:29). In the OT there is evidence of a belief in malevolent
spirits (Gen. 6:1-4; Lev. 16:6-10, 26; Job 6:4; Ps. 91:5-6; Is.
34:14). Little was known about evil spirits. It was not until
the late postexilic period that a cogent pneumatology of evil
spirits developed in Hebrew thought. What developed during this
time frame was a belief in ��numerous evil spirits or demons��
(Achtemeier 1996:236), who were led by an individual spirit
whose most common designation was ha Satan (��the accuser��).
This eventually came to function as a personal name ��Satan.�� In
the Septuagint, the title ha diabolos (��the slander/the devil��)
came to be used as the Greek equivalents (Job 2:1; Zech. 3:1; 1
Ch. 21:1). This was also used in the NT for example Matthew 4
and Luke 4. The eventual understanding was of a hierarchy of
demons, organised into armies, under the leadership of Satan
��doing battle with God and God��s allies�� (Achtemeier 1996:236).
These spirits were able to afflict and even possess humans in
order to cause physical or mental illnesses. People even came
to believe that ��demons could take control of nature and cause
natural calamities and disasters�� Achtemeier (1996:236). Jesus��
earthly ministry included the exorcism of such demons (e.g.,
Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39; Matt. 12:22-32; Mark
3:22-27; Luke 11:14-23) and the Apostle Paul demonstrated an
understanding of such a pneumatology (Rom. 8:38; cf. Col. 1:16;
2:15; Eph. 3:10; and also 1 Cor. 10:20).
In Christianity, ��many of the completely inhuman and unnatural
evils of society are at least in part�� attributed to the devil
and his spirits (DeHaan 1972:16). However, there are also
instances in the Bible where God has sent evil spirits upon
people (1 Sam. 16:14-16, 23; 18:10; 19:9; 2 Chr. 18:22).
7.2.2. Human Spirits
The next category of non-ancestral spirits is Human Spirits
(kuyimay). These are the dead who have not been ��integrated
into the ancestor cult�� (Ferdinando 1996:113). These include
witches, wicked dead relatives and ghosts. Witches, and wicked
dead relatives who have not received respectable burial rites,
are believed to become malevolent spirits266 roving around in the
night or day to bewitch or injure the innocent, especially their
enemies or infants. Witchcraft (thawethe/huwethe/huwethi)
Witchcraft267 is practised by a man or woman called bawethi
wo/bayaku wo (��a witch��)268 who may potentially afflict people by
mystical means through the power and encouragement of evil
spirits (Bourdillon 2000:176) usually ��at night guarding against
discovery�� (Finnegan 1965:119). It is said that a witch leaves
the body spiritually when ��asleep and goes out to attack another
person, infant or adult�� while their victim is also asleep
(Sawyerr 1996:11).269 Parrinder (1973:92) has strongly dismissed

266Cf. Ferdinando (1996:113).
267See Magesa (179-89) for a discussion on the English and African usage of the
268The belief as to which gender a witch may be varies in Africa. Like the
Limba, among the Gwari, ��men and women could equally be suspected of
witchcraft (Bourdillon 2000:186). In contrast, the Yoruba and Mende peoples
believe witches are usually women (Sawyerr 1996:11). So also are the Nupe
(Bourdillon 2000:186). Parrinder appears not to have a clear-cut position on
the issue. ��Witches are believed to be women, the word witch can equally well
serve for men�� (Parrinder 1962:122), in other works, he has relegated
witchcraft to only women (Parrinder 1963:138 & 1967:92).
269Because of the evil associated with witchcraft, the mystical power a witch
uses to harm people can be referred to as ��evil magic�� (cf. Mbiti 1989a:194-
such a belief as a delusion adding that: ��People do not leave
their bodies or destroy the souls of others. So in fact there
are no witches, though many people believe in them.�� Parrinder
however failed to give any evidence in support of his argument.
To most Africans witchcraft ��is the greatest wrong or
destruction on earth�� (Magesa 1997:68). In Limba worldview as
in many African beliefs; suffering, sickness and death usually
��have their origin in witchcraft�� (Magesa 1997:68). Witchcraft
is considered the ��reverse of normal values and behaviour�� of
the community (Bourdilln 2000:176). For these reasons
practitioners of witchcraft, ��are always considered to be bad
and anti-social�� (Finnegan 1965:119).
In Limba society, as in many African societies, belief in
witchcraft is very strong. Finnegan reported that most Limba
traditionalists, if asked why they believe in witchcraft would
��often reply by saying that after all the witches confess��
(Finnegan 1965:119) and ��no one could confess to anything so
terrible if they were not guilty�� (Bourdillon 2000:180), even
today, this is still the most common explanation of this belief.
Although witch-hunting is rare in Limba societies, there have
been cases where accused witches have been made to confess under
physical and psychological duress. Today, because of
modernisation, although a confession is seen as ��an indication
of witchcraft practices,�� it does not on its own establish
culpability for a crime (Bourdillon 2000:193). Legally, Limba
authorities are required to ��look very carefully at the
circumstances of the confession and at corroborating evidence��
(Bourdillon 2000:193) before taking any positive action.

96). Magic in a nutshell is the manipulation of supernatural forces by
mystical means (cf. Mbiti 1989a:193). See Parrinder (1962:113-220) & Mbiti
(1989a: 193-96) for an overall discussion on magic.
The Limba believe that ��witches are all round��acting invisibly��
(Finnegan 1965:116, 117). Witches are believed to acquire their
power through their ��double eyes�� which make them capable of
seeing beyond the physical and ordinary. However, not all
people with double eyes practice witchcraft. As mentioned
earlier, many people with exceptional abilities are believed to
have ��double sight.�� This includes sorcerers and traditional
healers (Magesa 1997:180). It is also believed that twins and
triplets posses ��double sight.�� These individuals ��may possess
the same powers as witches, but they are not necessarily
malevolent�� (Magesa 1997:180). Most of them are good people who
use their abilities to expose witches and those trying to harm
others through mystical means. Some use their double vision to
secure wealth and fame through the spirits. The Limba consider
double sightedness as a gift from God. However, like many of
God��s gifts, while most people use them for good, some people
misuse and abuse them.
Witches sometimes take on different forms to commit their
mischievous acts. They, like other ��spirits are capable of
taking the forms of animals, reptiles and birds,��270 therefore
some spirits are associated with animals271 like leopards,
elephants, lions, snakes,272 owls273 and vampire bats.274 Most

270Samuel Koroma (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown). Cf. Harris (1968:74),
Bourdillon (2000:176), Parrinder (1962:118).
271Cf. Harris (1968:5); Parrinder (1962:44).
272Among many ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, it is believed that snakes like
the warmth of a pregnant woman and will wrap themselves around her leg for
comfort (Harris 1968:5).
273The nightly cry of an owl is considered supernatural as a manifestation of
witchcraft (Harris 1968:5). Therefore, when an owl starts to hoot at night,
people come out with sticks and metallic items and start to beat on them
together while using abusive and profane words against the witch who has sent
the owl to come and carry out mischief. It is said that witches do not like
curses or profanity to be used against their mothers. When such words are
uttered, the owl leaves and will not return for a long time.
274The same procedure is also followed when the hooting sound of a vampire bat
is heard. The sound of a vampire bat indicates that witches are sucking
ethnic groups in Sierra Leone believe that even the bravest and
strongest beasts are normally afraid of humans. Because of this
belief, if the Limba hear that a wild animal attacking a person;
it is thought that, that animal or reptile is not ordinary, and
a witch must have entered it. A witch who takes an animal or
reptile form is called ��baõahi wo/bakahe wo.�� Witches also
deprive people through spiritual means by stealing crops,
plaguing and killing cattle, causing harm and destruction on
anyone who is seen as a threat to them politically or socially.
Wicked like-minded people may procure the services of witches to
eradicate a political opponent or a rival in love affairs.
(a) Process of witchcraft
When a witch is full of envy, malice or bitterness, at night,
he/she assumes a spiritual form and leaves his/her physical body
lying in bed while he/she goes and eats the internal parts of
his/her victim by spiritual and mystical means. At times, a
witch may use a gun called ��kufaõki�� to kill a victim. If he/she
is successful, the victim becomes a walking corpse and
eventually dies. Some times, a witch��s plan may backfire if
another double sighted person catches him/her in the act and
decides to stop or destroy him/her. If he/she decides to stop
the witch, the good ��double sight�� individual follows the witch
and blocks him from entering the house of the proposed victim.
If this happens the witch should count himself/herself lucky.
Alternately, if the ��double sighted�� person chooses to destroy
the witch, he/she prevents the witch from entering his/her own
house after a destructive trip. If he/she does not enter the
house and take on his/her mortal body by daybreak, he/she will
die. It is believed that witches fly even great distances to

blood from infants (Harris 1968:5).
find their victims, the power of flight being achieved through
the use of groundnut/peanut shells.275
(b) Eradication and Prevention of Witchcraft
The Limba, like most Africans,276 seek to eradicate witchcraft
because of the destructive results. The most common way this is
achieved is that the witch is named and caught (Finnegan
1965:117) the act of witchcraft is then reversed by a sacred
specialist. There are several ways this may be accomplished.
If the death of a person, or animal or the destruction of
something is declared to be the work of a witch, a diviner
called, basakapu (a person who exposes witchcraft through a
spirit in a box) is summoned to name the culprit. Depending on
the community, if the accused denies the charge, a series of
tests may be conducted to declare the truth, or a ��swear��277 may
be invoked to pursue the miscreant. If the offender is caught
using a ��swear��, he/she must undergo an elaborate and expensive
ceremony to remove the eminent curse of the ��swear��. In most
cases a person found guilty of witchcraft is required to make a
public confession, and it is up to the village to either forgive
or banish him/her.
The Limba are taught from childhood to protect themselves and
interests from witchcraft and evil spirits by procuring
protective charms. Although a witch is considered to be
powerful and is feared by most people, it is also believed that
in the natural human existence he/she ��is vulnerable to certain
charms and spells and could be repelled by them�� (Harris

275Cf. Harris (1968:74).
276See Parrinder (1963:129).
277See Finnegan (1984:8-26) for details on the procedure of ��swearing��, types
of ��swears��, purpose of ��swears��, postulated powers of ��swears��, and control
1968:75). Most Sierra Leoneans ��view the Limba as more involved
in ��medicine�� and the supernatural than any ethnic group in the
country�� (Opala & Boillot 1996:4).
In general these charms are called taliõ beõ (��medicines��).
There are several categories of Taliõ beõ. Sebe are objects used
for protection of one��s home or person. They may be worn as
amulets or pendants or may be hung over the doors of houses in
leather bags that have had tiny chunks of kola nut spat on them.
Kul]õki ko are objects commonly buried on farms. õakure, and
kumanki/kuwanki are objects visibly hung around farms to protect
them against thieves. Kulaba is a combination of white, red and
black pieces of cloth sewn together to be hung outside of a
house and to be fashioned into under vests and slips worn to
protect people from bodily and spiritual harm.278 People also
wash and rub their bodies279 with potions known as Manesi. Charms
may also be sticks, stones, pieces of traditional cloth, or
almost anything a person thinks is powerful.280
Taliõ be are used to ��secure a feeling of safety, protection and
assurance�� (Mbiti 1989a:196). A person��s use of religious
charms reflects ��invisible values and beliefs.�� These charms
serve as ��visual aids�� (Byaruhanga-Akiiki 1993:192) that give
confidence and security to the user.
The spirit of a powerful person is believed to live on after
his/her death with the same passions as he/she had when alive.

on the use of ��swears�� among the Limba.
278This African method of protecting oneself and interests against malevolent
spirit(s) has also been referred to by scholars as magic. Parrinder (1962:
114) refers to this act of mystical protection as ��Personal Magic�� and Mbiti
(1989a:193-94) sees it as ��good magic��.
279Cf. Parrinder (1962:114); Mbiti (1989a:193).
280Cf. Parrinder (1962:122); Mbiti (1989a:193).
For this reason, people make sure that when a convicted witch
dies, steps are taken to prevent him/her from surviving death to
return and cause more mischief.281 To this end, a sacred
specialist (basakapu) is usually summoned and an offering is
made to the ancestors to deactivate the power of witchcraft
possessed by the deceased.282
The NPLC condemns witches and witchcraft on the basis of
Leviticus 19:26b and Deuteronomy 18:10. Parrinder (1963:117,
122) believes that the witchcraft discussed in the Bible is
altogether different than anything known today and that it is
therefore a mistake to use scripture to either condemn or
justify witchcraft as we know it. ��The plain fact is that the
Bible knows scarcely anything of true witchcraft, certainly not
the New Testament, and the few injunctions found in the Old
Testament refer to something else�� Parrinder (1963:118).
To buttress his argument, Parrinder (1963:120-22) gives a brief
study on the Hebrew words which have been translated
��witch��/��witchcraft��. The Hebrew word most often used to denote
a witch is kashaph (Parrinder 1963:120; DeHaan 1972:95). The
meaning of the term is not clear and its significance has to be
judged from its usage (Parrinder 1963:120; cf. Achtemeier
1996:1217). Kashaph in its various forms, is most often
translated ��sorcery,�� ��sorcerer/sorceress,�� or ��diviner��
(Holladay 1988:166; Brown 1996:506). Although the exact details
of the practice of witchcraft are not clear in the Hebrew Bible,

281Cf. Sawyerr (1968:107).
282In olden days the practice of deactivating the spirit of a witch was to
dismember the corpse and bury its parts in different places. That practice
has long since been discarded by the government of Sierra Leone. Other
Africans as well have practices to forestall the activity of the spirit of a
witch. The Temne, like the Limba once dismembered the corpses of witches, the
Efik of Calabar burn the corpses, and some tribes in Nyasaland throw the
corpses of witches to hyenas (Sawyerr 1968:107).
it is stated in the Jewish writings known as the Talmud283 (Joma
83b) that ��some women were ��addicted to witchcraft�� and the
occult�� (Packer 1980:423). In another passage, Sanhedrin 67a,
it also alleged that ��the majority of women are inclined to
witchcraft�� (Packer 1980:423). So far, we have no proof to
justify the similarities and differences between the practice of
witchcraft in the OT (if it existed) and that in ATR.
The NPLC has also condemned traditional charms as ��pathetically
useless�� (Parrinder 1962:116), claiming that they offer no
assurance and ��they evoke no voluntary self-surrender in those
who trust in them�� (Sawyerr 1968:134). The ancient Hebrews also
used charms in the form of amulets.284 Hebrew women wore
earrings (Gen. 35:4; Jud. 2:13; 8:24) and used amulets to ensure
fertility (Packer 1980:442). Men wore pendants ��suspended from
chains around the necks�� and engraved with ��sacred words or the
figure of a god�� (Packer 1980:481). To form another kind of
amulet, scriptural texts were written on a papyrus or parchment
scroll which was then rolled tightly and sewn up in linen
(Packer 1980:481). Eventually, the practice of wearing amulets
came to be considered idolatrous and was replaced by the wearing
of phylacteries ��on the forehead between the eyebrows,�� and ��on
the left arm�� (Packer 1980:482). Moses�� use of the image of the
serpent (Ex. 4:3-5; 7:8-13), Naman��s washing in the Jordan and
eventual cure (2 Kg. 5:1-19) and Christ��s working of miracles in
conjunction with natural objects (John 11:1-53) have been put

283The word Talmud means ��learning�� or ��study�� from the Hebrew word lamad ��to
learn�� or ��study�� (Evans 1992:126). The Talmud contains ��the sayings and
traditions of some of the tannaic rabbis�� (Evans 1992:2). It ��is made up of
Mishna (and Tosepta) plus interpretive expansions called Gemara (from the
Hebrew word gamar, ��to complete)�� (Evans 1992:126).
284An amulet is ��a small object believed charged with divine potency and thus
effective in warding off evil and inviting the protection of beneficial
powers. Amulets were integral to belief in magic and derived their efficacy
from close physical contact with a holy person or object�� (Achtemeier
forward as further evidence of the use of religious charms and
objects in the Bible (Byaruhanga-Akiiki 1993:192).
The NPLC tradition of destroying charms by fire was adopted from
their AOG forebears.285 At the annual adult baptismal service
where charms are burned, the pastors make a show of dangling the
items, while condemning and challenging the powers of evil in
the name of Jesus. The charms are then collected in one place
and burned. The text from Matthew 6:24, ��No one can serve two
masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the
other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other...�� is
usually read and explained before the items are destroyed.
There is a popular Limba church song about the inferiority of
the power of charms:
Kaiõ sebe... (4 times) I do not have sebe
Y]ko Kanu na pitikay yan My trust is on God alone
There is also a song about the powerlessness of traditional
W] bena ka yo ka duniya baõ There��s no one in this world
W] nth]n tuku nde õai heleõ That will die and rise again
W] bena kaa ka duniya baõ There��s no one on earth
W] bena ka wo pindi tuka ya There��s no one that can prevent death
Yi kei ka m]ri woõ mase yama You went to the diviner to help
M]ri woõ dethe, nde gbale manesi The diviner looked, he prescribed charms
Manesi maõ tha yina punku mase The charms were unable to help you
The rationale behind this song is that charms have no power over
death. If they did, many people would be alive today.
One of the reasons given by Limba traditionalists for their dual
religiosity is that Christianity does not provide any visible

285See Olson (1969:192).
protection against evil forces. Because Christianity condemns
the use of charms and religious artefacts for protection against
malevolent spirits, the traditionalists see it as less
protective than ATR and therefore undependable. Further, they
see the NPLM destruction of traditional charms and artefacts as
destructive to traditional culture. Ghosts (��hure��)
A ghost is ��an apparition or sceptre of dead person�� (Parrinder
1962:137). Like many Africans, Limba traditionalists believe
that a spirit becomes a ghost286 when a person has not received
proper burial and is resultantly ��wandering about between this
world and the next�� (Parrinder 1962:60). While ghosts in other
traditions plague people ��and bring sickness to children��
(Parrinder 1962:137), ghosts in Limba tradition are harmless,
but are notorious for stalking and harassing their targets until
something is done to appease them. Usually, this is
accomplished by performing a second burial rite.287 Because of
their habit of harassing the living, ghosts are considered to be
evil spirits. Stories of ghosts haunting homes, offices and
people are still common among most peoples in Sierra Leone.
Judeo-Christian tradition says very little about the activities
of ghosts. The belief in ��disembodied spirits�� (Achtemeier
1996:375) or ��shades�� (Heb. rephaim) is found in the Hebrew
Bible (Job 26:5; Ps. 88:10; Prov. 2:18; 9:18; 21:16; Isa. 14:9;
26:19; cf. 29:4, ��a ghost [Heb. Ohb] from the ground��)
(Achtemeier 1996:375). Jesus�� disciples when they saw him
walking on water (Mark 6:49; Matt. 14:26) and later when they

286Cf. Ferdinando (1996:113).
287Cf. Parrinder (1962:137).
saw him risen (Luke 24:37), mistook him for a ��ghost��
(Achtemeier 1996:375). As in the case with witchcraft, there is
not enough information about ghosts in the Bible to adequately
compare Biblical ideas to those of ATR.
Finnegan (1965:11) concludes that in Limba perspective:
...spirits of every kind share the same
characteristics–that of being away from the
village, potentially dangerous though often giving
their favourites great riches, associated rather
with individuals than a village or lineage as a
whole; they are unlike both the dead who belong to
all, and Kanu who is over everything.
7.3 Offering to Nature Spirits
An offering (kudamaõ) is made periodically or as required to
appease the spirits or as thanksgiving for a fortune received
from the spirits. Kudamaõ is offered to benevolent or
malevolent spirits by the chiefdom/village/town, compound,
household, or individuals in caves (õagb]r]),288 or forests ( ),
near lakes (husili/thasili), or springs (katha sosi), under
huge/cotton trees (kutene/õatene),289 on mountains,290 at shrines291

288Most of the people who go to perform religious rites in caves are those who
have personal spirits. Because of their fearsome nature and home-like
structure, caves are considered to be the home of many spirits. Offerings to
personal spirits for forgiveness, thanksgiving, and prosperity are made in
289Cotton trees are believed to be the meeting places of witches. They are
considered powerful spiritual centres for the agents of ��God Below.�� Not too
long ago in Sierra Leonean politics, candidates for elections would take
offerings to the bases of cotton trees for success and political prominence.
290��There are mountains exclusively for the worship of God/ancestors and there
are others for the spirits�� (Santigie).
291��There are some shrines which are only used for worshipping God and/or
ancestors, while there are others for the purpose of presenting offerings and
for the veneration of non-ancestral spirits�� (Santigie). Every village/town
has a sacred place which people are not allowed to enter without the approval
of the priest. The only people that have the right to enter into these places
freely are the priests in charge. Members of the community can only enter
(thagb]m/õath]k]) which have full-time priests, society bushes,
and black smith��s houses. Kudamaõ is usually made in the
perceived ��home�� of the spirit to which it is made, it is seldom
made at the family/clan shrine where the clan spirit
(nth]ngbakile) dwells. Items offered to these spirits are much
the same as those used for sacrifices offered to Kanu and to the
ancestors. Let us consider some of these ceremonies
7.3.1 Forest Spirits
Offerings to the spirits of the forests are made by those who
have taken a spirit to become outstanding hunters or by those
who believe that contacting the hunting spirits before a hunting
expedition (hudonso) will ensure its success. A hunter
(badonso) who has one of the hunting spirits (kolidonso or
sokoro) may decide to give thanks to the spirit or may make an
offering for forgiveness if the spirit has been neglected or
offended. Either kind of offering may be either a blood
offering or a bloodless offering, depending on the advice
received from a sacred specialist, or on the wishes of the
During the ceremony the spirit��s name is called and the hunter,
or the sacred specialist on behalf of the hunter, expresses his
thanks for all the good the spirit has been doing for him. This
is followed by the offering of gifts. If the purpose is to ask
for forgiveness from the spirit, the hunter does that in the
usual way someone might ask for forgiveness. The hunter
determines whether he has been forgiven by the spirit or not

upon invitation. The importance of these places varies, however, some are for
defence purposes, bush schooling, child bearing and others are for acquiring
a better status. There are other shrines where people go to lay a curse
��swear�� (th]õkoni) on those who have wronged them.
through the use of kola nut in the same way as in the worship of
God and the veneration of the ancestors. Another way in which
the spirit may communicate is through the appearance and action
of vultures. If vultures appear at a particular time and start
eating the meat offered it indicates that forgiveness is in
place. If they do not appear at the appropriate time, it may
indicate the contrary.
7.3.2 Water Spirits
The spirit which controls rivers, lakes and streams is called
Mami Wata (��Mother of Water��). Flooding that is not caused by
rain is attributed to the work of the water spirit. Because
Mami Wata292 is considered to be an agent of the ��god below,��
some people do not bother to appease her but take their concerns
directly to God or to the ancestors. Others go to the stream,
river or lake from which the problem emanated to make an
offering and to offer prayers to appease Mami Wata. Also, if a
river has dried up on account of a drought, the community may
choose to pray to God and the ancestors or to go to the river
banks and present an offering. Such an offering, like most
others, can be either a bloody sacrifice or bloodless sacrifice.
The leader may say as follows:
Riva spirit wi d]n kam Spirit of the river we have come
Becawz yu d]n distraw Because you have destroyed
wi land en pr]pati wit wata our land and property with water
D] ya padin wi eni tin Forgive us for anything
wi d]n d] wrong we have done wrong
Wi d]n bring dis shiip to yu We have brought this sheep to you

292The notion of Mami Wata as the goddess of water is common in some West
African cultures. She is also known as Mami Wota (Jell-Bahlsen 2000:38-53)
and others call her Mami Water (Wicker 2000:198-222).
Acept am en padin wi Accept it and forgive us
Mek dis pr]blem n] bi egen Do not let this problem happen
The worshipers begin by informing the spirit of their presence,
and the nature of their problem. Their land and all their
possessions have been destroyed by water. Because it is
generally presumed that disaster usually strikes when the
spirits have been displeased or offended, the worshipers, are
asking the spirit for forgiveness even though they are not sure
of what wrong they have done.
The people have brought a sheep as an offering, and the spirit
is asked to accept the offering and forgive the people their
wrong. The confession and offering is intended to put an end to
further calamity. The ceremony is then concluded as the throat
of the sheep is slit and the blood is drained and sprinkled on
the river. The meat is left on the banks for vultures to eat.
The notion that nature and/or natural objects possess sacredness
is attested to in the Bible. Jacob after his dream at Bethel
remarked ��How awesome is this place!�� (Gen. 28:17). At the
burning bush God told Moses to take off his sandals from his
feet, for he was standing on holy ground (Ex. 3:5). Because the
Israelites and their ancestors were Shepherds and peasants, they
shared the Canaanite belief that there is a ��divine presence or
action in the springs which made the earth fruitful, in the
wells which provided water for flocks, in the tree which bore
witness to this fertility, and in the high places where the
clouds gathered to give their longed-for rain�� (De Vaux
1997:277). At the wells of Beersheba, Abraham called upon the
name of God (Gen. 21:31) and Isaac set up an altar to God who
appeared to him there (Gen. 26:23-25).
Trees had sacred associations in Israelite religion (Achtemeier
1996:1174). Trees served as memorial objects (Gen. 21:33), and
��they marked the open-air sanctuaries (��high places��) honoured
by the patriarchs (Gen. 12:6-7) but condemned by the prophets
for the illegitimate rites held there�� for example Jeremiah 3:6
(Achtemeier 1996:1174). The palm tree of the prophetess Deborah
between Ramah and Bethel (Jg. 4:5), where she settled ��disputes
between Israelites, probably did have a religious significance��
(De Vaux 1997:278-79).
Despite the command against deifying mountains in Hebrew
religion (Ezek. 18:6, 11, 15; Jer. 3:2, 6, Hos. 4:13), sacred
mountains are attested in the Bible. Mount Sinai or Horeb and
Mount Zion were associated with God (Achtemeier 1996:710; De
Vaux 1997:281). Mount Sinai is called the ��mountain of God��
(Ex. 3:1; 4:27; 18:5; 24:13). It was the place where the
covenant between God and Israel was made (Ex. 19:24), the place
where Moses spoke to God (Ex. 19:3, 10; 24:9) and the place
where God��s presence was revealed (Ex. 19:16, 18). Mount Zion
is the ��holy mountain�� of the Psalms (Ps. 2:6; 3:5; 15:1; 43:3;
99:9) and of the prophets (Is. 27:13; Jer. 31:23; Ez. 20:40;
Dan. 9:16, 20).
In the NT the worship of God was not restricted to any
particular mountain (John 4:2-24). Mountains were significant
in contexts of worship, prayer, and important religious events
(Achtemeier 1996:710). For example, the Sermon on the Mount
(Matt. 5:1-7:29), Jesus�� temptation (Matt. 4:8), his
transfiguration (Mark 9:2) and for his own prayer and devotion,
Jesus went to the mountains (Matt. 14:23; Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12;
9:28; John 6:15). ��The Mount of Olives was the setting for
Jesus�� entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1; Luke 19:29); his
betrayal occurred on the slopes at Gethsemane (Matt. 26:30-56;
Mark 14:26-50); and it is reported that the Mount of Olives was
the site of his ascension (Luke 24:50; Acts 1:9-12)�� (Achtemeier
In both Israelite religion and in the NT, worship was not paid
to these places; ��they merely mark the place of worship�� (DeVaux
7.4 Conclusion
The Limba believe in a myriad of non-ancestral spirits which are
classified as either natural spirits or human spirits. Natural
spirits were created as they are, and are believed to be
associated with natural objects like mountains, waters, forests,
huge trees and caves, and with natural phenomena like thunder
and lightning, storms and rain. Natural spirits are either
benevolent or malevolent. Good spirits are said to be helpful
to individuals and communities and must be honoured for their
patronage and be appeased when offended. When offended or
neglected, malevolent spirits become malignant to individuals
and/or communities, causing misfortune, suffering, death, and
destruction. The Limba have personal and communal spirits that
seek the welfare and interests of the individual and community.
Offerings to return thanks and appreciation to benevolent
spirits are sometimes made in any of the places mentioned above.
Offerings are also sometimes made to drive away malevolent
Non-ancestral human spirits include the spirits of witches,
wicked dead relatives and ghosts. The Limba believe in, and
fear witchcraft. Witches are believed to possess animals,
reptiles, and nocturnal birds to perpetrate mischief. So the
Limba traditionalists do their best to protect themselves
against the power of witches, and if possible, they try hard to
eradicate witchcraft and its practitioners. To protect
themselves from the power of witches, the traditionalists seek
help through sacred specialists who prescribe the use of
religious charms and objects. The Limba are renowned in Sierra
Leone for their expertise and obsession for traditional charms
and objects. Ghosts are the spirits of the dead that did not
receive proper burial rites. Although they are considered
harmless, their habit of haunting the living has caused them to
be classified as evil spirits. Offerings are not made to non-
ancestral human spirits.
The ��Biblical perspectives on the spirit world are a good deal
closer to traditional African thinking than to the skepticism
and demythologizing of much modern Western theology�� (Ferdinando
1996:120). There are a number of key similarities between
African pneumatology and Biblical pneumatology. Both Biblical
writers and African traditionalists believe in the existence of
individual personal spirit beings with identity, intelligence
will and self consciousness. These beings fall into some sort
of hierarchy, which is not well understood by humans. These
beings are powerful and sometimes use their powers to inflict
misfortune on humans. This understanding helps to give meaning
to suffering.
There are also a number of fundamental differences between the
two pneumatologies. Biblical pneumatology is primarily
theocentric and plays little attention to the roles of other
spirits. Any attention which is given to these activities is
always framed in the context of the sovereignty of God who sets
limits on these beings (Ferdinando 1996:130).
African pneumatology on the other hand is anthropocentric and
the spirits are defined morally by their relationship to man,
whether they bring harm or good and almost any spirit may move
from one classification to another based on their actions. The
chief harm inflicted by spirits is physical. ��In the event of
misfortune it is an offending witch or spirit that is invariably
sought out, which contrasts sharply with the theocentric
reaction of Job or of the sufferers in the book of Psalms��
(Ferdinando 1996:123). God often appears to be silent in Limba
Having studied the major components of the Supernatural – the
Supreme Being, Angels, Ancestral Spirits, and Non-ancestral
Spirits, let us now consider what the Limba understand and teach
about Humankind.
Humankind (w] meti)
8.1 Introduction
The Limba traditional worldview as it relates to humankind may
be considered from the viewpoint of humanity��s origin, purpose
in life, and final destiny. In general, humankind is believed
to have originated from God, and is superior to and more
intelligible than any of God��s other creatures. The Limba
believe that there is a purpose for human existence; every
individual has a role to play in the universe. In that regard,
humankind ��is at the very centre of existence,�� and the Limba
��see everything else in its relation�� to humankind��s central
position (Mbiti 1989a:90; Cf. Okorocha 1994:73). Humans in the
journey of life must deal with the Supernatural, and with
animate beings, and inanimate objects. This puts them in a
position where they must strive to maintain a balance between
personal identity as unique individuals on one hand, and
communal identity on the other.293 This advocates ��the
integrative notion of ��person�� as a being-in-plenitude who can
assert his/her being only in concert with other beings�� (Yambasu
Although there are a few issues surrounding humankind on which
the NPLC disagrees with traditionalists, the two groups have
very similar ideas about humankind.
We shall now discuss the origin and nature of humankind;
humankind��s relationship with God and with other creatures and
the human life cycle from birth to life-after.
8.2 Origin and Nature of Humankind
Earlier, under the topic ��God as Creator��, we discussed the
Limba belief that Kanu created humankind. This belief is so
strong and prevalent in their worldview that there is hardly a
Limba who thinks otherwise. The Limba believe that Kanu created
them out of the earth, thus they ��are products of the earth��294
hence the word w]meti (��humankind��) which literally means ��one
created from the earth�� or ��one of a town or village��.295
A person, according to Limba worldview, consists of a body (k]t])
and breath (siba).296 The body contains the breath, which comes
from God and makes humankind a living being. Siba gives life to
the body and ��without its presence the body is lifeless�� (Opoku
1993:75). At death siba leaves the body which is buried, decays
and stays in the grave. The Limba claim not to know the final
destination or end of siba. In addition to the body and spirit,
humankind is endowed with a spiritual nature that enables
him/her to relate with the supernatural.

293Cf. Mbiti 1989a:90).
294Samuel Koroma (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown). In Sierra Leone, the
Mende believe that all people ��originated from the earth�� (Sawyerr 1996:9).
Africans have various myths explaining God��s method of creating humankind.
Some examples are: that humankind was created from clay, out of a hole or
marsh in the ground, from tree, out of a vessel, from human parts, and that
humans came from heaven or from elsewhere (Mbiti 1989a:91-92).
295Samuel Koroma (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
296In Yoruba religion, Olodumare puts his breath into the lifeless bodies which
Orisha-nla had formed to make them living being,�� likewise the Akan teaches
that humankind consists of body and breath and are separated at death (Opoku
1993: 74-75). The Mende believe that humankind is constituted of spirit and
��flesh, muscles, bones and all the other physical components of the human
body�� (Sawyerr 1970:82). In general, the Africans think that humankind is
made up of ��body and soul, but the soul can have multiple contents�� (Sawyerr
From a Biblical perspective, humankind is created by God (Gen.
1:26-27), formed ��from the dust of the ground�� (Gen. 2:7; 3:19,
23). Humankind is made up of soul/spirit and body/flesh (Matt.
10:28; Gen. 6:3; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 5:23; Col. 2:5).297 In the
Hebrew Bible, the soul is the ��breath of life�� that God breathed
into Adam and he ��became a living being�� (Gen. 2:7; cf. 46:18).
Likewise in the NT the soul refers to one��s life (Matt. 2:20;
Mark 3:4; Luke 12:20).
8.3. Relationship with God
The relationship between God and humankind in Limba view is
based on the belief that humans are God��s creation and that God
provides and continues to provide for human existence.298
Although objective proof is understandably lacking, the Limba
claim to be autochthones created from the earth in their present
homeland (Fanthorpe 1998:18), unlike all other Sierra Leonean
ethnic groups who they believed were created somewhere and later
immigrated to their present place. This, they claim provides
them with a special relationship with God. Further, the Limba
claim special relationship with God because their ancestors told
them that God himself came down and formed all their social and
religious institutions, and showed them the skills necessary for
living (Finnegan 1965:107-08).299 They also claim to have
inherited their moral and religious ethics from God (Finnegan

297Cf. Sawyerr (1996:112-113).
298In the story ��The dog and the rice�� (Finnegan 1967:238-39), Kanu created the
Limba people, provided them with food, and taught them the techniques of
farming. In several African stories, God created and put humankind in a state
of paradise with all the necessities of life (Mbiti 1989a:93-94).
299There are stories that support this belief: ��Kanu gave food to the Limba��
(Finnegan 1967:235-38) is about God��s provision for the Limba; ��Kanu gives
chiefship�� (Finnegan 1967:239-44) is about the institution of the Limba
chieftaincy, and ��Kanu and palm wine�� (Finnegan 1967:246-47) speaks about the
Kanu teaching the Limba to tap palm wine.
1965:109). Because of this special status and relationship with
God, the Limba believe that they are obliged to sustain a
harmonious relationship with God; therefore, every individual is
encouraged to strive to be at peace with God and with others.
From the moment one wakes in the morning to the time one goes to
bed in the evening, everything must be done according to God��s
In the Bible humankind is created in the image and likeness of
God implying that humankind belongs to God and should give
him/herself to God. People experience the fullness of humanity
only when they are in proper relationship with God (Erickson
1992:168), and of all creation, humankind alone is capable of
��having a conscious personal relationship with the Creator and
of responding to him�� (Erickson 1992:157). In the beginning the
relationship between God and humankind was cordial (Gen. 2) but
humankind��s disobedience destroyed that fellowship and
relationship (Gen. 3). This relationship was later reconciled
through the atoning death of Christ.
8.4 Relationship with other creatures
Humankind as a creature of the earth is part of the natural
order. Humans share the universe with animate beings and
inanimate objects which are all part of God��s creation (Finnegan
1965:107; Sawyerr 1968:12). Since humans are a part of nature,
they are ��expected to cooperate with it�� (Opoku 1993:77). It is
��the need to remain in harmony with nature�� (Opoku 1993:77) that
has caused the African to incorporate the environment and its
inhabitants into his/her ��religious perception of the universe��
(Mbiti 1989a:90). For the Africans, ��sacredness extends to
their environment and all the means of sustaining life, that is,
the sacredness of all creation�� (Okorocha 1994:80). To be in
harmony with nature is ��to be on good terms with one��s entire
social and spiritual world�� (Zuesse 1991:178). Therefore, in
Limba view, humans as the highest and most intelligent
creatures, have the responsibility to take care of God��s
universe and ��all that is in it.��300 Every individual must be a
caretaker of God��s creation because if humans ��do not take care
of the earth and God��s entire creation; the animals do not have
the ability to do so��301
Limba people are both spiritually and physically connected to
the earth. It is the place where their ancestors are buried, and
it is the source of their livelihood. It is from this
perspective that the Limba speak out and take a tough stance on
ecological302 issues. One interviewee made her frustration known
this way:
There are two things that are paining me about the way
we treat the earth and what God has given to us.
People are going from bush to bush cutting down trees
for firewood to cook food. If you go now to some
villages in my chiefdom, they look like deserts. The
trees which are protecting these villages and giving
them other benefits have been cut down. We know that
wood is vital to cook our food; I believe that there
are other available means of providing fire for
The other problem is with the pollution of some rivers
and streams. Just take a walk along the shores of the
stream around us. Without a doubt you will see trash
and at least a dead domestic animal floating on it.
There are a few more things that happen on rivers and
streams that I cannot say here. If we are saying the

300Sorie Sesay (Interviewed July 2002: Madina Town).
301Sorie Sesay (Interviewed July 2002: Madina Town).
302Although ecology is a wide and complex field that requires the study of
organisms in their environment and the study of relationships among
organisms, the various issues that are being discussed by science and
religion are interrelated and both disciplines are trying to restore a common
relationship between animate and inanimate existence.
earth is God��s and He has delegated the upkeep of it
to us, then let us do it the right way.303
From these words, it is clear that some Limba are ��treating
nature as a mere object of exploitation for the satisfaction of
human needs�� (Opoku 1993:77). As a whole, the Limba strive to
maintain a physical and spiritual balance with nature. The goal
is to live with sacred awareness and an ethic of eco-
sustainability. However, for economic reasons and because of
negligence and apathy, some are not putting to practice the
teachings and beliefs they have inherited. The frustration
expressed above is on two issues which call into the question
Limba stewardship of God��s earth:

303Ya Almamy Turay (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
(1) The indiscriminate cutting down of trees for firewood has
led to forest depletion and has left some villages looking
like deserts. They have been stripped of their trees making
these communities vulnerable to even the mildest storm that
blows. While wood is the most common fuel used for cooking
by people without electricity or kerosene stoves. However,
there is an alternative for the less fortunate in the
country which is charcoal. Charcoal stoves, locally called
��coal pot��, are much more affordable than kerosene stoves.
(2) The pollution of many rivers and streams through the
improper disposal of garbage and other waste. Most people
think that because rivers and streams empty into the ocean,
anything dumped into them will be carried there and
eventually rot away.
Some traditionalists believe that the prevalence of diseases like
cholera and tuberculosis in Sierra Leone is caused by the
careless handling of nature by humankind.
Although most of the published series on ecology,304 have not
addressed ATR and ecology, the contribution of ATR to the
��ongoing world-wide concern with environment cannot be
overemphasised�� (Opoku 1993: 78).
Limba traditionalists believe that animals were created by God,
are a very important part of nature, and should be treated with
respect. Every Limba clan, like those of many African
societies,305 has a taboo (thana/kasi) which forbids clan members
from eating particular animals or birds (Finnegan 1965:52). The
infraction of a taboo is a sin called kad]k]/kak]. In general the
intentional destruction of any animal, reptile, or bird is
considered a sinful act known as kamal].
However, in spite of these and other restrictions that are
intended by the Limba to prevent the abuse of animals, and to
foster harmonious relationships between humans and animals, the
actual maltreatment of both domestic and wild animals is
prevalent in Limba societies. This is because, as we noted
earlier in this chapter, the Limba believe that humankind is
superior to animals and far more intelligent than them.
In Judeo-Christian tradition, although different from God��s other
created beings, humans are ��not so sharply distinguished from the
rest of them as to have no relationship with them,�� they are

304The Harvard Divinity School��s ��Religions of the World and Ecology�� series,
and the World Wide Fund for Nature��s ��World Religions and Ecology�� series have
nothing presently or upcoming on ATR and ecology.
305Opoku (1993:77).
��part of the sequence of creation, as are other beings�� therefore
there should be harmony between humankind and ��the rest of the
creatures�� (Erickson 1992:160).
The word ecology is derived from the Greek oikos (��house��).
Ecology suggests the idea that humankind and all creation forms
��one great household�� (Erickson 1992:160). ��Religious life and
the earth��s ecology are inextricably linked, organically related��
(Sullivan 2000:xi). ��Environmental destruction is not only a
danger�� to human existence, it is also ��a sin against God��
(Rajotte with Breuilly 1992:2). Humankind is God��s agent in
��caring for the earth�� (Achtemeier 1996:442).
Because humankind is uniquely created in God��s image, he/she is
placed over the rest of creation, to have dominion over and take
care it (Erickson 1992: 160; Achtemeier 1996: 442).
8.5 Life Cycle
Religion, in Limba culture pervades every aspect of life from
conception to the afterlife.306 For the Limba, life is a
��holistic�� journey, that ��begins and ends��307 with God who is
consulted ��every step of the way.��308 Awareness of the divine
presence and intervention in their daily lives is reflected in
the rites of passage which mark important stages and events in
the life of the Limba.309 The religious tenets of the Limba, like
those of most Africans, have formed the matrix of every aspect of
Limba life. Mbiti (1989a:2) rightly observes:

306Cf. Mbiti (1989a:107).
307Alie Sesay (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
308Hamusa Kargbo (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
Wherever the African is, there is his religion: he
carries it to the fields where he is sowing seeds or
harvesting a new crop; he takes it with him to the beer
party or to attend a funeral ceremony; and if he is
educated, he takes religion with him to the examination
room at school or in the university; if he is a
politician he takes it to the house of parliament.
In ATR, ��all acts from birth to death and thereafter bind the
person as a communal being to everyone around themselves,
especially those who have passed on to the metaphysical world and
those still to be born�� (Oosthuizen 1991:41).
In the NPLC, religion also permeates the life of every believer.
The church however condemns traditional rites of passage as
devilish and misleading because they are not centred on Christ
and the teachings of the church. Parrinder (1962:90) has
suggested a possible parallel between the rites of passage in ATR
and some of the seven sacraments of the Christian church.
8.5.1 Pregnancy (bah]le) and child birth (hukomisine)
For the Limba the religious journey starts at conception.310 As
soon as a woman knows that she has conceived,311 religious
observances start. These observances are necessary for two

309Cf. Parrinder (1962:90).
310This is also true of other Africans (Parrinder 1962:91).
311In Limba sexual ethics, ��only married women are expected to be pregnant��
(SLDE 1993:91). It is a disgrace to the family whose girl/woman is impregnated
before marriage. In Freetown, the shame will be on the pregnant girl herself.
Therefore, a school going Limba girl drops out of school in her early
pregnancy and with the consent of her parents flees to an undisclosed place
until the child is born and left with one of its grandparents or close
relatives. Presently with the available terms of birth control, teenage
pregnancy has dwindled considerably.
First, the conception and eventual birth of a child is understood
as ��not merely a result of man and woman coming together in the
act of sexual intercourse,�� but ��as the result of a blessing from
God and the ancestors�� (Magesa 1997:83). In that regard, the
sayings: Kanu w]nte de na bile sembe ba duõgu si (��God alone has
the power to give life��), and Kubri iõ sembe sa duõgu si
(��Money/wealth and power cannot give life��) are common among the
Limba. At conception, thanks are given to God who has granted
the couple/family the greatest gift in the world that neither
money nor human efforts can procure. Usually thanksgiving for a
pregnancy is made through prayers only, but sometimes a
sacrifice312 of rice-flour, kola nuts and water is made at home.
Wedding prayers in the hinterland and in the Western Area include
a special prayer for the gift of a child for the newlyweds.
After a year of marriage, if the woman has not conceived, the
couple/family usually attributes it either to sterility or to the
work of witchcraft. In either case, a sacred specialist is
invited to call upon God, the ancestors and patron spirits on
behalf of the couple/family to bless the womb of the woman. A
ritual consisting of exorcism and cleansing is done.
The second reason that religious observances are required at
conception is to thwart the clandestine activities of evil
spirits. The news of a woman��s pregnancy is not received with
ultimate joy until the child is born (SLDE 1993:85). In other
words, the pregnant woman, her husband and the families on both
sides are apprehensive until the child is born.313 During this
period of uncertainty, prayers and small scale sacrifices are

312A sacrifice of thanks for pregnancy and child birth is common in Africa
(Parrinder 1982:91; Cuthrell-Curry 2000: 459).
313This is common among Africans (see Parrinder 1962:91; Parson 1964:36-37).
made to God the one responsible for all pregnancies and births,
and ��to ensure normal gestation and delivery�� (Parrinder
1962:91). Further, certain taboos must be adhered to by the
pregnant woman for her protection and that of the baby:314
(1) Lime fruit on a string should be hung around the woman��s
neck for protection against evil forces.
(2) The woman must not go out for a walk at night because it is
believed that evil sprits are more active during the night
and through witchcraft might enter the womb to destroy the
In Limba society, like many African societies,315 men and children
are not permitted to be present for the delivery. Eventually,
when the child is born, the birth attendant gently spanks the
baby, to make it cry, the cry proves that the baby is alive and
healthy.316 In Freetown, where most births take place in
government hospitals, medically trained midwives assist in the
delivery, and in most cases boys are circumcised before leaving
the hospital. Boys born in the hinterland where in most cases
there is no proximate medical centre, are usually circumcised
during their pre-teen or teenage years before their initiation
into the secret society. A boy born at home in Freetown, is
later taken to a local druggist or nurse for circumcision.317

314This is also common in African societies (Parrinder 1962:91-92; Mbiti 1989a:
315See Parrinder (1962:92; Mbiti 1989a:109).
316For health reasons, the former practice of spitting kola nut into the
child��s mouth by the birth attendants (Finnegan 1965:75) is no longer in
practice in most Limba communities.
317Circumcision is practiced in most parts of Africa (Parrinder 1982:94).
When a child is born at home, the mother should make sure that
fishing net is placed on the door where the child is, within a
day after the birth. This is intended to catch malevolent
spirits that may attempt to enter the child��s room to harm it.
Both mother and baby are required to stay inside the house for
several days before coming outside. During this time the husband
or another close relative is obligated to prepare meals called
marebe/masepe (��to cleanse the stomach��) for the new mother.
Marebe, is made up of rice and palm oil stew.
Because ��life is from God,��318 the foetus has the right to life
from the moment conception takes place. The Mende believe that
the ngafa (��life/spirit��) is from God and enters the mother��s
body like the Akan kra (��a spiritual likeness of God��), ��thus
inspiring and giving life to her blood, that is to the foetus��
(Sawyerr 1996:68). A majority of Limba traditionalists are
strongly opposed to abortion. An interviewee has this to say:
Abortion has no place in our tradition. We can never
destroy God given life��Anyone who destroys God��s
creation that way is doomed for a life full of trouble
and misery. In fact that person is no different than a
witch who goes out to eat a child in its mother��s womb.
To us there is zero tolerance when it comes to
However, a Westernised and educated interviewee views things
somewhat differently:
Abortion I believe should only be accepted on medical
ground. If the mother is getting problem with the
conception and if it is not aborted will result in
tragedy, I recommend that abortion is the best way to

318 Madam Kumba Koroma (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
319Madam Kumba Koroma (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
go. I believe like other traditionalists that life is
from Kanu and we do not have any right to destroy it.
But there are circumstances at times that call for that
action. For instance, coming back to the war we were
just discussing. Traditionalists took people��s lives
through supernatural means because it was necessary to
do so because our lives at that time were at risk
something drastic had to be done to save ourselves.
This situation is not different from the mother whose
life is at risk to abort a pregnancy that threatens her
life. Our people I know will never see my logic. In
fact they will call me poto ��White man�� because of my
ideas. I only do not justify getting rid of a
pregnancy that was a result of rape. Also, it is wrong
when girls who go for abortion because our custom
teaches that it is wrong to have a baby out marriage.
They know that it is wrong to have a child if you are
single, then they should abstain from sex. Equally,
abortion for the sake of poverty makes no sense to me.
We all know that in our culture you have to take care
of your child until he/she gets married. Then you
should be financially prepared to take full care when
it comes.320
In Judeo-Christian tradition, conception is also seen as a gift
from God. The angel of the Lord told Samson��s mother that she
would ��conceive and bear a son�� (Jdg. 13:3); it was the Lord who
caused Ruth to conceive (Ruth 4:13), and Mary��s conception was
from God through the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20). Children were
God��s gift to humankind, and it was a joyful experience when a
woman became pregnant especially after long years of waiting
(Gen. 30:23; Luke 1:58). During delivery, a midwife321 usually
assisted the mother (Gen. 35:17; 38:28), and Jeremiah 20:15
suggests that ��the father was not present at birth�� (De Vaux
1997:43). The Roman Catholic Church, the NPLC and most Christian
anti-abortion322 movements have argued against abortion on the

320Bagbon Samura (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
321See De Vaux (1997:43), and Packer (1980:444). For a detail discussion on
midwifery in Bible times, see Packer (1980:444-45).
322Contrary to pro-choice��s belief, anti-abortionists argue that the foetus is
premise that humankind was formed by God in the womb, that the
foetus is a human being from conception, onwards and therefore
has the legal right to life from the moment conception takes
8.5.2. Naming (athundu keõ)
Limba children are usually named on the seventh or eighth day if
the umbilical has dropped323 otherwise it is delayed until this
happens. The umbilical cord is usually buried near the house.324
As the guests arrive they take turns complimenting the parents
and expressing their appreciation for the invitation. The child
is usually named by the father325 (Finnegan 1965:75 & SLDE
1993:84) who informs the ancestors and presents the child to God
because the child belongs, not only to the family, but more
importantly to God and to the ancestors (Mbiti 1989a:112).

already a human being from the time of conception.
323Cf. Finnegan (1965:75). The naming and out-dooring of a child on the seventh
or eighth day, is a borrowed custom from Islam. Before the coming of Islam,
the Limba did not have a specific time for the child to be named or taken out
of the house, only that a child should not be named until the umbilical cord
had fallen off. The traditional Limba name for the ceremony is Agb]r]õ (��to
shave��), because, on the day of the ceremony the head of the child is shaved
before it is named and taken outside.
324Cf. Parrinder 1962:92; Mbiti 1989a:109-10). See Mbiti (1989a:110) for the
symbolism of the placenta and umbilical cord.
In many cultures, names given to children are chosen and formed
quite deliberately for their meaning, and as noted earlier, a
name in Limba world view is often an indication of a person��s
character, nature, birth position, rank or of some peculiar
quality.326 For example:

325This true also in most African societies (Cuthrell-Curry 2000:462)
326Cf. Finnegan (1965:75), and for other African people see (Parrinder 1962:92-
93; Mbiti 1989a:115; Magesa 1997:89-90).
(1) A name may portray the bearer��s position and function in the
family: The first son is sometimes called Sara, and the
first daughter Sira. The second son is sometimes named
Thamba, the last child, whether a boy or girl, is sometimes
called Manke. If twin boys are born, the first is named
Yandi, and the second Yemmi.
(2) A name may portray the child��s relationship with the parents
or family: Bude is the name of a beloved daughter; Thambo
(��hatred��) is the name of a child hated because of birth
(3) A name may indicate the day on which the bearer was born:
Kathi is a girl born on Sunday; Thene is a girl born on
Monday; Thalatha is a girl born on Tuesday; Yaraba is a boy
born on Wednesday; Yalamusa is a boy born on Thursday;
Yarime is a boy born on Friday and Simithi is a girl born on
(4) Sometimes, names are given to mark an important occasion,
especially if a child is born on such an occasion. For
example, a child born during a circumcision or initiation
period is often called Bureyo (female) or Buremaõ (male).
(5) If a child is born during a memorable or unfortunate event
in the life of a family, the parents may give to the child a
name that portrays that experience: Mallo (��joy and peace��);
Thebota (��no peace��); Baleyt]k] (��Do not rejoice��).
(6) A child��s name may indicate the situation of its birth. A
sickly child that has incurred a lot of expenses is
sometimes called D]yoo (��laboured upon��). When the last
parent of the child passed away after its birth, the child
is called Peyo (��orphan/ left/forsaken��). A child called
Piiti (��was forgotten��) indicates its birth was over due.
Rarely if a mother was not aware of her pregnancy the child
is called Thak]th] (��did not know��). If a child is born
during a journey or by the roadside it will be called
Gboõa (��road��). A child who is stillborn or who dies
shortly after birth it is named Muruyo (��no hope��).
(7) If a baby is born deformed or disabled, its appearance is
attributed to the work of a witch or evil spirit. Society
considers such a child to be manifestation of the devil
(waali). The child is often named: yeliyaõ (��Throw Away for
(8) Names may also be given in honour of deceased relatives who
have contributed positively to the family and society. In
this regard, the bearer is expected to follow the traits of
his/her deceased namesake so that the deceased physical
memory will linger.
In certain aspects, the name of a person,327 ��place or event in
Limba culture and custom is to a large extent more than a mere
personal label or tag��328 and a naming ceremony ��signifies that
the transmission of life is completed�� (Magesa 1997:90).
The naming of the child is followed by a thanksgiving sacrifice329
consisting of kola nuts and rice-flour mixed with sugar & salt,
presented to God through the ancestors. The child is then taken
outside the house by an older person to be shown to the world.
After all the rituals, family and friends share a meal of rice
and soup, palm wine and/or other drinks provided by the father.
Some families after this naming and ��out-dooring�� ceremony will
go a step further and take the baby to a sacred specialist to
seek additional protection. The specialist will provide,
different kinds of phylacteries to be worn by the baby, and
potions to rub on the baby��s body for protection against evil
forces. The parents, especially the mother, will continue to
visit the sacred specialist occasionally to keep him informed of
the child��s progress until the child is weaned and a sacrifice is
The NPLC adopted their naming and out-dooring ceremony from the
traditionalists and modified it to portray Christian values. The
ceremony is usually performed at the home of the child. It
starts with a familiar hymn/song, followed by an opening prayer,

327Limba are also fond of giving nickname(s) to people to portray someone��s
character, behaviour, special ability or favourite word. In this case the
first name is followed by the nickname: Sayo -Hugbantama (Sayo - the man of
physical strength and might); Sara - Bathagban (Sara - the bookworm or the
learned); Hode - Gberema (Hode - the guileful/duplicitous); Yimba - Kupethe
(Yimba - the soft spoken); Santigie Nyankuthegbe (Santigie - be careful).
Santigie Nyankuthegbe is a diviner/herbalist in Freetown who likes to tell his
customers and acquaintances to ��be careful�� with both the physical and
spiritual worlds.
328Rev. MacFoday Kamara (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
329Cf. Cuthrell-Curry (2000:462).
the reading of scripture and a short exhortation based on the
reading. The father of the child is asked to give the name of
the child which should have already been written on a sheet of
paper that is passed to the pastor who reads out the name. The
child is then taken outside the house for the first time to be
showed ��the world��.
In the OT the child is named immediately after birth (De Vaux
1997:43). The mother usually named the child330 (Gen. 29:31-
30:24; 35::18; 1 Sam. 1:20), but the father sometimes did331 (Gen.
16:15; 17:19; Exod. 2:22). Later in NT times, the child is named
on the eighth day (Luke 1:59; 2:21). Names were very important
in OT times. ��Each Hebrew name had a meaning, and it became an
important part of the infant��s life�� (Packer 1980:445). Names
given to people usually have meanings, ��whether the names are
given at birth or in adult years�� (Omanson 1989:109).332 A name
��defines the essence, it reveals the character and destiny of the
bearer�� (De Vaux 1997:43). A child is sometimes named after a
particular circumstance of birth (Gen. 4:1; 29:31-30:24; Exod.
2:22; Gen. 25:26; 27:36; 38:29).333
In ancient Jewish culture, certain rituals in connection with
childbirth were observed (Packer 1980:447), because the child
��was born into a deeply religious community�� and the following
rites had special religious meaning in the development of the
child (Packer 1980:447).

330De Vaux (1997:43); Packer (1980:445).
331De Vaux (1997:43); cf. Packer (1980:445).
332See De Vaux (1997:43-46) for a discussion on OT names and meanings, and see
Omanson (1989:109-15) for a discussion and list of OT names and meanings.
333See De Vaux (1997:43); Packer (1980:446).
8.5.3 Nursing (adinki)
In Limba culture, breast-feeding of infants is the norm. The
duration of breastfeeding depends on the health of the mother and
wishes of her husband. The Limba practice both in the hinterland
and in urban areas requires a minimum of six months and usually
lasts eighteen months. During this time the woman should abstain
from sexual intercourse.334 This is why children in a Limba
family are typically spaced by a year and a half to two years. A
woman who does not follow this norm is scorned. Working women in
the western Area are usually given a year long maternity leave by
their employers. The ceremonies that ��accompany pregnancy, birth
and childhood�� signify ��that another religious being has been
born into a profoundly religious community and religious world��
(Mbiti 1989a:117).
In Limba culture, as in many African cultures, much goes on in
the life of the child between birth and puberty: ��Many rites are
performed and many prayers are said to enhance�� the child��s vital
powers. The child also ��learns the traditions and patterns of
the life of the family, the village and the clan, through the
pure curiosity�� but also through various forms of instruction
from parents, the neighbours, the grandparents, and peers��
(Magesa 1997:94).335
NPLC mothers also breastfeed their children and wean them about
the same time as traditionalists. After they are weaned,
children are dedicated to God at a church service. In ancient
Jewish culture, infants were weaned much later, usually by age
three (2 Macc. 7:27), and the weaning was celebrated with a feast
(De Vaux 1997:43).

334Finnegan (1965:75) reports that the normal period for breast feeding a baby
is three years. While this was once the case, a majority of babies are now
weaned by eighteen months. In Africa the period varies considerably (Parrinder
1962:92; Cuthrell-Curry 2000:462).
335Cf. Parrinder 1982:94).
8.5.4 Secret Societies (kahu)
The next important phase of a child��s life journey is his/her
initiation into a secret society. This iniation plays a crucial
role in his/her road to adulthood.336 Limba people claim that the
major secret societies of Gbangban (Poro),337 nabo and Kofo
(Darri) for men, Bondo338 and Humendaõ for women339 have no human
origin. They simply say that ��We met it�� (Ottenberg 1994:364),
the Limba therefore believe that secret societies were
established by God and are maintained by him.340 In that respect,
some educated Limba are strongly convinced that these
institutions should be rightly called ��Secret Sacred Societies.��
These societies are ��secret�� in the sense that no member of the
opposite sex, or child who has not yet been initiated, may know
about the rituals or take part in the dances. They are not
��secret societies�� in the sense of having a concealed or limited
membership, but this does not mean that all persons of an
appropriate age and gender are included in the society��s rituals
(Finnegan 1965:77).
Initiation into these societies is meant to equip an individual
for adult life;341 through learning certain medicinal, magical and

336Cf. Finnegan (1965:75-76).
337Among many African cultures, ��there are closed associations which are
popularly called secret societies�� (Parrinder 1967: 96). The Poro society is
found in many Sierra Leonean ethnic groups, see Little (1949:199); Parrinder
(1962:95-96); Parson (1964:149-56) and Dorjahn (1982:35-62). The Poro ��can be
traced back for several hundred years and is related to other West African
societies�� (Parrinder 1967:96), see also (Parson 1964:149). For various
stories and myths about the origin of Poro, see (Parrinder 1967:96-103).
338The Temne also call their women secret society Bondo (SLDE 1993:204). Mende
(Little 1949:200) and Kono (Parson 1964:143) call their women��s secret society
339Ottenberg (1994:363-87), traces the similarities and differences between the
organisation and rites of the male and female societies in Bafodea.
340Cf. Finnegan (1965:107-08).
341See Little (1949: 200-10); Dorjan (1982:46-56) and Parson (1964:149) for
details on the importance and significant role secret societies play in other
technical skills patterned by these societies (Finnegan 1965:77-
9); and to honour both men and women (Fanthorpe 1998a:21). The
men��s societies are not operated in Freetown only the women��s
Bondo society is seen.
Because secret societies are considered sacred, the process of
initiation is preceded by certain religious activities. The bush
is cleansed from evil forces and consecrated to prevent unwelcome
spiritual forces from entering it and causing havoc.342 As God is
the only one who has control over the powers of evil in the bush,
He must be contacted for help. A sacrifice is then offered to
God through the ancestors for the well being of the participants,
both officials and the initiates. Having the necessary religious
ceremonies done before the candidates are initiated, is an
attempt to present the officials, candidates and the bush to
God��s care and control.
The ��idea of rebirth is characteristic of many of these
initiation rites (Parrinder 1962:96). In general, after the
emergence from the bush, initiates are now considered to be adult
(Finnegan 1965:76).
The NPLC considers secret society membership as ��non-Christian
and non-allegiance to God�� (Olson 1969:191).

Sierra Leonean cultures.
342The bush is considered one of the main domains inhabited by evil forces. It
is a powerful place, independent from the village or town, and that people
fear to go. Witches in the bush can enter wild beasts to attack people in the
vicinity. Medicinal leaves and wild plants containing enormous powers that are
used to kill and cause havoc are found in the bush. Most Limba communities
have a medicine man or woman or both as head of the bush.
190 Gbangban
Among the men��s three major secret societies of Gbangban, Nabo
and Kofo, Gbangban is the widest spread and is found in all
regions in the hinterland. It has different categories. Most
members belong to the lower categories: Huyenki, Hukoko and
Kondeyo. A few members belong to the higher and more complex
categories: Sindama, õaraõara and Nabamba. Members are typically
initiated around puberty. Initiation into a secret society is an
important part of the passage from childhood to adulthood. Once
initiated, the member is expected to act as a responsible adult;
however, he remains in the care and under the control of his
parents until he marries.
In the Gbagban society, there are two divisions in the bush
(heli). Theõkideõ serves as an open court and a partially holy
place. Tharumba is the most sacred or holiest place. The
candidates are taken without previous notice to theõkideõ. They
remain there for the entire initiation period which lasts three
to six months. While in the bush, the prospective candidate is
called Gbaku (��chief��) and is given the treatment due any tribal
chief or authority. The initiation programme is intended to
equip the initiates to face the realities of life. During this
period, the initiates undergo intense grooming and nurturing as
well as difficult ordeals which are meant to prepare them to face
life��s hardships. It is during this time that many cultural and
religious teachings are passed down to the initiates.
The final rite is called kuõ]ti-kamandi (lit., to be plunged into
or immersed in water). This is a cleansing or purifying ceremony
so that the newly initiated candidates will be made clean and fit
to once again associate with other members of the general
community. Kuõ]ti-kamandi is said to be so dreadful that no one
ever desires to go through it a second time.
The night before graduation, the initiates together with their
families/patrons spend time in Tharumba (the most sacred part of
the bush). At graduation, the graduates wear a traditional gown
known as huroõko, with a traditional cap (Kuhaka).343 The cap,
signifies that the initiates take full responsibility to comport
themselves as people who have entered the secret society. If a
person commits a crime in the community (especially in Freetown
where not every male is expected to have entered a secret
society), the first question that is asked is, E wunde tut]k]y?/E
wo tut]k]y kuhaka? (��Has he worn a cap?��). If the answer is ��yes��
the offender faces a more severe punishment, but if the response
is ��no,�� the offender is considered, and disciplined as a child,
regardless of his age or position within the community.
Graduates are respected and are expected to contribute to society
in a meaningful way.
Titles are used for all those who play a part in the ceremony. At
graduation time, the outgoing initiates are referred to as
Badiõit]k]y] (��freshman��). Later when all is over, they will be
known as Bathekele (��an undergraduate��).344 The parents/guardians
are known as Boyhiki. There are usually sponsors or benefactors
who are known as Basemeõ. The person that relates with the
public and community on behalf of the society is called Basampere.
Last but not least, are the elders, teachers and councillors who
are known as Bethanthe.

343The cap is seen as being more important than the gown, because of what the
different parts represent.
344With more to learn along the way, through personal observation and
judgement, experience being the best teacher.
192 Bondo
Bondo is the most common secret society for women and is found
throughout the country wherever the Limba have an organised
settlement. This situation has allowed for some flexibility with
rules in urban areas like Freetown.
Unlike in the men��s societies, the date of the initiation is not
usually kept secret from the candidates because it is considered
a joyful occasion. The night before the ceremony, there is a big
celebration with music and dancing in the village. The older
women play their drums and sing until daybreak when the
candidates are taken to the bush. In the western area, the
celebration usually takes place in the bush to avoid disturbing
the peace.
The main event of the initiation is the act of ��cutting��.
Society elders called barigba in the hinterland or sowei in the
western area, ��circumcise�� the girls by removing the clitoral
hood, and at times, part or the entire clitoris itself.345 For
several days after the initiation, until they heal the girls are
tended to by the older women called siõkabondoi. Later, they are
taught morality, religious songs, dancing and cooking.
Because initiation into the Bondo society traditionally marks the
passage from childhood into womanhood, in the hinterland, most
girls are initiated between the ages of thirteen and sixteen and
are thereafter considered eligible to marry. In the western

345This practice, otherwise known as Female Genital Mutilation is prevalent in
Africa with an estimated 80-90% of women in Sierra Leone having undergone the
procedure. Public discussion of FGM in Sierra Leone is almost taboo, but some
see it as a major health issue and an abuse of children��s human rights. The
primary objective of the procedure is to preserve female virginity by
discouraging premarital sexual activity.
area, many girls are initiated much earlier according to the
wishes of their parents. In many cases girls in Freetown are
initiated at eight years of age and some are initiated even
younger. The rationale behind this practice is that the
initiation process discourages premarital sexual activity. Thus,
the goal is to initiate the girl before she has the opportunity
to lose her virginity.
After about a week the girls are brought back to the village with
their bodies smeared with white clay. They are now referred to
as bab]õkani beõ (��new initiates��). The bab]õkani beõ dance in
the village/town as they are watched by their families, future
spouses and friends, who give them gifts and money. After the
occasion, they are taken back to the bush by the Bondo officials
for further instruction and training. The time spent in the bush
varies from community to community. In the hinterland, it may
last as long as two months, but in the city, or where the girls
attend school, it is typically much shorter lasting between one
and two weeks.
Three days before the final ceremony, the girls are secluded in a
hut or house close to the village/town where they sing and dance
about all they have been taught. When the days of seclusion are
over, they become full members of the society and are known as
semaiõ. The day that they leave seclusion and reenter the
community, they are dressed in fine clothes and jewelry according
to the financial means of their family or sponsor. In Freetown
most of the girls�� families get their friends and acquaintances
to buy and wear ashoby (the same colour dress) as a way of
celebrating with them. The crowd dances and sings popular songs
accompanied by drums. The initiates and Bondo officials are
given gifts by the girls�� families or sponsors.
In the hinterland, after the ceremony, the girls are eligible to
be given to marriage because most times they are initiated at an
accepted age for traditional marriage. In the Western Area,
where most times the girls are initiated at a very young age, and
the legal age for consensual marriage for both men and women is
eighteen, marriage is not considered after coming out of the
Bondo society. African secret societies are ��important cultural
bastions�� (Hackett 1991:142).
NPLC strongly condemns men��s secret societies as devilish, but
accepts the women��s bondo society as appropriate because the
majority of Limba church men want women that have been initiated
into the bondo society. This is largely because the culture
frowns upon a married woman who has not been initiated. This
issue is one on which NPLC has deviated from the teachings of
their forebears the AOG. The Bible is silent on secret
8.5.5 Engagement(kuliathi/kudethi) and Marriage(hud]õ]/kuyentande)
Girls are often engaged in infancy (Finnegan 1965:62)346 or even
while still in the womb.347 In the latter case, the prospective
husband expresses his intention towards the expected baby in
anticipation that the child will be a girl. He starts giving
gifts and help to the expectant mother as a sign of beginning the
marriage. If the baby is born a girl, the man continues to give
gifts and assistance to his future in-laws, and watches as the
girl grows.348 If the child is born a boy, the man volunteers to
become the boy��s instructor (soma/sema) during his initiation

346This is a common practice in Africa where girls are ��betrothed since
childhood�� (Parrinder 1962:97); see also Parson (1964:8).
347Cf. Mbiti (1989a:132).
348Cf. Finnegan (1965:62-63).
ceremony, and helps him until this is complete. When a couple is
engaged as teenagers or adults, the procedure is different.
Representatives of the man go to see the girl��s family with a
small amount of money to ��lock-the-door�� guaranteeing his
interest in her so that no other interested man may take the girl
before he is ready to marry her.
In the hinterland, girls are usually given in marriage between
the ages of thirteen and sixteen after their initiation into the
bondo society.349 The family of the husband-to-be sends a message
to inform the girl��s relatives that they will be coming on a
certain date (SLDE 1993:88). On the appointed date, as soon as
the visitors arrive, a small sum of money called keme (SLDE
1993:88) is given to the girl��s parents. The parents of the girl
respond by giving the leader of the visiting group water to drink
from a cup containing some kola nuts. The water is then poured
as a libation to the ancestors in order to ensure their
approval.350 The bride price (nahulu)351 is then presented by the
visitors followed by prayers and the serving of food.352 The
bride price ��is the seal on the transfer of rights and obligation
from the bride��s father/guardian; it is the transfer that marks a
legal marriage from other forms which, although they may be
equally permanent, were not as acceptable traditionally to the
kin concerned�� (Dorjahn 1990:170). Traditionalists in Freetown,
still follow the above marriage procedures.
In most African cultures, marriages are believed to come from
God.353 In the Limba traditionalist worldview, it is ��believed to
be God��s responsibility�� to make marriages, whether prearranged

349Cf. Finnegan (1965:62-63). In Africa see (Parrinder 1962:97).
350Cf. Parrinder (1962:98), and Magesa (1997:121).
351For a discussion on nahulu see Finnegan (1965:63-65).
352Cf. SLDE (1993:88), and Finnegan (1965:63).
or otherwise happen.354 A good husband or a good wife is believed
to be a gift from God, and this is the reason the Limba continue
to depend on God for his guidance in choosing the right partner.
It is believed that only the help of God enables a family or a
suitor to find a perfect match. The Limba often say, ��It is God
who finds the right spouse for you.�� Beauty, good looks and
charm are not enough, only God is able to determine the right
life-partner for a person.
Occasionally, if a man has run out of patience, and can no longer
wait on God to provide him a suitable partner, he may take
another spiritual route to find her. In such an instance, the
impatient man goes and solicits the help of a sacred specialist
to win the heart of the one he loves. A sum of money is paid to
the priest or diviner who makes for him powerful charms to steal
the heart of the lady in question. The client is given lotions
and objects to wear, which is believed will not only attract the
desired woman, but capture her heart from the moment she sniffs
their scent.355 The diviner may also make a mixture of herbs for
the client to secretly place in the food of the person he/she
wants to win over.
Conventionally, it is the man who approaches a woman and
expresses his interest in her, not the other way around.
However, if a woman comes to a man and expresses her interest in
him, the traditionalist believes that this is a sign that the
woman has been sent by God. Under normal circumstances, a Limba

353See Magesa (1997:121).
354Alie Sesay (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown). Prearranged marriages are
common in Africa (Mbiti 1989a:133-34).
355In comparison, there are certain colognes or body sprays for men that are
used to attract the attention of women.
woman would never tell a man that she has an interest in him, but
if, God has engineered the plan, she will not find it difficult
to approach a man.
Because God created marriage, and directs people to their
rightful partners, it is believed that he is also the one who
sustains marriages. For this reason, at all Limba weddings God
is asked for his blessing, and for the creation of a peaceful and
stable home.
In spite of the ��occasional difficulty inherent in having many
wives�� (Finnegan 1965:65), the Limba men in the hinterland,
traditionally like to marry many wives if at all possible356
(Finnegan 1965:65). The reasons given for polygamy are both
economic and social.357 A man��s wealth is measured by the number
of wives and children that he has. The understanding is that a
man with more wives must maintain a larger farm and build more
houses than a man with fewer wives. It is also believed that
each wife brings more wisdom to the husband. A man with one wife
has only one outside source of information and guidance, a man
with many wives will have many sources and therefore, a distinct
advantage. Polygamy is practiced only rarely in Freetown because
the higher cost of living in an urban environment makes it very
difficult for a man to support more that one wife.
When the husband dies, a close relative, usually a younger
brother normally inherits any surviving wives, especially if they
have children.358 If the widow does not wish to marry the

356The practice of marrying several wives is common in Africa, see Mbiti
(1989a:138); Dorjahn (1988:367); and Magesa (1997:136-39).
357For a discussion on the positive and negative sides of Polygamy, see Mbiti
358In Africa leviratic union is common (Mbiti 1989a:140). However, it is not a
appointed relative, she is allowed to marry someone outside the
family, but the children often remain with the family of her
deceased husband.
Divorce is not uncommon among the Limba (SLDE 1993:88; Finnegan
1965:64). If there is a marital dispute it is usually the wife
who leaves, returning to her relatives. If the husband wants his
wife back, he will approach his in-laws to settle the matter. If
the wife refuses his attempts, the matter will be taken to the
native court for trial and the husband may demand a refund of the
bride price. If, however, the husband has lost interest, and
does not make the effort to bring his wife home, her family may
also make attempts at reconciliation and the husband stands to
lose the bride-price if he refuses several of these attempts. If
there are children, they will stay with the father or the mother
depending on a number of factors. The most common cause of
divorce among the Limba is adultery (abalaõaõ).359 Adultery is
seen as a spiteful challenge to the husband��s dignity and
manhood. A husband, who suspects his wife is cheating with
another man, will force her to confess kuhiõ (lit., ��call-name��)
to adultery. The husband normally reacts by demanding a huge
fine called kubali (��woman damage��) through the chief or through
the traditional court. At times the adulterous wife is returned
to her family. On the other hand if a married man commits
adultery with an unmarried woman, the wife usually prefers not to
confront her husband, because society frowns upon any woman who
attempts to humiliate her husband. Illicit sex is not considered

proper ��marriage�� in the African point of view because it is a temporary
adjustment ��to fulfill an obligation to a deceased brother�� (Magesa 1997:140).
In the case of the Limba this is true because the surviving brother is not
required to pay a bridal price nor go through the marriage procedures and
rites to get his brother��s widow.
359The causes of divorce among the Temne (Dorjahn 1990:172-74) are quite
similar to that of the Limba��s. See Mbiti (1989a:141-42) for a discussion on
a serious offence when committed by a married traditionalist.
For these reasons, a maltreated wife usually only cries and tries
to forget about her husband��s infidelity, or simply turns a blind
eye to her husband��s adulterous behaviour. Others may put up a
strong fight to show their husbands that the man should not
always be in control.
In the NPLC, especially in urban centres, engagement is almost
always by mutual consent and rarely occurs before both parties
are eighteen. The ceremony involves a mixture of traditional and
Christian practices. The woman��s family is informed that the
man��s friends and relatives will be coming to visit them on a
specific date for the engagement of their daughter. On the
specified date, the family and representatives of the man place
money, cola nuts, a Bible and a ring all in a big gourd (kubul])
and wrap it in white satin360 to take to the woman��s family. The
visitors will arrive to find the door of the house locked. After
some interesting negotiations, the door is opened and the man��s
family is invited in. After a long friendly dialogue, the woman
to be engaged is presented and the gourd containing the gifts is
given to her. She then gives it to her family who take it into a
room and later emerge to declare acceptance. This is followed by
a prayer after which the ring is worn by the woman to symbolise
the engagement. A date for a church wedding is announced by the
man��s family and food is then served. No money is exchanged at
the wedding time but wedding rings are bought for the couple.
The gourd, cola nuts and money represent Limba culture. The
Bible and ring represent the Christian culture. As in most
western countries in the event of a divorce Christian marriages
may only be dissolved through the courts. Moral requirements of

some of the causes of divorce in Africa.
360Originally, satin in traditional circles was a sign of
NPLC included monogamy (Olson 1969:191); therefore a polygamist
is disqualified to be chosen or elected an elder of the church.
Biblical marriage is a ��physical and spiritual union of a man and
woman�� (Achtemeier 1996:656). Usually, it was preceded by a
period of engagement (Deut. 22:23; Matt. 1:18), and was normally
arranged by the parents (Achtemeier 1996:96; De Vaux 1997:29;
Packer 1980:433)), or at least with the consent of the parents
(Achtemeier 1996:96). A bride price (mahor), the amount of which
varied depending on the demands of the girl��s father (Gen. 34:12)
and/or the social standing of the family (1 Sam. 18:23) was paid
to the girl��s father. Marriage ceremonies were almost always a
very public event (Packer 1980:435) the most important part of
which was the bringing of the bride into the groom��s house, in
the midst of great rejoicing (Achtemeier 1996:656; De Vaux
1997:33-34). If the husband died without a son, a leviratic law
specified in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 required the brother of the
deceased to marry the widow (Achtemeier 1996:656; De Vaux
1997:37-38; Packer 1980:435). The son of such union would be
considered the heir of the deceased brother (Achtemeier
The patriarchs often practiced polygamy (Gen. 4:19; 29:15-30; 2
Sam. 3:2-5), and sometimes had concubines as well (Gen. 16:1-2;
22:20-24; 2 Sam. 5:13)).361 Divorce was permitted with certain
exceptions. OT law only permitted the husband to initiate a
divorce (Deut. 24:1-4), but in NT, provision was also made for a
woman to divorce her husband (Mark 10:12; 1 Cor. 7:13).

361See De Vaux (1997:24-26; 115-17), and Packer (1980:417-19) for further
8.5.6 Farming
Like many Africans, the Limba take their religion to the fields
when they are ��sowing seeds or harvesting a new crop�� (Mbiti
1989a:2). The land and the techniques for farming have been
inherited from God, therefore, the Limba believe that in spite of
human efforts, mene Kanu tha men (��if God does not agree��)362 there
will not be a good harvest. Various ceremonies are performed
yearly during the rice farming season at strategic places on the
farm (Finnegan 1965:110).
Before the work on the land begins, a sacred specialist may be
called to inspect it. If it is found that evil spirits are
living on the land or in the area, Kudamaõ, (an offering of rice-
flour, egg, kola nut, white cloth or at times chicken) is made to
inform the spirits of the family��s intention to farm on the said
land, and to ask the spirits for peace and prosperity as they
If Kudamaõ is necessary, it must be offered on the day the work
on the farm is scheduled to begin. This is because the bush (hu-
kariya/heli/feli) should not be left unattended after the event
in case, evil spirits would otherwise return to repossess the
If a piece of land or bush proposed for farming is declared freed
from evil spirits, at the time of brushing and clearing of the
bush, the head of the family offers a sacrifice for the welfare
of the farm and its workers, and for protection against
witchcraft or evil spirits at a ceremony called Kul]õki. An

discussions on Biblical polygamy.
362Cf. Finnegan (1965:108).
object called Kul]õki ko is buried in the centre of the farm for
protection. The supernatural power of Kul]õki Ko watches over the
farm protecting it from any form of evil or destruction. A
banana tree is usually planted to mark the spot where the Kul]õki
Ko is buried.
Before ploughing starts, a sacrifice of kola nuts, cooked rice
and rice-flour is offered to the Kul]õki Ko, to indicate a
readiness to start ploughing the farm. This is done because the
Kul]õki Ko is literally seen as God taking care of the farm. On
the day of the sacrifice, as usual, food is cooked for everyone
to eat. No one leaves the farm until the end of the day��s
activities. No, food is allowed to be taken home or to the
village, it should all be consumed on the farm. After the
ceremony, if heavy winds start blowing without rain, it is
considered a good sign signifying that Kul]õki Ko is happy and
that the year will be a prosperous one for farming and harvest.
In some other Limba communities, before the farming season
begins, the choice and location of the bush is made known to the
ancestors through a sacrifice of kola nuts and rice-flour with
prayers. A small portion of the bush is cleared and a farming
��curse�� to scare away thieves in the form of an object known as
õakure is placed on top of a tripod until harvest. As Limba are
afraid of the power of any form of ��curse�� no one comes close to
a farm where õakure is hung.
When the harvest has been brought in, each family or person will
give thanks to God and to the ancestors for the harvest. The
first batch of harvested rice should not be eaten, but is cooked
and offered to God through the ancestors as a thanksgiving
sacrifice in gratitude for a good harvest and for God��s
protection throughout the concluded farming season. After this
ceremony of thanksgiving, the family can now harvest for
themselves and their helpers.
Other villages in their end of harvest religious ceremony take
their prepared meal early in the morning to a designated cave to
offer thanksgiving to the ancestors. Usually an elderly person
leads the ceremony.
Although the religious ceremonies, vary from community to
community religion plays a vital role on the Limba farm from the
start of the season to its end.
Agriculture was the backbone of the economy and livelihood of the
Hebrew people. It ��developed with the growth of the Hebrew
nation�� (Packer 1980:263). In the Bible, no human activity is as
prevalent as farming (Achtemeier 1996:331). Agricultural
pursuits are recorded from the very beginning of the Bible��s
record of human history (Gen. 2:15; 4:2; 9:20), and farming was
important enough to be regulated by the law (Lev. 19:9; 25:3-5;
Deut. 22:9-10). Every Hebrew farmer saw ��his land as a gift from
God, and he believed that he was to be a faithful steward of it
(Deut. 11:8-17)�� (Packer 1980:263). In that regard, each farmer
engaged in religious activities ��that expressed his holy
partnership with God�� (Packer 1980:263). The Hebrew calendar was
centred around agriculture, and most of the major religious
observances ��had an agricultural significance, for they marked
the seasons of planting and harvesting�� (Packer 1980:263). These
rituals gave the farmer a feeling of personal worth and an
enrichment of his faith (Packer 1980:263). In order to produce
the best crop, the farmer partnered with God from planting to
harvesting. The farming season began with fasting and ended with
feasting and worship (e.g., Deut. 16:13-17). Farmers also gave a
fifth of their produce to God (Lev. 27:31), and allowed their
fields to lie follow every seventh year in order to emphasise
their dependence upon God. The maintenance and protection of the
land was dictated by scripture (Isa. 5:5; Deut. 27:17). The
older system ��used in working the land was attributed to God
(Isa. 28:26), and Jesus used figures derived from farming to
picture the coming of God��s kingdom (Mark 4:3-8, 26-29)��
(Achtemeier 1996:331).
8.5.7 Employment
Those Limba who are not farmers, as well as those who live in the
cities try to find employment in the private or government
sectors. Because there is a high level of bureaucracy and
political interference in these sectors, Limba applicants who
lack political backing, often resort to traditional religious
methods to secure a job.363 The applicant approaches the sacred
specialist with the belief that only God can make the impossible
possible. This belief gives the applicant the faith that God is
greater than the officials handling the application, and has the
power to touch their hearts to employ him/her.
For some applicants, visits to the sacred specialist do not end
once they have been employed. In a job culture where
employers/supervisors may sack employees at will, employees are
in a constant struggle to ensure that they keep their jobs. With
the guidance and help of a sacred specialist, prayers and
sacrifices for job security are offered to God through the
ancestors, and the employee is given either a religious object or

363This is true of both literate qualified applicants and unqualified or non-
literate applicants.
a potion to mystically make those in authority like him/her. It
is wrongly believed that almost anyone who rises rapidly to a
high ranking position is either dealing with a spirit or being
helped by a sacred specialist.
Most NPLC members like the traditionalists believe that in spite
of one��s qualifications and experience, when applying for a job
in Sierra Leone God must be consulted at the beginning of the
process, and continually prayed to while on the job. At
Wednesday prayer services prospective applicants ask the church
to pray with them for God��s blessing in their endeavours. Those
who already have a job, sometimes give thanks for God��s provision
and ask for continued prayer for job security.
8.5.8 Politics
Although voters know clearly the qualifications for a chief, and
the reasons why a particular candidate is elected, or ��why they
themselves support one rather than another, it is commonly said
that it is not the people who choose the chief but ��it is God��
(Kanu na)�� (Finnegan 1965:36). For this reason, sacrifices are
offered for the chief on his installation, and when he dies.
The process of a chief��s installation varies from dialect to
dialect. One thing that is common among all dialects is that the
coronation of a PC in a chiefdom or a Limba tribal head in
Freetown, is that the occasion requires a major sacrifice
(Finnegan 1965:37).
The chief officially assumes office when he is presented with the
staff of authority by the government, but the Limba do not
consider his office effective until he returns from a period of
seclusion known as Kantha.364
At the end of kantha, the chief is accompanied around the town in
a procession showing himself to his subjects as they sing, dance
and cheer for him. The climax of this function is the sacrifice
in the evening or following day. This sacrifice is meant to:
1. Formally present the new chief to God through the ancestors.
2. Return thanks to God for choosing the new chief.
3. Pray for long life and protection for the chief.
4. Pray for peace and stability in the land.
When a Limba chief is being installed in any area of Sierra
Leone, the following prayer may be said:
Masala, nbenbeõ beõ... God almighty, our ancestors (the ancestors are
then named).
He/fe miõ se iõ mal]holima Today we have come with joy/happiness
Yi na dunku mina gbaku wo You gave us our chief
Miõ sa õi bayo bali miõ kiõ we cannot do anything without
ba sa tepe bena ba gbaku wo first telling you about the chief
Sarakaõ baõ he/fe na ba Our sacrifice today is to
bena kalani thank you
Iõ ba dethia mal]holima And to find favour
ba gbaku wo iõ kub]riko for our chief and our community

364During the time of seclusion, the chief receives wisdom from the old and
wise men of the society. It is also a time of deep reflection on the promises
he made to his people and the responsibility that lies ahead of him. When the
chief emerges out of kantha he is considered a new man. His old life as an
ordinary citizen is gone. He wears special clothes to designate his new office
and some assume a name that is preceded by the title of ��Almamy.�� He is now a
new man with the spiritual and physical responsibilities of his people.
God and the ancestors are both mentioned in this opening prayer
because God is the one who, through the voters chose the chief,
and the ancestors are the ones who will keep the chief safe and
prosperous. The worshippers are in a pleasant mood because they
have a new chief. Nothing will be done without first bringing
the chief to God and the ancestors for dedication. Although God
and the ancestors are aware of human happenings, they are
required to be officially informed of important occurrences. The
worshippers have come to thank God and the ancestors and to seek
their favour for the chief and for the community.
The following words may be said in intercession:
Wali, Wali, Wali, Thanks, Thanks, Thanks
Masala kiõ ba miõ The Almighty is for us
Masala miõ thiyina mamo Almighty we give thanks
Yina Kanu wothimo mina You are the God who loves us
Miõ kute heera ba yina We have seen peace because you have
dunkuõ mina gbaku given us a chief
Yi setiki gbaku mayoõ You took our previous chief
Fe/he yi dunkuõ mina gbaku Today you have given us a new chief
Wali yoo, Wali yoo, Wali yoo Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!
Thiya gbaku thaduba Put blessing on the chief
Dunkuna ni f]s] iõ sembe Give him strength and power
Dunkuna ni Give him wisdom
Dunkuna mina f]ma mal]holima Give us all happiness
Yina dunkune mina gbaku You gave us a chief
Miõ sise ni fe kenda We have brought him to you today
Wali, wali, waliThanks, thanks, thanks
L]ntha, l]tha, l]ntha Let it be so, (3 times)
God is thanked365 because he is a God of love who has brought
peace to the people by giving them a chief to replace366 the

365A different word mamo (��thanks��) is used on the third line. It carries the
same meaning but is different in pronunciation from the previous word wali
(��thanks��). This is because mamo is borrowed by the Thonko Limba from the
Temne ethnic group.
366The affairs of the chiefdom, section and town, in most cases do not run well
in the absence of a chief. Also, the politics and lobbying that go on between
the contenders and their supporters do not make the atmosphere peaceful. The
(deceased) one he has taken. This is followed by intercessory
prayers for God��s blessing on the new chief, for strength and
power to rule well, for wisdom367 to rule wisely and decisively,
and finally, for happiness for the chief and his subjects. The
chief is once again acknowledged as a gift from God and is
presented to God, for blessing as he starts his job. This is
followed by repeated thanks, and the prayers are concluded with
the usual words in concluding a prayer.
The chief as God��s choice is considered to be his human
representative. He always prays for and is believed to be under
the protection and guidance of the ancestors. At his death,
elaborate funeral and religious ceremonies are held. The
following is the usual prayer said at the funeral:
Miõ se iõ nkinikiniõ ba mandiõ We have come with great sorrow
Pati be kenda se iõ huberina Your children have come with cry
Yina lehine mina You created us
Miõ k]te kafaido meti te We know that this world is not home
Hutuka wo ka gbaku sise The death of the chief has brought
huberina mandiõ a great cry
Dunkuna mina thebinalima Give us peace of mind
Miõ sa k]tho te mal]k]maõ huõande We do not know when the will come
Katha ni ka katile Take him to the place of the dead
Haali furenibe sekiti ni Let the ancestors accept him
Dunkuna ni hemuwe Give him rest
Mase hub]riko Help the family/community
Dunkuna mina yoo thebinalima! Give us peace of mind!
Miõ ka yiõ sembe baõ pindi tuka We don��t have power to prevent death
Mase mina ba sekiti tuka Help us to accept death
N]õ gbaku wo dethia May the chief find
maloholima iõ yi peace with you
The death of a chief brings great sorrow. The effect of his
death goes far and beyond his chiefdom��s jurisdiction. As God��s
children, they have come with their cry, and with the
understanding they are strangers in this world. At this time of

choosing and installing of a chief puts an end to all political wrangling.
great loss, they need peace of mind. No one can tell for sure
when death will come. The people then intercede on behalf of
their chief asking that he might be taken to the place where the
ancestors live, that the ancestors will accept the chief, and
that he will be given rest.368 They also intercede for the
chief��s immediate family and for the community asking that they
will be able to cope with such enormous loss, and be given peace
of mind.369 As the people do not have the power to prevent death
God��s help is required to accept death as an ultimate reality,
and finally if the chief had not found peace with God during his
life time, the people ask that he will find it now.370
In national politics, Limba politicians take their religion ��to
the house of parliament�� (Mbiti 1989a:2). Our study of Limba
traditional religion in politics would be incomplete without a
discussion of its contribution to Sierra Leone national politics
from 1968-1992. Sierra Leoneans have generally attributed
incorporation and promotion of African traditional religious
practices into national politics to two Limba heads of state: Dr.
Siaka P. Stevens and Maj. Gen. Joseph S. Momoh. These two men
who were both leaders of the All Peoples�� Congress (APC) party371
popularised the idea of traditional religiosity as a way to
achieve and maintain power. They made some government and
political organisations see ��in traditional religion a potential
source of reinforcement and legitimation for their activities��

367Unwise decisions and judgements by the chief affect the entire community.
368The Limba pray for rest when a good person dies. Witches and bad people are
not expected to find rest and peace when they pass away.
369Peace is a necessity at this time of great loss. Peace of mind may also mean
salvation. God��s salvation during times of sorrow and disappointment is
essential for the survival of the community.
370The Limba believe that God responds well to prayers said on behalf of
people, especially to those said for the dead.
371Dr. Siaka P. Stevens ruled Sierra Leone from 1968 to 1985 as Prime Minister
and President respectively. Upon his retirement in 1985, he personally chose
Maj. Gen. Joseph S. Momoh, who was head of the army and a Limba himself to
(Hackett 1991:141). The supernatural became a very important
element in politics, which encouraged many members of parliament
to ally themselves with diviners or soothsayers.
Throughout APC rule, both high-ranking politicians and those of
lesser influence sought out the help of diviners and fortune-
tellers to win to keep their seats, or to gain favour of those in
higher authority when seeking more lucrative political positions
(Opala & Boillot 1996:5).372 The belief that it was not possible
to attain political prominence without the help of these sacred
specialists brought a great deal of deception into politics with
sometimes disastrous results.373 Political predators busied
themselves trying to hunt down their supposed enemies/victims.
It is believed that some politicians engaged the services of
sacred specialists to kill their opponents through spiritual
means. Sacred specialists have taken advantage of the situation
to make themselves rich by sending messages of concern to the
politicians advising them of the traditional steps to take.
These messages often warn politicians about their enemies who are
trying to get rid of them; they predict coups and assassination
attempts (Shaw 1996:40).
The pouring of libation was reintroduced at public and state
functions during the APC regime.374 At these functions, libation
is poured to seek God��s guidance, blessing and protection.

succeed him. Momoh was overthrown in a military coup in 1992.
372For a discussion on politics and divination in the APC party, see Shaw
373The failed so-called counter-coup by the APC party was blamed on the false
divination of a herbalist (Shaw 1996:32). This attempt to overthrow the
Military government and regain power, resulted in the executions of seventeen
alleged conspirators on December 29th, 1992.
374Pouring libations at state functions is also carried out in Nigeria (Hackett
When civil war broke out the government, recognising that the
military was ill-equipped believed their only hope for victory
was some form of supernatural intervention. For this reason,
they encouraged all citizens, especially those in the hinterland,
to use whatever traditional means or power they had to combat the
rebels. This action was not surprising, considering the APC��s
previous reliance on divination and sorcery.
Limba hunters and medicine men responded by forming a traditional
defence force called ��Tamab]r]�� (��using traditional means��).375
This led to the formation of a traditional religious defence
forces among the various ethnic groups in the hinterland. The
Mende formed a group known as ��Kamajos.�� The Kono people formed
��Donsu,�� and the Temne had two groups, ��Gbeti�� and ��Kapras.�� The
Gbetis were exclusively members of the Temne Poro secret society
called ��Soko.�� Each group had its own way of using their
spiritual powers against the rebels. When the rebels eventually
entered the Limba homeland, the Limba used not only conventional
arms and ��witch guns�� but, through spiritual means used killer
bees to attack and destabilise the rebels. Some rebels even died
from the painful stings of the bees. The supernatural ability to
turn daylight into darkness was another effective method used by
the Limba to prevent the rebels from seeing where they were
going. Tamab]r] fighters could see the rebels but the rebels were
unable to see the approaching Tamab]r] fighters. Many rebels were
killed through these means. Although each ethnic defence group
employed its own strategies, one thing that was common among all
of them was the traditional outfit called huronko/ronko376 which

375Opala & Boillot (1996:5) state that many of these fighters were recruited
from Wara Wara Bafodea Chiefdom the place that is particularly noted for its
attachment to traditional beliefs in Sierra Leone.
376huronko/ronko is a fearsome traditional brown or red gown with black
vertical stripes, prepared by the blacksmith, and sodden with herbal medicines
to make the user invulnerable (Opala & Boillot 1996:6).
was worn for protection.
However, the traditional fighters were not the only ones using
African traditional means to fight, the rebels also made use of
their own traditional religious powers to frustrate the efforts
of the ethnic defence groups.377
The NPLC condemns the use of traditional charms and practices in
any way, but the biggest promoters of traditional beliefs Dr.
Siaka Stevens, and Maj. Gen. Joseph S. Momoh) in the country were
also patrons of the church. Even after the deaths of these two
leaders, politicians who are die-hard traditionalists are still
encouraged to patronize the NPLC, no politician seeking to
patronize the church has ever been told to bring their
traditional charms and objects for destruction by fire.
The Israelite monarchy was instituted by God (1 Sam. 9:15-16; 10)
to replace the pre-existing theocracy (1 Sam 8:7). The
references to the king as ��prince�� (1 Sam. 9:16; 13:14), and
��anointed one�� may point to one who is designated by God
(Achtemeier 1996:566). Accession to the throne was seen as a
divine choice; a man is made ����king by the grace of God��, not
only because God made a covenant with the dynasty of David, but
because his choice was exercised at each accession�� (De Vaux
1997:101). Saul the first king was possessed by ��the spirit of
God�� (1 Sam. 10:10; 11:6). Paul exhorted the Romans that
political establishments are instituted by God, and political
leaders are servants of God (Rom. 13:1-6). In ��anticipation of

377When the APC government was overthrown in 1993, Tamab]r] became inactive.
Today, only the Mende Kamajos are in existence and some of its leaders are
playing an active part in the ruling SLPP government because it is a Southern
the Israelites�� desire for a king, God laid down the laws of
Deuteronomy�� to ensure ��that the king would not lead the people
away�� to heathenism (Packer 1980:389). However, King Saul
consulted a necromancer or medium (1 Sam. 28), and Manasseh ��made
his son pass through fire; he practiced sooth-saying and augury,
and dealt with mediums and wizards�� (2 Kg. 21:6; 2 Chron. 33:6).
The instructions for choosing the anticipated king were given by
God (Deut. 23:1-3). These kingship laws did not come into effect
��until many generations after Moses (cf. 1 Sam. 8:5)�� (Packer
1980:389). The power of an Israelite King was not unrestrained
and was constantly checked by the terms of God��s covenant with
Israel (Achtemeier 1996:566).
The coronation of the King was accompanied by religious rites:
the investiture with insignia (2 Kg. 11:12), the anointing (1
Sam. 9:16; 10:1; 2 Sam. 2:4; 5:3; 1 Kg. 1:39; 2 Kg. 11:12), the
acclamation (1 Kg. 1:34, 39; 2 Kg. 11:12), the enthronement (1
Kg. 1:46; 2 Kg. 11:19), and the homage (1 Kg. 1:47), all have
religious significance (De Vaux 1997:102-07).378
Religion and politics went side by side in Bible times. The
political laws of the Israelites were based on their religious
tenets. In the NT, under Roman rule, the Jews maintained their
politico-religious activities through the temple establishment.

party with strong Mende background.
378See De Vaux (1997:108-14) for further reading on the enthronement psalms,
the idea of the king as saviour, his divine kinship, and his role in worship.
8.5.9 Judicial Process
Before the advent of the British in Sierra Leone, all cases in
the Limba homeland were judged by chiefs. Although many of the
more serious cases are now removed to the courts, it is still
believed that Kanu also gives wisdom and courage to the court
president or chairman to judge well. In many court sittings,
prayers are said before the commencement of proceedings. Before
the pronouncement of the verdict on high profile or complicated
chiefdom cases, such as land disputes, rebellions, or malicious
destruction of property, God is consulted for his guidance and
wisdom through a sacred specialist.
In some instances when a verdict is hard to reach, and it is the
opinion of the majority that the accused might have committed the
crime, but there is no tangible proof to link him/her to it, if
the accused continues to stress his/her innocence, the court may
recommend the invocation of a ��swear�� (kud]ri/kuth]nk]ni/duku)379
as a kind of self-operating justice. Because most Limba are
afraid of the power of ��swear,�� the accused will quickly confess
if guilty. A ��swear�� is considered an effective means of
preventing or punishing the most profoundly anti-social of
crimes, therefore, its use is not only limited to the courts.
Out of the court system ��swears�� are used for various reasons to
obtain justice, for example a victim of theft, a man who suspects
his wife of being unfaithful, and to pursue witches. The source
of the supernatural power of the ��swear�� is still a matter of

379A ��swear�� is a curse that acts spiritually through a material object, a
��swear�� is believed to be capable of consciously pursuing and discriminating
culprits. It can spiritually pursue the guilty and possibly his/her relatives
also by its own divine means, and it is believed it can make no mistake.
Owners of ��swears�� usually give names to their ��swears�� to portray their
might, for example: Th]ma fe/he (��eat today��); Huth]r] (��problem��).
debate among the Limba. Some argue that because of the inhumane
actions of the ��swear,�� its power could not be from Kanu
wobekede/kathinthin (��God above��) nor from the ancestors, but
must come instead from Kanu wopothi (��god below��) evil and
malevolent spirits.
Most Sierra Leoneans do not trust the national judiciary system
because the judges or jurors and/or sentencing are often
corrupted by politics. This is especially likely with high
profile matters like treason, homicide or the misappropriation
and embezzlement of public funds. For this reason, the family
and friends of the accused desperately search for renowned sacred
specialists to offer sacrifice in order that their loved ones
might receive justice and be acquitted.380 Similarly, people who
feel that their needs will not be met by the justice system, or
that they will not receive a fair trial, because of prejudice and
injustice in high places, turn to God for help and deliverance
with the belief that God is the only one who can prevail over any
human institution or power.
In the law courts to which NPLC members usually take their cases,
a judge is installed after taking an oath from either the Bible
or the Koran, and the litigants are required to swear by either
the Bible or the Koran. After the annual judiciary break, the
commencement of court sittings is preceded by church services in
all regions of the country. These services, organised in each

380When the NPRC military government seized power and charged many APC
political appointees with the misuse of power and the misappropriation of
funds, national newspapers ran stories every week of accused persons and their
families visiting traditional spiritual leaders and offering expensive
sacrifices to find favour in the justice system and hence escape the wrath of
the military. Some of these traditional believers were not Limbas. They were,
however, part of a system that encouraged traditional religion as the norm for
over twenty years. See Shaw (1996:30-55) for a discussion on politics and
divination in Sierra Leone.
region by the local Anglican Church (which is the state church in
Sierra Leone) are held to pray for the judicial system that God
will bless its leaders in the dispensation of their duties.
The Israelite judicial system was based primarily on the
Decalogue (Exod. 20:2-17 and Deut. 5:6-21), the Code of the
Covenant (Exod. 20:22-23:33), the Law of Holiness (Lev. 17-26),
and the Priestly Code (Lev. 1-16).381 Before the institution of
the monarchy, those who acted as judges in Israel were the heads
of families or the elders of tribes (Achtemeier 1996:553). Moses
appointed elders to administer justice (Exod. 18:13-26; cf. Deut.
1:9-17). In every Israelite ��town disputes were settled by the
Elders�� who ��sat at the gate of the town, where all the
community��s affairs were discussed (cf. Gen. 23:10, 18; Job 29:7;
Prov. 24:7; 31:23)�� (De Vaux 1997:152). Later when the monarchy
was instituted, ��judges included the king as supreme authority in
the land, leading citizens and professional magistrates delegated
by him, as well as priests in matters strictly religious or in
special cases�� (Achtemeier 1996:553). Israelite Judges ruled
with the authority delegated to them by God who was considered
��the judge of all the earth�� (Gen. 18:25). Judges were to be
capable, God-fearing, and trustworthy and incorruptible (Exod.
18:21) persons (Achtemeier 1996:553). Codes of conduct for
judges stressed the importance of complete fairness and impartial
judgement (Exod. 23:1-3, 6-9; Lev. 19:15-16, 35-36; Deut. 16:19-
20; 17:8-13).
8.5.10 Health
It is by God��s grace that one stays well or healthy, therefore
when the traditionalist is asked, Nama/me k]t] koõ? (��How is your
body?��) the usual response is either, yan ndo pet]y sembe ba Kanu
(��I am well by God��s power��), or simply, kalaõ Kanu (��thank
God��).382 Although in Sierra Leone it is generally assumed that
wealthy people live longer than poor people because they can
afford to pay for expensive medications and the best available
medical attention, the Limba believe that ��money cannot give you
health, only God can.�� Even when people were cured by Western
medicine because they could afford the money for expensive
medical treatments, the Limba still believe that it was God who
made the healing possible. Both Western and traditional healing
systems are believed to be under God��s control because it is
through divine intervention that both the medical staff at the
hospital and the traditional healer are able to heal their
patients.383 Some traditionalist healers claim ��that their
knowledge of medicines derives from God�� (Opala & Boillot
In most African societies, ��the manifestations of good, such as
health��are attributed to God�� (Mbiti 1989a:38). For the
traditionalist, sickness is a religious matter and not just a
physical or mental condition. When sickness occurs, it shows
��that there is an imbalance between the metaphysical and the
human world as the flow of numinous power/life force has been
disturbed�� (Oosthuizen 1991:47), and it is for this reason that
Africans take a holistic approach toward sickness.
In the hinterland when a traditionalist is seriously ill, they
usually call the herbalist/medicine man or woman,384 who is

381De Vaux (1997:143-44)
382Cf. Finnegan (1965:108); Mbiti (1989a:60, 61).
383See Appiah-Kubi (1993:95-107) and Oosthuizen (1991:47) for a discussion on
traditional healing and Western medicine.
384A medicine man or woman specialises in making medicine from special plants
and leaves taken mainly from the forest to cure illnesses.
believed to possess supernatural powers and to depend on God for
guidance in the bush to find the right herbs.385 The
traditionalists believe that although traditional healers do not
always diagnose what is wrong with the patient, the healers��
faith in God and his/her reliance on God for direction in finding
the herbs in the bush to cure the victim, is what gives the
patient and his/her family hope and satisfaction (Opala & Boillot
1996:7). It is believed that it is God who chooses the medicine
through the healer, so it does not matter whether or not the
patient or the healer actually knows the cause of ailment.
In 1983, while working as a lay pastor with the Methodist Church
Sierra Leone (MCSL), I encountered two tuberculosis patients one
of whom was a congregant of my church. Both vehemently refused
to go and see the village nurse for medical attention, because
they and their families strongly believed that the cause of their
illnesses was witchcraft386 and that western medicine could not
cure. To my great amazement, through the work of a renowned
herbalist from a neighbouring village, both patients were
completely cured of their tuberculosis.
African healing is believed to be directed by God��s providence,
and anytime someone is cured it reminds the African of God��s
presence within the community. However, there have been many
cases where traditional and spiritual healing did not work at
For the NPLC (Statement of Faith: Doctrine 10): ��Divine healing
is an integral part of the gospel. Deliverance from sickness is
provided for in the Atonement, and is the privilege of all

385Cf. Shaw (1996:32); Opala & Boillot (1996:7).
386The Limba ��attribute life-threatening and chronic, debilitating illness to
believers (Isa. 53:4-5; Matt. 8:16-17; Jas. 5:14-16).�� It is on
the basis of God as the ultimate healer that the NPLC conducts
Wednesday healing and prayer services.
In Biblical times, healing was associated with God. In the OT,
Malachi spoke about the Lord, the ��Sun of Righteousness�� rising
with healing in his wings (Mal. 4:2), and in a Psalm attributed
to David, God is praised as the one who heals our diseases (Psa.
103:3). Jesus is the ��great physician�� (Matt. 8:1-4; Mark 5:1-
20; Luke 13:10-13; John 9:1-7) who in his time on earth performed
many healings including the woman who had been suffering from
haemorrhages for twelve years, and after spending money on
physicians without being cured, came to Jesus and was cured (Mark
8.5.11 Death (hut]ka) and Burial (amanki)
Death is regarded as both a natural and inevitable aspect of
human life. For the Limba, as for most African peoples, death at
an old age is seen as God��s death (Finnegan 1965:108)387 and ��a
dignified event�� (Magesa 1997:155). In that regard, although the
pain of parting is felt by everyone, there is a general
satisfaction and appreciation to God for the gift of long-life.
On the other hand, the Limba attribute the deaths of young
people, and untimely or unnatural deaths, to witchcraft, the
effects of swearing, or the work of evil spirits (Finnegan
1965:108). Currently, there are two existing views about the
cause of such deaths. Some believe that although God himself

witchcraft�� (Opala & Boillot 1996:6)
387God��s death means ��natural�� death (Finnegan 1965:108); Cf. (Mbiti
1989a:151). In some African cultures, God created death and allows it to kill
people (Niangoran-Bouah 1991:91).
does not take the life of a person, he is responsible for the
occurrence of such a death because he is the only one who has the
power to prevent or allow it. Others believe that a loving God
would neither take such life nor be responsible for the premature
death of an infant or a young person.
The Limba have several stories about the origin of death in the
world.388 The story that is most commonly told is that of the
Toad and the Snake (Finnegan 1967:234-35):
Kanu did not want the Limba and all animals to die so
he made two medicines one for the Limba people and
another for the animals. Kanu decided to give the
snake the medicine to take to the Limba. The toad got
up and objected to that decision on the ground that the
swiftness of the snake would cause the medicine to
spill. The snake countered by saying he would not
spill it and his swiftness would get the medicine to
the Limba people in a timely fashion. In spite of his
good argument, the toad did not allow the snake to
carry the medicine. The snake then carried the
medicine for the animals quickly without spilling it.
The toad took the medicine for the Limba when he
jumped; it fell off of his head and spilled. He then
took the empty bowl to Kanu to be replenished. Kanu
said, ��I will not be able to get more now, I told you
not to take it, you disobeyed, you went and just spilt
it—I will not be able to get more now.�� Death came to
the Limba because of the toad who spilled the medicine.
The snakes do not die naturally because their medicine
was not spilled. If snakes are not killed, when they
get old they bathe in the medicine which was carried to
them from Kanu.
In this story death comes because an unnamed medicine from God

388Stories about the origin of death abound in many African cultures; see
(Parrinder 1967:54-63). In many myths, death is the result of ��a message or
item that God sent to people, but which did not reach them or was changed by
the messenger on the way; or the message arrived too late: a faster messenger
from God had brought another message (of loss, death)�� Mbiti (1991:61-62). In
other myths, death is a ��consequence of the breakdown of communication between
God and humanity caused either by an act of a human being or one of the
did not reach the Limba as a result of the unreasonable judgement
of the toad. That is why the shorter version of this story is
entitled ��The toad did not love us�� (Finnegan 1965:233-35).
Usually when a person dies, the Limba, like most Africans, spend
a great deal of time, energy and resources ��to ensure a proper
funeral for the departed�� so that the spirit of the departed ��may
be contented in the world beyond and will not return as a
dissatisfied ghost to plague his family�� (Parrinder 1962:98).
The following is a general description of a proper Limba
traditional funeral rite.389
When death occurs, wailing starts immediately. Acquaintances
begin to converge at the house to express their condolences. The
women begin to express their sympathy by wailing390 loudly as they
approach the compound where the funeral is being held. This
custom expresses the communal bond that exists between families
and friends. The laughter of one, as well as the sorrow belongs
not only to the individual, but to the community as well. In
most African societies, ��the phenomena of death and burial rites
usually bring people of diverse beliefs together since people
come from various walks of life irrespective of their religious
leanings as sympathisers, mourners, friends, and relations��
(Abimbola 1991:55). This practice is found both in the Limba
homeland and in the Western Area. The women sit on the floor
inside the house while the men sit around a table with a plate to
collect money for the funeral expenses. A learned person (if one
is available) will record the financial contributions and the

creatures�� (Magesa 1997:156).
389Normal funeral rites are not carried out if the deceased was a convicted
witch. Special burial rites must be performed for a witch to ensure that they
do not return from the grave to cause more trouble.
390It is very rare for a man to cry in public. Men are very hesitant to openly
express their emotions. When a man does show his sorrow, he does it quietly.
names of the donors. This provision also shows the spirit of
community. A funeral is not the sole responsibility of the
bereaved family, but of the public.391
In the Limba homeland where there are no embalmers, the burial of
a deceased person takes place the same day, usually within a few
hours of the death. In the Western Area, certain processes have
to be followed before burial. First a death certificate must be
obtained and registered at the Department of Births and Deaths in
the Ministry of Health, and a grave is purchased and dug.
The deceased is washed and wrapped in a new piece of white
shroud, and laid on a flat board, normally close to the entrance
of the house. Generally, if no post-mortem has been performed,
cotton wool is placed inside the nostrils, to prevent the
deceased from sneezing. This custom comes from the Limba belief
that as long as the deceased has his/her internal organs intact,
it is possible for a person to come back to life before burial.
It is believed that if the corpse sneezes, all those who are
present will die. If a post-mortem has been done, the organs
have been severed; and the cotton wool is therefore not required,
unless a particularly superstitious relative wishes to take
extraordinary precautions.
In the village, when the time for burial has come, usually two
men carry the corpse to the cemetery in the forest. Graves in
these cemeteries are less than six feet deep. After a brief
ceremony, the deceased is buried with the head facing eastward.
Since the corpse has not been placed in a box or coffin, a canopy
is constructed at the grave��s mid point from horizontal sticks

391In Western Area only the older women still sit on the floor. The younger
women prefer to sit on chairs or benches.
and leaves so that the earth used to fill in the grave does not
touch the corpse itself. Some branches or flowers are then
placed on top of the grave. Most of the people present at the
burial ceremony then return to the home of the deceased for some
food and to visit with the bereaved family. The presence and
company of sympathisers is considered a vital source of comfort.
The Traditionalist believes that if one does not return to the
house of the deceased after the burial, the person is inviting a
funeral in his/her own home.
In the Western Area the corpse is usually kept for several days
in the mortuary or funeral home, while burial arrangements are
been made. A wake normally takes place the night before the
funeral and burial and goes on to until about 2:00 a.m. At all
Limba wakes, mourners and sympathisers are well fed. The funeral
rites that follow are the same as those stated above.
All Limba traditionalists believe that, it is God who is
responsible for the safe passage of the deceased to the abode of
the dead (katile/katiye). In that respect, when death occurs,
sacrifices are offered to Kanu through the ancestors on the third
(kudigbiõ), seventh (nhureõ) and fortieth (huboka) days after
death.392 Because God was called when the deceased entered the
world, He must also be called when that life ends. These
ceremonies are observed as a way to relate with the supernatural
on behalf the deceased. Along with the sacrifices that are
involved in these ceremonies, wailing and prayers of petition for
comfort, peace, and protection for the living, and for a cordial

392The ceremonies on the third, seventh and fortieth were borrowed from Islam
(Hargrave 1944:66). Before the advent of Islam into Limba country, the Limba
only had huboka (��cry��) which took place at any time of the year when the
bereaved family could afford to feed all the sympathisers.
reception of the deceased by the ancestors at katile are also
In the NPLC, as in most other Christian organisations in Sierra
Leone, the dead is washed, dressed, and placed in a
casket/coffin. The funeral service is preceded by a vigil which
is composed of Christian songs and the reading and exposition of
scripture. Food is served at intervals. The funeral and burial
services are made up of hymns, several readings from the Bible
and a message from the pastor. Although, the NPLC condemns
traditional practices, they do sanction the fortieth day
ceremony. Presently, because of the high costs associated with
having a fortieth day ceremony, and the deplorable economic
situation in Sierra Leone, NPLC leaders are no longer encouraging
bereaved family members to have the ceremony. However, families
who can afford the expense still observe fortieth day ceremonies.
In Judeo-Christian tradition, death is ��the end of physical
and/or spiritual life�� (Achtemeier 1996:232). Death came as a
consequence of humankind��s sin (Gen. 3; cf. 1 Cor 5:21-22).
Earlier we discussed the Israelites�� rites that accompanied the
dead, and concluded that the rites ��were regarded as a duty which
had to be paid to the dead, as act of piety which was their due��
(De Vaux 1997:61).
8.5.12 The Next World
Unlike many other African societies, the Limba do not speak about
reincarnation.393 The phrase ��the next world�� is commonly used by
the Limba when speaking about the hereafter. The Limba are
extremely vague about the issue of the next world. In fact, like
most Africans,394 Limba religiosity only makes provision for life
beyond the grave if one is accepted as an ancestor. As stated
earlier, at death, the spirit leaves the body, and the buried
body decays in the grave. For the Limba, as well as for other
Africans, the grave appears to be ��the seal of everything, even
if a person survives and continues to exist in the next world��
(Mbiti 1989a:160).
In Christianity, the soul/spirit continues after death (Matt.
16:25-26), but there is no clear statement about the destiny of
the body beyond the grave. In Genesis 3:19 at death the body
returns to the ground from whence it came, while in Matthew 10:28
it is inferred that the body may also experience the suffering of
hell, or some will be raised (1 Thes. 4:13-18).
8.6 Conclusion
Kanu created the Limba out of the earth, hence the word w]meti
(��humankind��) which literally means a product from the earth. A
person consists of a body and breath, which gives life to that
body and makes humankind a living being.
As God��s creations, humans are endowed with a spiritual nature
that seeks to be in constant harmony with the creator. The
traditionalist ��does not draw a distinction between secular and
sacred�� rather he/she embraces all of life, integrating its
parts, and seeking to find harmony or balance between them��
(Mbiti 1989b:67). Existence for the traditionalist is ��religious
participation and the world is a religious phenomenon���� (Mbiti

393Mbiti (1989a:159-60).
394Mbiti (1989a:160-61).
Humans are expected to cooperate and live in harmony with the
rest of creation including animate beings and inanimate objects.
The Limba believe that human beings are superior to and more
intelligent than the rest of creation and should therefore take
care of God��s other creatures. The Limba are connected to the
earth spiritually and physically because they were created from
it and because their ancestors are buried in it. This requires
the Limba to have an ecological conscience.
The meaning and purpose of life is a mystery that is only
deciphered and fulfilled by the presence of God.
Limba dependence on God is evident throughout the entire
lifecycle. Because God is the only source of life, this
dependence begins on the child��s behalf, even before conception.
Because God is the ultimate sustainer of life, this dependence is
perpetuated even after death by a person��s descendants or
surviving relatives. Religion deals with both private life and
community life. It cannot be confined at home and the Limba take
it with then wherever they go. Religion controls and harmonises
the society and the individual. It provides spontaneous answers
to the challenges of daily life.
God is the provider of everything that is necessary for life. It
is God who provides knowledge and understanding to students, and
the skills necessary to attain success in agriculture, one��s
career, politics, and sports. God provides wisdom in making
life��s decisions and guides people to their marriage partners.
Through this same wisdom, God guides rulers and courts to make
just laws and verdicts.
In any of these areas, if one is experiencing difficulty, God��s
favour may be entreated through religious ritual. Training in
such religious ritual is one of the functions of the secret
societies, which, it is believed, were instituted by God to
preserve Limba culture and religion and to provide training in
moral and social ethics. Throughout all of life��s endeavors the
Limba must depend on God for sustenance and well-being.
At death the breath leaves the body, which is buried, and decays
in the grave. The Limba are vague about the final destination or
end of the breath.
Like in Limba tradition, in Judeo-Christian tradition, humankind
is created by God from the earth with a soul/spirit and
body/flesh. The soul/spirit makes humankind a living being.
Unlike Limba tradition, in the Bible humankind is created in the
image and likeness of God implying that humankind belongs to God.
In all of God��s creation, humankind alone has the ability to have
a conscious personal relationship with God, a worldview that is
also shared by Limba traditionalists.
Humankind is uniquely created in God��s image, and was put in
charge of the rest of creation, this does not excuse humans from
having relationships with God��s other creatures, rather it makes
us responsible for them. Animate beings and inanimate objects
are part of the sequence of creation. Therefore there should be
harmony between humankind and the rest of the universe, a view
that is also shared by Limba traditionalists. Because humankind
and all creation belong to ��one great household,�� religious life
and the earth��s ecology are inextricably linked in Christianity.
Humankind is God��s agent responsible for taking care of the
earth. Therefore, destruction of the environment is a sin
against God.
For the Christian, God must be acknowledged in the physical and
spiritual journey of humankind. In that regard, like the Limba
traditionalist, the Christian contacts God concerning major
events in life from conception to the afterlife. God is the
ultimate cause and provider of all the necessities of life.
Therefore, the Christian is expected to stay in constant touch
with God in the journey of life. One��s relationship with God and
the rest of creation determines where the Christian spends
eternity after death. Unlike Limba tradition, the life of the
Christian does not end in the grave. The soul/spirit of the
Christian continues after death. There is no clear cut Judeo-
Christian teaching about the destiny of the body beyond the
grave. In the OT, at death the body returns to the ground where
it originated and nothing more. In the NT, the body returns to
the earth but may also experience the suffering of hell or be
physically raised to everlasting life. Let us now proceed to the
concepts of sin and salvation.
Sin (Hake) and Salvation (kuyaõkaõ)
9.1 Introduction
The Limba community, like any African community, is governed by
rules most of which were established by the ancestors or the
elders of the community for the guidance of its ��social and
religious life�� (Mbon 1991:102). From an African ethical
standpoint, violation of any of these rules constitutes sin or
wrongdoing (Mbon 1991:102; Magesa 1997:166-72), and sin
consequently ��creates disharmony and brings about the
disintegration of the society�� (Asante 2001:361). Sin injures
the African ��philosophical principle of: I am because we are, and
since we are, therefore I am�� (Mbiti 1989b:64). In view of that,
sin is regarded as an agent destructive to spiritual, personal
and social harmony. It is therefore condemned. However, as
African societies are sensu communis, provisions are made by
which an offender may be made whole and restored to the
The NPLC accepts the traditional Limba view that sin is
destructive and has severe consequences, but the church condemns
Limba religion as a sinful endeavour that is hopeless, and that

395This tradition abounds in ATR (Sawyerr 1996:121; Mbiti 1989a:205-06).
leads its believers to eternal damnation.
In this chapter, we shall look at the Limba concept of sin, its
categories and consequences, as well as the remedy to sin, and
the Limba concept of salvation.
9.2 Sin and its categories
In Limba worldview, hake (��sin/offence��) is any wrongful act or
behaviour directed against the supernatural, an individual, or
the community. This may include acts against living or non-
living entities. This is in line with Mbiti��s observation: ��It
seems that sin in African religion refers almost exclusively to
the area of relations between human beings, with spiritual
realities and with nature�� (1989b:65; cf. Magesa 1999:240).
In Limba cosmology, no one is born with hake. Children are
always regarded as innocent, and are referred to as ��angels��
because of their sinless nature. As the child grows, he/she
becomes maladjusted as a result of bad influences.396 At an early
age the child is taught which acts, behaviours, and words are
considered wrong or unacceptable. When the child does wrong,
he/she is reprimanded and/or punished. In Limba society it is
not until a child is initiated, or becomes a teenager that he/she
is considered capable of committing ��sin.��
Although deliberate sin almost always emanates from evil or
wicked thoughts, for the Limba as for most Africans, sin ��has to
do with real life situations�� and is not considered from an
��abstract metaphysical�� viewpoint (Mugabe 1999:240). Therefore,
evil thoughts or motives are not considered as sin until they are
expressed in words or actions.
Although technically any wrongdoing may be referred to as ��hake��
the Limba use different terms to refer to certain categories of
(1) Sins against God or the ancestors are called hake. Because
God created all that is and intends his creation to live in
harmony and respect, any intentional act against any part of
God��s creation is considered a sin directly against God.397
(2) Sins against other humans are called hake or yulubu.
(3) Sins against nature, the spirits or the secret societies are
known as ad]k].
(4) The infraction of taboos or clan norms is called kad]k]/kake.
(5) The intentional destruction of animals, reptiles or birds is
referred to as kamal].
(6) Intentional crimes of other natures are known as aspi
bali/athaki bali.
(7) An accidental/unintentional wrong action of any nature is
an]ti kasi.
(8) Sexual sin in general is classified as nkedaõ. Particular
sexual sins like adultery and fornication are known as
hubaliõina/abalaõaõ.398 Marrying or having sex with a close

396Cf. Magesa 1999:250).
397Cf. Asante (2001:361).
398A womaniser is known as bakedaõ.
relative is known as kuth]mb] (��incest��). Rape is called
9.3 The consequences of and remedies for sins
From personal perspective, sin destroys the good reputation of a
person. It makes him/her a bad person and an outlaw of the
community. As sin is a socio-religious concept, the offender is
considered spiritually and socially unfit and he/she is ��avoided
by the rest of the community�� (Mbon 1991:103). Because the
��essence of sin lies in its being an antisocial act�� (Bediako
1994:102), it does not only affect the offender, it also affects
his/her community (Mbon 1991:103; Asante 2001:361; Sawyerr
1996:123; Magesa 1997:172; Mbiti 1989a:202), and most adversely
his/her family or clan.399 It is believed that certain sinful
actions result in curses that, if not remedied will pass on from
one generation to another. The belief that ��the sins of a parent
will follow the child and children yet unborn�� 400 is strong in
Limba traditional worldview. It is for these reasons that the
Limba ��seriously frown upon sin��401 and every effort to ��teach
about its consequences and prevent it from occurring.��402
In order for harmony to be restored, the offender must make
provision for forgiveness or atonement and achieve peace with
God/supernatural, the community, and the self. This accomplished
��either through personal or communal rituals of cleansing�� (Mbon
1991:103), or through the offering of sacrifice (depending on the
nature of the crime). These acts and rituals are the ��natural
means of restoring the vitality�� of the individual and the

399Cf. Harris (1968:108); Sawyerr (1968:31).
400Kalawa Conteh (Interviewed July 2002: Kamabai Town).
401Lamin H. Kargbo (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
402Lamin H. Kargbo (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
community (Sawyerr 1996:123).
In most Limba communities, when a sin/offence/crime is committed,
the first step to restoration is a confession (huthemb]k]) of the
act. In the Limba worldview, confession shows humility and
honesty. It expresses an open feeling of grief and shame. This
expression of feelings is called ath]õ kulahu (��eating shame��).
If a Limba traditionalist is the victim of an offence that
requires a confession, and the offender refuses to confess, the
traditionalist most often will say, yan pey ka Kanu ba k]s]õ] wo
thiya woõ (��I leave my case with God who is the righteous
judge��).403 Confession is followed by an acceptance (��yerik]y
bath]nk]y��) of responsibility for the crime committed (whether
intentional or unintentional), a genuine repentance, a request
for forgiveness mapeniy]), and a willingness to undergo the
appropriate ritual, or to offer the prescribed sacrifice for
We previously discussed the process by which an offender��s sin
against God and the ancestors is expiated and forgiven under the
topics ��worship of God�� and ��veneration of the ancestors��.
Sins committed against a parent, or against an older member of
society carry a curse (danka) if they are not dealt with through
the normal means of confession and restitution. When confession
and an apologies have been made, the victim of the crime lays
his/her right hand on the head or back of the offender, and
publicly acknowledges the apology. Because water is considered

403This is similar to the common African saying ��God will punish you according
to your deeds�� (Asante 2001:361).
as a symbol of purification, the offended person then sips a
mouthful of water and sprays it on the head of the offender. If
the victim is the offender��s parent, custom dictates that the
child must give a piece of cloth to his/her parent ��to cover the
parent��s embarrassment.��
When a sin is committed against a person other than one��s parent,
the elders are called upon to mediate. If it is a serious
offence like adultery, trespassing, the intentional killing of
someone��s livestock or the use of abusive and profane language
against someone, the offender is required to bring a customary
gift to present to the victim as a sign of respect and humility.
The elders present will ask the offender to either prostrate on
the floor or kneel in front of the victim and confess the sin
committed and ask for forgiveness. The offender stays in a
prostrate or kneeling position until the victim touches his/her
head and says ��I have forgiven you, get up and have a seat.�� The
victim then calls for water and drinks some of it as an
indication that his/her bad feelings have been ��cooled down��. Or
he/she can spit out some of the water indicating that his/her bad
feelings have been washed out. The climax of the process is a
handshake and an embrace or the sharing a kola nut. All rituals
of forgiveness are concluded with a warm handshake and an
embrace. At times, the two parties also share a piece of kola
When someone deliberately destroys an animal, bird or reptile,
he/she is required to make a sacrifice in a ceremony called kuloy
ko ka kamal] (��cleansing from an animal sin��).
The victim of a ��swear�� must undergo either adekeõ kubul]
(��partial cleansing��) or kuloy/kugbilisi/kuloki/kusasi mandi
(��full cleansing��). Either ceremony can be performed by a
specialist known as batheki/baduku, bad]ri/bath]nk]ni (��a
diviner��). If a community or family is experiencing the effects
of a curse, the diviner first identifies the source of the curse,
and when the culprit is found, performs an elaborate cleansing
ceremony called masiyaõ (��to throw water��) to put an end to the
Sin against nature, spirits, or secret societies, and sexual sins
of any kind are ritually absolved likewise by a full cleansing
ceremony kugbilisi/kuloy. Sacrifices are also offered to the
supernatural for the forgiveness of certain sins and offences.
As a result of these rituals and sacrifices, ��the offender is re-
accepted, reconciled, brought close to the party and to the wider
community�� (Mbiti 1989b:64). In the African sensus communis, the
socio-religious well-being of the individual affects the well
being of the community. In other words, ��the well-being of the
community as such is a reflection of the morality of the
individuals who constitute it�� (Sawyerr 1996:123). It is this
state of personal and communal well-being that from the Limba
point of view constitutes salvation.404
For the NPLC, the concept of sin is embedded in the doctrine of
��The Fall of Man�� (Statement of Faith: Doctrine 4):
Man was created good and upright; for God said, ��Let us
make man in our image, after our likeness.�� However,
man by voluntary transgression fell and thereby
incurred not only physical death but spiritual death,
which is separation from God (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:17;
3:6; Romans 5:12-19).
Adam was created perfect, he sinned, and (like the Limba view of
inter-generational sin) that action affected the whole human
race. It is from this concept the Christian teaching of
original/universal sin emanated (Gen. 3:1-19; Rom. 5:12-21).
Every human being is born a sinner (Ps. 51:5), a fact that should
not be contended (1 John 1:8).
Sin to the NPLC, like most other Evangelical Churches, is a
��revolt or transgression and indicating a deliberate act of
defiance against God�� (Achtemeier 1996:1026). It is ��a religious
concept, because all sin is ultimately against God�� (Achtemeier
1996:1026). Sin ��may be a matter of act, of thought, or of inner
disposition or state�� (Erickson 1992:180, 196-97).
Sin is exhaustively addressed and specified in the Bible. There
are sins against the supernatural: God (Exod. 20:4-7; Matt.
25:14-30; Luke 19:12-26), Jesus (Matt. 26:24), and the Holy
Spirit (Matt. 12:31-32). There are sins against humankind (Exod.
20:8-17; Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31; Matt. 23; Acts 5:1-11).
There is also cultic sin (the failure to observe ritual
requirements); there are political, social, and spiritual sins
(e.g., envy, hate, etc); and there are intentional (Num. 15:30-
31) and unintentional sins (Lev. 5).405 When a person commits any
of these sins, he/she is guilty of transgressing not only the
specific stipulation, but the whole law (Jas. 2:10-11).
Just as in Limba religion, in Christianity, sin has consequences.
Sin is responsible for humankind��s fall from God��s glory (Rom.
3:23); incurred physical death (Gen. 2:17; 3:19; Rom. 5:12;
6:23); incurred spiritual death; and destroyed humankind��s

404Cf. Mugabe (1999:240).
405Achtemeier (1996:1026).
relationship with God (Gen. 1:26-30; 2:7-23; Gen. 3:8; Rom. 8:7).
Further, sin also affects the sinner��s relationship with his/her
fellow human beings (Erickson 1992:193; Bediako 1994:102).406 In
the NPLC, a sinner is suspended for a period of time, and if
he/she does not make any attempt or is unwilling to change,
he/she is expelled from the church.
The NPLC��s belief about the remedy to sin is entirely different
from that of Limba religion. They believe that God first took
the initiative to remedy the taint of sin by giving his son to
die on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the
world (Isa. 53; Rom. 5:8-9; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). This action is
described as a manifestation of God��s love for humankind (John
3:16), and as a display of true love and friendship by Jesus
(John 15:13; 1 John 3:16).
In order to stay protected from sin, Christians must walk
continuously with God and ��have fellowship with one another�� (1
John 1:7). This is similar to the African concept of sensu
communis. However, if the Christian falls, the NT has prescribed
a remedy: ��If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just
will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness��
(1 John 1:9). In Christianity, as all sins are ultimately
against God (Bediako 1994:102), confession to him matters as much
as confession to the victim of a wrongdoing. Even if one is not
forgiven by a victim, God��s forgiveness is ultimately more

406See Erickson (1992:185-93) for further discussion on the consequences of
9.4 Salvation (Kuyaõkaõ)
For the Limba, Kuyaõkaõ (��salvation��) is freedom from wrong
doing, deliverance from evil forces, and a state of well-being
with oneself, the supernatural, and the community. It is a
��state of being at peace with the spirit world by living one��s
life in line with the traditional decorum���� (Okorocha 1994:86).
It is also a deliverance from the ��physical and immediate dangers
that threaten individual or community survival, good health and
general prosperity or safety�� (Mbiti 1989b:67). As we noted
earlier, for the Limba, ��good health and general prosperity�� are
blessings from God, and that is understood as Kuyaõkaõ. Dr.
Siaka Stevens, the first Limba head of state, and the most
corrupt politician in the history of Sierra Leone once said: ��God
has blessed me with children, grandchildren, power, wealth, good
health and long life. This is what I call true blessing.��407 For
Dr. Stevens, ��salvation meant wealth, health, and prosperity with
no reference to moral scruples�� (Okorocha 1994:63).
The African concept of salvation is highly based on ��contemporary
realities�� (Okorocha 1994:63). Salvation is not something to be
experienced at ��the end of time�� (Mbiti 1989b:67; cf. Mugabe
1999:246). There is ��no anticipation of a final day when the
present cosmic order will be ��judged, or dissolved�� and replaced
by ��a new heaven and a new earth����, and ��there is no clear hope
of a hereafter free from suffering���� (Okorocha 1994:85). Rather,
salvation ��has been experienced in the past, and it is being
experienced in the present�� (Mbiti 1989b:67). In a nut-shell,
salvation is conceived ��in terms of concern for the ills and
successes of community life�� (Asante 2001:359). To be saved is

407Okorocha (1994:63) shares a very similar story about a wealthy woman.
to be ��delivered from sin into fullness of life,�� and be
��empowered to live a community-centred life�� (Asante 2001:360).
For the NPLC, in accordance with Doctrine 5, ��The Salvation of
Man��s only hope of redemption is through the shed blood
of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
(a) Conditions to Salvation
Salvation is received through repentance toward God and
faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. By washing of
regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, being
justified by grace through faith, man becomes an heir
of God according to the hope of eternal life (Luke
24:47; John 3:3; Rom. 10:13-15; Ephesians 2:8; Titus
2:11; 3:5-7).
(b) The Evidence of Salvation
The inward evidence of salvation is the direct witness
of the Spirit (Rom. 8:16). The outward evidence to all
men is a life of righteousness and true holiness
(Ephesians 4:24; Titus 2:12).
Salvation in the OT, ��is seen both in God��s act of delivering
Israel from Egypt and in his protection and provision for Israel
as the people journeyed through the wilderness to the promised
land (Deut. 6:21-23)�� (Asante 2001:357). In the NT, God and
Christ are presented as Saviour, and agents of salvation. The
concept of salvation is diverse; first, it is ��redemption of sin
and from the dominion of Satan�� (Asante 2001:357) in order to
regain fellowship with God. ��Man��s only hope of redemption is
through the shed blood of Jesus Christ the son of God�� (NPLC
Statement of Faith: Doctrine 5). For the Christians, salvation
can only be achieved through Jesus (Acts 4:12). It is on account
of this that the NPLC continues to tell Limba traditionalists
that they are doomed to eternal destruction without Jesus.
However impressive the traditionalist concept of salvation is, if
they do not repent, confess, and ask Jesus for forgiveness, they
will never find salvation. Traditionalists respond saying:
��Jesus did not die for our sins��how could Jesus be the only
mediator for every race on earth? Jesus is not part of our
culture and does not know us.��408
The Christian concept of salvation is not, however, purely
eschatological, the Greek verb sozo (��to save��) also carries the
meaning ��preserve or rescue from natural dangers and
afflictions��, or to ��save or preserve from eternal death�� (Bauer
1979:798). The Christian concept of salvation, like the Limba
concept, includes the ��deliverance from the evils of this life��
(Ferdinando 1996:125). Part of Jesus mission was to preach good
news to the poor, ��to proclaim release to the captives and
recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to
proclaim the year of the Lord��s favor�� (Luke 4:18-19).
9.5 Conclusion
Limba communities are governed by rules which guide the socio-
religious life of the community. Any breach of these rules is
considered an act of wrongdoing or sin. The Limba despise sin
because it destroys the spiritual and social well-being of the
offender, the community, and in some cases the offender��s family.
Sin separates offender from the supernatural, and from fellow
human beings. The Limba see sin of whatever nature as an offence
against God and the ancestors. For these reasons, sin is frowned
upon and is not treated lightly. For an offender to be restored,
he/she has first to confess and accept the crime, and must be
willing to go through a ritual or offer a sacrifice in order to
be cleansed. Only then can the offender be forgiven, and

408Yelie Conteh (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
The offender��s reconciliation with the victim, and with the
supernatural, and his/her restoration to the community is
regarded as salvation. It is a state of harmony within the self,
the supernatural, and the community. Salvation is not only
redemption from present ills; it is also a continued experience
of well-being and peace, both internal and external, for the
individuals and the community as a whole.
In Limba and Christian beliefs, sin is despised as antisocial,
destructive and an offence against God, and in both belief
systems, sin destroys the reputation and spirituality of the
offender, and his/her relationship with the victim and God.
Confession and seeking forgiveness for a wrongful act is an
accepted remedy by Limba traditionalists and the church. Unlike
Limba religion, the Christian teaches that every human is born a
sinner due to an original sin of Adam. Also unlike the Limba
tradition, the rules for the guidance of the socio-religious life
for the Christian are sanctioned by God and Christ as contained
in the Bible and God took the initiative to remedy humankind��s
sin. The Christians believe that only the shed blood of Christ
can take away sins, not the powerless sacrifice of the
In Limba and Christian traditions, salvation is the state of
being delivered from the evils of this life both spiritually and
physically. The difference however, is that Limba traditional
concept of salvation is based on contemporary realities, whilst
the Christian��s is based on both contemporary and eternal.
Unlike Limba tradition, the Christians believe that the only
source of salvation for every human being is through Jesus Christ
the Saviour of the world. We shall now consider the various
kinds of Limba sacred specialists, and their roles.
Sacred Specialists
10.1 Introduction
Sacred specialists play an important role in Limba religion. In
most cases, sacred specialists play a part in the
traditionalist��s life from conception to death. They are very
important in the religious life of the community. They are
helpers and guides to the people for the maintenance of the
sacred values of the society. Sacred specialists are found in
almost every Limba community. They are held in high esteem
��because of their relationship with the supernatural��409 and for
the mediatory role they play between the people and the
supernatural. Sacred specialists are believed to have received
their special ability either from Kanu or from spirits, as the
case may be.
The NPLC condemns sacred specialists as evil personages and
workers of iniquity. They are considered to be the devil
incarnate because they work under the influence of Satan to
promote deception and false religion.
In this chapter, we shall study the various kinds of Limba sacred
specialists, and their specific duties.

409Hamusa Kargbo (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
10.2 Priests (Banabeõ)
The Limba consider their Priests to be called apart for the
purpose of relating with the supernatural on behalf of the
people.410 Their primary duty is to offer sacrifice. Limba
priests may be either male or female.411 Both male and female
priests are allowed to marry.412
Priests may be either lay priests or professional priests. Lay
priests may be the head of a household and officiate at domestic
or family ancestral shrines where they lead in the presentation
of household offerings and prayers and the pouring of libations
for important events.
Professional priests, on the other hand, are responsible for all
community rituals and spiritual matters. They minister in
community shrines and at public rituals.413 There are two
categories in the professional priesthood. The chief celebrant
at grand funeral ceremonies (e.g., when a chief or one of the big
men in the community passes away) is called ��Bagbendek]l].�� He is
regarded as the Chief Priest. His assistant is known as
��Bagbayha.�� Although the Limba say that the priesthood is open
to both males and females it is rare for a female to become a
Chief Priest. Professional priests can also perform a ��swearing��
ceremony on behalf of someone. In the men��s Gbangban society, it
is the duty of the ceremonial priest to invoke the spirits. He
is referred to as ��Bakure.��

410Cf. Mbiti (1989a:183).
411Cf. Parrinder (1962:101).
412Cf. Mbiti (1989a:184).
413See Mbiti (1989a:183-84) for the duties of African traditional priests.
Regardless of rank, the goal of all Limba priests is the same.
They connect people to the supernatural through sacrifices,
prayers, offerings and libations. Some candidates for the
priesthood are required to undergo long and rigorous training414
which is conducted by more experienced priests and elders.
Others enter the priesthood without such rigour. Those who are
proven to be called by divine means through the ancestors or
spirits do not require the same training. Some are set apart
from childhood.
The NPLC has pastors instead of priests. The Ministry in the
NPLC (Statement of Faith: Doctrine 9) is ��a divinely called and
scripturally ordained ministry�� that has been provided by the
Lord ��for the threefold purpose of leading the church in: (1)
evangelisation of the world (Mark 16:15-20), (2) worship of God
(John 4:23-24), and (3) building a body of saints being perfected
in the image of His Son (Ephesians 4:11, 16). NPLC pastors
preach, teach, conduct infant dedications, adult baptisms,
weddings and funerals. On rare occasions they also celebrate
Like traditional priests, the NPLC pastors are believed to be
divinely called to lead believers in the worship of God.
However, there are great differences between the NPLC and Limba
religion. The Limba priesthood is not scripturally based, nor is
it evangelically focused, and it is not for their edification of
the saints for the perfection in the image of Christ.
The main duty of priests in Biblical times was to serve ��in the
temple performing ritual functions and conducting the sacrificial
services�� (Achtemeier 1996:880). In the patriarchal period,

414Cf. Parrinder (1962:101).
there was no official priesthood, but like a lay priest in Limba
religion, the ��head of the family performed sacrifices (Gen.
31:54)�� (Achtemeier 1996:880).
Christians ��transferred the role of the priest as mediator
between God and humans onto Jesus whom they saw as both God and
man. He became the eternal High Priest by God��s appointment
(Heb. 5:1-6) and supplanted the ancient sacrificial system by his
own sacrifice (Heb. 7:27-28; 9:23-26�� (Achtemeier 1996:881).
10.3 Diviners
Limba diviners, along with smiths, hunters, herbalists, twins and
secret societiy officials, are gifted with bathayeõ (��double eyes��
or ��four eyes��) that give them a supernatural vision of the
worlds that are normally invisible to ordinary eyes, namely, the
worlds of the spirits, of the dead, and of witches (Shaw
1985:287). All people with double eyes are called bekele (Opala
& Boillot 1996:6). A majority of Limba diviners are male, but
there are a few female diviners.
A diviner is a ��specialist who seeks to diagnose disease, or
discover the solution to problems, by means of inspiration or
manipulation of objects through various techniques�� (Parrinder
1962:103). He/she is the agent of ��unveiling mysteries of human
life�� (Mbiti 1989a:172). The diviner ��stands at the crossroads
between the spiritual and human worlds�� (Danfulani 2000:87). In
that regard, the diviner serves as ��the intercessor, mediator,
and bridge of communication between the two worlds. As an agent
with access to both human and spiritual worlds, s/he explores and
exploits the mystical world to normalize, ameliorate, restore,
and reconcile estranged relationships for a harmonious and
habitable universe�� (Danfulani 2000:87). In general, Limba
diviners, like diviners in most African traditions, play the role
of ��counsellors, comforters, suppliers of assurance and
confidence during people��s crises, advisers, priests��seers,
fortune-tellers and solve secrets like thefts, imminent danger or
coming events�� (Mbiti 1989a:172; Cf. Oosthuizen 1991:46, 48).
Diviners are feared by witches and evil spirits because of their
ability to expose them and their evil plots. In most Limba
communities, when an unexplainable misfortune does occur, a
diviner is called to ascertain the cause of the misfortune and to
prescribe the necessary solution, or to expose the thief.415
Limba diviners are vital in helping their clients decipher
various messages from the spiritual world that are intended for
them, especially those from the dead.
The Limba have several ��kinds of diviners, each with their own
special methods�� (Finnegan 1965:115) to manipulate and control
��the spirit world for the benefit of human and spiritual
communities�� (Danfulani 2000:87; cf. Mbiti 1989a:167). Although
each diviner has his/her own special divining method, all Limba
diviners use objects as mediums to interpret their results.416
The following are the most familiar kinds of Limba diviners and
their methods of divination:

415Cf. Finnegan (1965:115).
416See Magesa (1997:220-34) for the methods of divination, and Zuesse
(1975:158-68) for the forms of divination in Africa.
(1) Bathanki are the blacksmiths, and are considered the most
powerful among the diviners because they build or create most
of the instruments and mediums used for divination and for
the expulsion of malevolent spirits. Because Bathanki are
��double sighted�� people and they have created the ��swears��,
they know all about their powers of divination.
(2) Bamandi divine by the casting of stones in a process known as
neki mandi (��looking water��).417 The belief behind this
method is that, as water is clear, the truth will be revealed
clearly. During this process of divination, water is put
into a receptacle to signify that belief.
(3) Babere/Balenki are lower ranking sooth-sayers who also divine
using stones.418
(4) Basakapi/Bawuy] divines and exposes witchcraft through a
small receptacle believed to be inhabited by spirits.419 They
are renowned for handling complicated and difficult
witchcraft matters and for cleansing420 the defiled or cursed.
(5) Bad]ri/bath]nk]ni are those who own and use ��swear��.421 The
process of obtaining a ��swear�� is lengthy and expensive
because the smith, who makes and sells the ��swear,�� has
spiritual powers, and will first have to prove that the
customer possesses the power to operate a ��swear.�� Several
tests will be done to prove the customer��s ability. If the
tests are passed, the ��swear�� is purchased at a high price.

417Finnegan (1963:14).
418Cf. Finnegan (1963:15).
419Cf. Finnegan (1963:14). In Biriwa Limba land, Babare wo, specialises in
catching witches by applying the juice of the kubare tree into the eyes of a
fowl, or into a banana stem (Finnegan 1963:15).
420Cf. Finnegan (1965:120).
421Cf. Finnegan (1963:15).
The NPLC opposes divination on the basis of Deuteronomy (18:10-
12). It is the strong belief of the church that all believers and
practitioners of divination are doomed to hell (Lev. 20:6; Rev.
21:8; 22:15).
Biblical divination like that of Limba tradition is ��an attempt to
secure information��by the use of physical means, about matters and
events that are currently hidden or that lie in the future��
(Achtemeier 1996:641). Divination was not uncommon in Biblical
times. To ��inquire of the Lord�� (Judg. 1:1-2; 1 Sam. 10:22)
through an oracle was acceptable. The official oracles used to
��inquire of the Lord�� were the Urim and Thummim422 (1 Sam. 23:9-12;
30:7-8; Num. 27:21), and the casting of lots (Lev. 16:8; Num.
26:55-56; Acts 1:26). When ��the LORD did not answer him, not by
dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets�� (1 Sam. 28:6), King Saul
resorted to necromancy by consulting the medium of Endor to bring
up Samuel for him so that he could learn the outcome of the
impending war with the Philistines (1 Sam. 28:7-14).
It seems that the oracular forms of Urim and Thummim and casting
of lots were the only acceptable mediums for inquiry of the Lord.
All other forms of divination were considered an abomination to
the Lord (Deut. 18:10-12; Lev. 20:6; Ezek. 13:6-8; Rev. 21:8;
10.4. Herbalists
Limba herbalists (bataling) are men and women who cure the ��sick
using medicines made from wild plants gathered in the bush�� (Opala
& Boillot 1996:7). Herbalists, like diviners, are known as bekele
because they are believed to be born with supernatural vision to

422See De Vaux (1997:352-53) for a brief discussion on Urim and Thummim.
��see the devils in the bush that are invisible to others,
communicate with them, and learn the powers of wild plants�� (Opala
& Boillot 1996:6. Cf. Shaw 1996:32). There is some overlap
between the activities of herbalists and those of diviners,
because both possess the gift of healing (Parrinder 1962:105).
Herbalists are believed to have the ��widest knowledge of the
curative properties of herbs, plants, bark and roots�� (Parrinder
1962:105). Limba herbalists like most African herbalists
��dispense protective and curative medicines�� (Magesa 1997:212).
Limba herbalists are capable of curing minor, life-threatening,
mental, and witchcraft related illnesses (Opala & Boillot
1996:6).423 Herbalists ��continue to serve the needs of many with
their ability to deal with ��unnatural�� or spiritual illnesses�� and
through their ability to recognise the agency of witchcraft and
the power of traditional symbols, they ��serve to perpetuate
traditional beliefs and practices�� (Hackett 1991:145).
10.5 Conclusion
Sacred specialists are people who are believed to have received
spiritual abilities either from God or from the spirits. Because
of their spiritual giftedness, sacred specialists play a vital
role in the life of the individual and the community. They are
human mediators between the supernatural and the people. In some
cases they play a part in one��s life from conception to death.
They also help and guide people to maintain personal and communal
religious values.
Priests, Diviners and Herbalists are the three main categories of
sacred specialists in Limba religion. In the priesthood, there

423See Opala & Boillot 1996:7-9) for a discussion of the methods Limba
herbalists use to treat illnesses.
are lay and professional priests. Lay priests are usually heads
of families/compounds without community status for their
priesthood. Professional priests have community status and are
believed to receive their call either from God or from the
spirits, or have received training from an experienced priest or
elder. Both kinds of priests connect people to the supernatural
through sacrifice, prayers, offerings and libations. The Limba
have male and female priests.
Diviners are people with outstanding spiritual eyes that enable
them to see and know what transpires in the worlds of the spirits,
of the dead, and of witches. Because of this capability, witches
fear diviners. Diviners discover the solution to problems through
inspiration or the manipulation of objects using various
techniques. In addition to their role as fortune-tellers and
seers, they also counsel, comfort, and give assurance and
confidence to people; they expose thieves, and interpret messages
from the spirits and from the dead. Although the five different
kinds of Limba diviners use objects as mediums to achieve their
results, they use different methods of divination.
Herbalists, as the name implies, are sacred specialists who use
herbs and wild plants from the bush to make medicines for
protective and curative purposes. They are believed to have an
outstanding knowledge of the curative properties of herbs, plants,
bark and roots. They are gifted in curing minor, life-
threatening, mental, and witchcraft-related illnesses.
Limba priests, like Biblical priests are believed to be called by
God, and are mediators between the people and God. In both
systems, the main duties of the priests are to perform ritual
functions and conduct the sacrificial services.
In the Bible, divination was also the attempt to get information
about hidden or future events through the use of physical objects.
The oracular methods of Urim and Thummim and the casting of lots
were the only acceptable mediums for enquiring of the Lord, all
other forms of divination were considered an abomination to God.
Although the purpose and means of divination in Limba Religion and
the Bible are similar, the two systems are not exactly the same.
Having finished our study of the fundamental concepts of Limba
religion and their intersection with the Judeo-Christian tradition
let us now move on to the final chapter to conclude this study.
11.1 General
The issue of African Christians clinging tenaciously to their
religious beliefs and customs, combined with their reluctance to
give them up in place of Christianity and the resulting conflicts
between ATR and Christianity is common to many parts of Africa.
Kailing (1994:489) defined the tension between ATR and
Christianity as the ��African Christian problem.�� To a great
extent, this problem has been blamed on Christian missionaries to
Africa and their cultural insensitivity to African values which
resulted in the transplantation of ��an ethnocentric form of
Christianity�� (Eitel 1988:324). In other words, ��Christ has been
presented as the answer to the questions a white man would ask,
the solution to the needs that a Western man would feel, the
Saviour of the world of the European world-view, the object of the
adoration and prayer of historic Christendom�� (Taylor 1963:16).
It did not make any attempts to answer the needs of Africans and
yet enforced on its converts, a complete break from the African
beliefs and culture that met those needs.
Although most foreign missions left Sierra Leone several decades
ago, some African denominations still follow the practices and
teachings they left behind. This is true of the NPLC, the largest
Limba church in Sierra Leone, which even though it separated from
the AOG four decades ago, still maintains the worldview of the AOG
as well as their preaching and teaching styles. Like their
forebears, the African leadership of the NPLC have been
insensitive to the views and practices of the traditionalists and
are reluctant to study Limba religion in an effort to understand
it or create opportunities for positive dialogue. This
insensitivity and reluctance of the NPLC is largely responsible
for the ongoing tension between the Church and Limba Christians.
Through a survey of published works, fieldwork consisting of
consultations and interviews with experts, and my own experience
as a Limba, this work has provided a systematic study of the
fundamental concepts of Limba Traditional Religion, their
continuity into the NPLC and the reciprocal effects between these
systems in the past three decades in Sierra Leone, as well as the
areas of intersection between African theology and Judeo-Christian
An introductory chapter outlined, among other things, the
objectives and structure of this study, the research methods, and
a general outline of the study. This was followed by background
information on the ��Socio-History of the Limba,�� which identified
their origin, present homeland and outside settlements, language,
political administrative structures, and other socio-cultural
characteristics. This background information gave us an overall
understanding of our subject – the Limba people. With that in
place we moved to the core of our study - a systematic account of
the fundamental concepts of Limba Religion, where each topic
discussed was, where possible, interspersed with the NPLC��s
position, and the Judeo-Christian teachings about these issues.
I will now recap our findings from chapters three through ten, the
heart of this study. This will be followed by a discussion of the
causes of Limba Christian dual religiosity and tenacity, the
resulting effects, and suggested recommendations for a positive
dialogue and understanding between Limba Christians and the NPLC.
11.2 Recapitulation
Our systematic exploration of the tenets of Limba religion, was
intended to present a clear picture of the current state of the
traditional Limba religious belief system and its components on
account of internal and external factors that have affected, and
continue to affect it. This provided the parameters in which the
framework for our study was built.
To Limba traditionalists, as to most practitioners of ATR,
religion is a way of life that is deeply rooted in the hearts and
minds of the traditionalist, and is expressed through his/her
words, actions and symbols as a means of maintaining a cordial
relationship with the supernatural, the community, and the self.
It is on this basis that in spite of the changes and challenges it
continues to encounter, Limba Religion still thrives. Limba
Religion is composed of a belief in a Supreme Being, Angels,
Ancestral and Non-ancestral Spirits, religious objects, sacred
places, social institutions, and sacred specialists and leaders.
It also consists of the practice/observance of ceremonies and
festivals, and the teaching of morals and ethical values. Limba
Religion is not only sacred it is also functional.
The NPLC condemns Limba religious practices as false and believes
that they are controlled by evil forces. The church therefore
does not want to have anything to do with Limba Religion, like
their AOG forebears; the NPLC continues to enforce on its members
a complete break from their traditional past, as a preventive
measure against syncretism and nominalism (Olson 1969:192, 206).
Although Limba Religion and Christianity have different
frameworks, it is justifiable to say they share affinities in
terms of description and components.
Foremost in the Limba religious system is the belief in a Supreme
Being known as Kanu Masala (��God Supreme��), who lives above in the
sky. Kanu Masala is referred to by several other names and
titles. These names and epithets of Kanu express various aspects
of his being and the different relationships he has with the
Limba. The attributes of Kanu portray his character and abilities
as well as the qualities of his nature, and his activities show us
that he is the ultimate causation of all existence who continues
to influence the life and activities of humankind. On account
of God��s values and in appreciation of his continued provision for
his creatures, especially humankind; the Limba offer worship to
God as a means to stay connected and to maintain a relationship
with him.
There are overwhelming similarities indicating that Kanu shares
affinity with the Judeo-Christian God. On account of this
affinity it is not unreasonable to conclude that the God of the
Bible who is at work in the Judeo-Christian tradition is the same
God worshipped by African traditionalists (Mbiti 1989b:61;
Fashole-Luke n.d.:6).
At the first conference of African theologians in Ibadan, January
1966 on the theme, ��Biblical Revelation and African Beliefs��, a
consensus was reached ��that the God whom African religion
acknowledges is the same God as in the Bible�� (Mbiti 1989b:61).
This conviction was unanimously expressed by the participants in
the following statement:
We believe that the God and Father of our Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ��has been dealing with humankind at
all times and in all parts of the world. It is with this
conviction that we study the rich heritage of our
African people and we have evidence that they know God
and worship God. We recognize the radical quality of
God��s self-revelation in Jesus Christ�� This knowledge of
God is not totally discontinuous with our people��s
previous traditional knowledge of God.424

424Mbiti (1989b:61).
Next in the Limba religious hierarchy are Angels. Although the
Limba have clear teachings about Angels, this is not true of most
other African traditionalists. Angels are spiritual beings that
live with God. It is believed that they have wings and can assume
human bodily form when they appear in dreams or to people in need.
They can communicate in human language, and have human needs.
Morally they manifest love, goodness, and kindness. Angels are
the agents of God��s will. Kanu transmits his messages to people
through the mediatory role of angels. As God��s messengers they
function as caretakers, protectors, guides, guards and helpers of
people. They carry those who are qualified to the place of the
Although little is yet known about angelology in Limba Religion,
what is known so far shares striking affinities with Judeo-
Christian angelology, and there are only very few differences.
In both traditions, angels are spiritual creatures that are
capable of assuming human likeness. In human form, angels appear
in dreams and physically to people, and they possess moral
attributes. In Limba tradition, angels may be either male or
female, but do not seem to have proper names. In Judeo-Christian
tradition on the other hand, Angels have proper names, and only
male angels are mentioned. Angels in both traditions are God��s
messengers or servants who carry out various functions as directed
by God. They help and protect people; and serve as mediators,
guides and guardians. The systems agree that Angels are not to be
Just below the angels are the ancestors. These are the spirits of
the venerated Dead who achieved their status through their
outstanding contributions to the community while alive. They seek
the welfare of the living and they are believed to be
intermediaries between God and the living. In appreciation for
their continued interest in the welfare of the living, the
ancestors are venerated through sacrifices, offerings, and
libations. Although the acts and rituals performed in veneration
of the ancestors are often the same as those performed in worship
of Kanu Masala, the Limba insist that they do not worship the
ancestors, but suitably venerate them.
The question of whether or not the ancestors are worshipped has
been raised by Africans and non-Africans alike. Sawyerr (1966:3)
is one African theologian who strongly argues that ancestral
veneration rites constitute worship. Contrary to this argument, a
majority of scholars interested in African religion have commented
that although the veneration offered to ancestors may exhibit
signs of worship, in the mind of the African traditionalists who
carry out the practice, it is veneration. In that regard,
��worship�� has been challenged as an inaccurate label to apply to
ancestor veneration, because the ��Africans themselves know very
well that they are not ��worshipping�� the departed members of their
family�� (Mbiti 1989a:9). Ancestors are not objects of worship,
rather they are intermediaries, and considered ��a conveyor belt, a
medium to reach an end, not the end itself�� (King 1994:24). They
are not venerated because they are dead; rather, the ancestors are
venerated due to their proximity to God which gives them the
ability to seek the interests of their families.
On account of Deuteronomy 18:11-12, and the position they
inherited from the AOG, the NPLC condemns ancestor veneration as
devilish, superstition and an abomination to God. Venerating the
dead is a very ancient tradition. There is archaeological
evidence that the ancient Israelites venerated their dead by
depositing food near the tombs of their dead (De Vaux 1997:61).
Some Christians in the West and in Africa also venerate their dead
likewise. Some Christians in Sierra Leone make trips to the
cemetery at least annually to go and venerate their deceased
relatives. The Roman Catholic Church developed the Doctrine of
Latria and Dulia to distinguish between the worship of God and the
veneration of Saints. Like the Limba, Christians claim that they
do not worship their dead but merely venerate them. There is no
Biblical record of the heroes/heroines of faith contacting the
living, in the way that Limba ancestors do.
Last in the hierarchy of the Supernatural are the Non-Ancestral
Spirits. In Limba cosmology, the universe is believed to be
inhabited by numerous non-ancestral spirits which have been
classified into two categories – nature spirits and human spirits.
Nature spirits were created as such; human spirits are the spirits
of dead humans and include ghosts, and witches.
Natural spirits may be ambivalent. Nature spirits associate with
natural objects or phenomena like mountains/hills,
rivers/lakes/streams, forests, caves, large trees, thunder and
lightening, and storms. Personal and clan spirits also fall under
the category of nature spirits, and are believed to seek the
welfare of the individual and/or the community. The Limba have
several of these. The acquisition of special skills and good
fortunes is often attributed to good spirits. Suffering and
misfortune are attributed to bad spirits. Offerings are made to
nature spirits in thanksgiving, and for appeasement, in any of the
places mentioned above.
Human non-ancestral spirits are usually considered to be
malignant. Witches are feared because of their destructive acts.
They sometimes associate with wild animals, poisonous reptiles,
and nocturnal birds to perpetrate evil. The Limba go to extremes
to get rid of witches. Ghosts are believed to be the spirits of
wicked people who did not receive a proper burial. Offerings are
not made to witches or ghosts.
NPLC members, like Limba traditionalists, believe that the
universe is infested with benevolent and malevolent spirits. This
belief is also evident in scripture. The church holds the
traditionalists responsible for encouraging evil spirits by having
personal and communal relationships with them, and for venerating
them because of their powers. However, unlike Limba
traditionalists, NPLC members feel that they do not need to fear
malevolent spirits because, Christ has authority over evil
spirits, and has bestowed that authority on his disciples.
Christian pneumatology is theocentric as opposed to Limba
pneumatology which is anthropocentric.
Outside of the supernatural realm is humankind. Kanu Masala
creates humankind from the earth with a body and breath, which is
the source of life for the body. The spiritual nature of a human
being gives him/her a yearning to be in constant harmony with God.
Christians agree that humankind was created out of the earth with
a body and a spirit, which makes the human a living being. To the
Christian, humans are also created in the image of God.
Humankind shares the universe with God��s other creatures. Humans,
in Limba tradition, although they are superior to and more
intelligent than all of God��s other creature, are expected to
embrace and live in harmony with the rest of creation: both
animate beings and inanimate things. The Limba have a spiritual
and physical connection to the earth, because it is not only their
origin, but also the place where their ancestors were laid to
rest. For this reason, the Limba exhibit an ecological
consciousness. This same ecological consciousness is shared by
Christians who believe they as the pinnacle of God��s creation are
called to live in harmony and with respect for all creation.
For the Limba, life is full of puzzles, none of which can be
solved without the help of God. Therefore, the Limba dependence
on God as the ultimate source and Sustainer of everything is
evident throughout the entire lifecycle – from conception to
death, and, in some instances, even after death. Throughout all
of life��s stages, God is a focal point. God is the source of
skills and careers. He is the guide to making wise decisions and
good judgments. In all of life��s challenges the Limba depend on
God for sustenance and well-being. Christians exhibit a similar
dependence upon God for guidance in their daily lives, in major
decisions, and in times of trouble.
At the end of this life, the breath departs from the body, which
is buried, and decays in the grave. The Limba have no common
belief about the destiny of humankind after death, except for
those who go on to become ancestors. Christianity, on the other
hand, has extensive clear teachings about the eternal destiny of
the soul.
As humankind tries to maintain a cordial relationship with the
supernatural, other animate beings, and inanimate objects, there
are rules for the guidance of the socio-religious life of the
individual and of the community. These rules were established by
the ancestors and the elders and any failure to follow these rules
is considered an act of sin. The Limba despise sin because it is
destructive to the social and spiritual well-being of the offender
and his/her community. In that respect, sin is discouraged, and
measures are taken to deal with it so that the offender may be
forgiven and restored. There are prescribed procedures that the
offender must follow. He/she must first confess to the crime, and
must be prepared to undergo the rituals or offer the sacrifice
required for forgiveness. When the offender is forgiven and
reconciled with his/her victim, with the community, and with God,
then he/she is considered to be saved.
Salvation for the Limba is a state of being in harmony with the
supernatural, the community, and the self. It is deliverance from
the physical and contemporary dangers that militate against the
individual or community existence. It is a state of spiritual and
physical prosperity. Salvation in the African context is
primarily based on contemporary realities. It is experienced in
the here and now.
The Judeo-Christian tradition agrees that sin is destructive and
similarly condemns it as an offence against God, but for a
different reason. For the Christian the rules which guide his/her
socio-religious life are given directly by God and Christ and are
contained in the Bible. Christianity differs further from Limba
religion in that it teaches that humans are born sinners as a
result of Adam��s sin, and that God took the initiative to remedy
humankind��s sin through the shed blood of Christ. It is through
seeking forgiveness and accepting this sacrifice that one is
saved. While Christianity does not completely ignore the present
physical benefits of salvation, it does not limit it to this world
or to the here and now, it is also an eternal experience.
In every Limba community there are sacred specialists who act as
intermediaries between the supernatural and humankind. Sacred
specialists are believed to be gifted with ��double vision�� that
gives them the ability to see and reveal things in the worlds of
the spirits, the dead, and witches, which are concealed from
ordinary human eyes. They are also gifted with the ability to
prevent the evil activities of malevolent spirits and witches, to
communicate with dead, and to provide help for the physical,
spiritual, and social well-being of people. The Limba have three
categories of sacred specialists - Priests, Diviners and
Herbalists. Priests and divination are also found within the
Biblical Tradition.
In the Limba priesthood, there are lay priests and professional
priests. Lay priests are usually the heads of families/compounds
and perform religious rituals within the family. Unlike lay
priests, professional priests are believed to be divinely called,
and some have undergone rigorous training. The Limba have male
and female priests. Both lay and professional priests serve as
intermediaries, connecting people to the supernatural through
sacrifice, prayers, offerings and libations. Hebrew priests
similarly served as mediators between the people and God by
performing ritual functions and conducting sacrifices.
Diviners specialise in the solving of problems through inspiration
or the manipulation of objects using various techniques to obtain
information about future or hidden events. Their role entails
fortune-telling, counseling, providing comfort, and giving people
assurance and confidence; exposing thieves, and interpreting
messages from the spirits and from the dead. Although the five
different kinds of Limba diviners use objects as mediums to
achieve their results, each category employs its own methods of
divination. In a similar fashion, people in Biblical times
practiced divination to obtain information through the use of
physical objects. The Bible approves only two methods of
divination – the use of Urim and Thummim, and the casting of lots.
All other forms of divination are considered an abomination to
Herbalists are the traditional doctors of the community. They are
gifted with the ability of knowing and providing protective and
curative medicines from herbs and wild plants found in the bush.
They cure a variety of illnesses ranging from minor to life-
threatening illnesses, including mental and witchcraft related
ailments. The Judeo-Christian tradition does not generally attach
a spiritual significance to herbalists.
In general, through the study of the fundamental concepts of Limba
traditional religion, this work has given us an understanding of
the values of Limba religion, and their intersection with the
Judeo-Christian tradition, which has helped us to discover the
similarities and divergences between the two traditions.
We shall now look specifically at the causes of the religious
duality of the Limba Christians, the NPLC responses, and the
reciprocal effects on both traditions. Some of the findings
stated earlier in this segment, will be reiterated, and further
information will be provided through the responses of the
interviews to Research Questions 6-8.425
11.3 Causes and Effects
As stated earlier, my motivation in this study was to gain an
understanding of Limba religion, and of the tenacious loyalty to
Limba traditional beliefs and practices exhibited by Limba
Christians who attend the NPLC, and to answer the following
questions: ��What is the power behind Limba religion that makes
Limba Christians so reluctant to relinquish it for Christianity?��
��What is lacking in Christianity that prevents Limba Christians
from making a full commitment?�� ��What is so evil about Limba
traditional practices that the NPLC does not want anything to do
with them?��
11.3.1 Reasons for Limba Christians dual religiosity and tenacity
Earlier, in describing Limba religion, we discovered that religion
and culture are intertwined. The word Dina (��religion��) also
means culture. In other words, for the Limba, religion is
culture, and culture is religion. Religion is a way of life.
There is no sharp dividing line between religion and culture.
More importantly, the Limba believe that their religion and their
culture ��originated from God,��426 and was and is maintained by the
ancestors. Traditional religion is their heritage, and the
��Christians who brought their religion also met it��How can we
leave it for something that we were not born into?��427 For these
reasons, to completely give up their culture for another culture,
as the church requires, seems a very difficult task for Limba
Christians. To give up their God given heritage in place of a
foreign culture is tantamount to losing their entire heritage,
identity, and place, both spiritually and physically within their
religio-cultural community. It also means leaving ��certainty for
Since the advent of Christianity into Sierra Leone, it has
continued to suffer from the misconception that it is a ��white
man��s religion�� (Alie 1990:110) because it was brought in our time
by Caucasian missionaries. For a majority of Limba Christians,
even several decades after the white man has left, Christianity is
still considered the ��white man��s religion��429 that brought ��new
teachings and a new way of life�� and attempted to ��deliberately
destroy�� Limba culture.430 Like in most Sierra Leonean cultures
(Alie 1990:110), successive missionaries to the Limba attacked
African culture, and required a complete abandonment of African
culture and practices (Olson 1969:192). There are still a few
surviving members in most Limba communities, who can attest to AOG

425See Research Questions 6-8 on page 21 above.
426Bapaloh Samura (Interviewed July 2002: Kamakwie Town).
427Bapaloh Samura (Interviewed July 2002: Kamakwie Town).
428Momodu Turay (Interviewed July 2002: Kamabai Town).
429Yelie Conteh (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
430Momodu Turay (Interviewed July 2002: Kamabai Town). Cf. Alie (1990:110).
insensitivity to Limba culture from the late 1940s to the mid
At present, Limba Christians are disappointed with the NPLC for
continuing the hostile attitude towards traditional practices the
church inherited from the AOG. As we discussed earlier,431 the
NPLC continues the tradition of destroying by fire the charms
possessed by Limba Christians. For the Limba Christians, charms
are tangible, physical protection against evil forces, and
mischievous people. The use of charms means a lot to the
traditionalists because they foster hope and security. The lack
of religious charms in Christianity makes it less attractive to
the Limba Christian.
The NPLC wants Limba Christians to abandon their past completely
and replace it with Western religio-cultural practices, but the
church lacks the expertise to go about the process due to
theological and cultural deficiencies of the church��s leadership.
As an interviewee puts it: ����our failure to get the undivided
attention of the traditionalist is that we are not theologically
trained enough to relate the Bible appropriately. Or if we have
the theological training to do the job, we do not have any clue
about Limba traditional religious beliefs.��432
The NPLC clergy introduced the use of western-styled preaching
vestments for themselves and the choristers to portray the image
of a Western type church.433 The scripture is read in English and
the message is preached in Krio, the common parlance of Sierra
Leone. This process makes the Limba Christians feel that the

431See page 16 above.
432Rev Macfoday Kamara (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown).
church is for those who understand English and Krio. As a
majority of Limba Christians are non-literate, they feel
marginalised, left out and unwelcome in the church.
For Limba Christians ��Christianity seems strange and
contradictory.��434 The traditionalists find it very difficult to
accept certain fundamental teachings of the church. For example,
they say ��that Jesus was offered by God as a sacrifice for our
sin. Then the very missionaries were the ones who were condemning
the olden practice of human sacrifice. If human sacrifice is
ungodly, why did God kill his son for us?��435 The NPLC has still
not been able to come up with an appropriate answer to this
question. However, like their forebears the AOG, the church
continues to condemn traditional sacrifices (Olson 1969:192) the
core of Limba religious worship. Again the absence of sacrifice
and other essential traditional rituals in the NPLC is another
factor that makes the church of Christ less attractive,
fulfilling, and void to the traditionalists.
NPLC teaching about the mediatory role of Jesus does not sit well
with the traditionalists. The question continues to be asked ��How
could Jesus be the only mediator for every race on earth?��436 For
the traditionalists, Jesus is not part of their culture and does
not know them. The ancestors are their mediators because they are
still part of their community, and know them very well.

433See pages 9 & 10 above.
434Yelie Conteh (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
435Yelie Conteh (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
436Yelie Conteh (Interviewed June 2002: Freetown).
We shall now analyse our findings for a general discussion:
(1) The Limba believe that their religion is inherited from God
and cannot be replaced.
The claim that traditional religion is inherited from God, and
cannot be parted with or replaced, is prevalent in ATR (Mbiti
1989a:1-2; Mulago 1991:127; Magesa 1997:4-14). For the African,
to be without his/her religion ��amounts to self-excommunication
from the entire life of society�� (Mbiti 1989a:2). Africans do not
know how to exist without their religion, it is a way of life that
African Christians, cannot part with, which is why they ��do not
always adhere to religious and ritual demands that are formulated
and expressed by the leaders of their churches�� (Magesa 1997:7).
(2) Christianity is viewed as being imperialistic and culturally
The complaint that Christianity is a white man��s religion abounds
in Africa (Taylor 1963:14, 16; Mbiti 1989a:212; Mofokeng 1988:34).
Even now ��that the age of foreign missions in Africa�� (Mbiti
1971:1) is over, Christianity is still ��stigmatised throughout
Africa as the white man��s religion�� (France 1979:34). Kato
(1980:83)437 has argued that ��although missionaries from Europe and
North America brought the gospel to Black Africa in modern times,
they are not the first messengers of the gospel to our continent.��
He tried to prove that the advent of the gospel in Africa predates
the coming of western missionaries, by tracing the history of
Christianity in Africa to its Biblical roots, citing Africa��s

437See Mbiti (1986:1-2) also for a discussion on the advent of the gospel before
relationship with Palestine in OT times and Acts 13:1 in the NT.
Therefore, Kato argued, ��to claim that Christianity is a white
man��s religion only because white missionaries brought the gospel
two hundred years ago is not historically accurate�� (1980:35). As
much as Kato��s argument is solid, it does not address the
situation of the Limba Christians in the NPLC, or of other African
Christians who attend churches where indigenous leaders are still
��espousing the same views and philosophy that the missionaries
held�� (Kailing 1994:492). Like the Limba traditionalists
situation, the destruction of traditional objects by fire in other
parts of Africa emanated from the white man.438 For Limba
Christians the NPLC under its current leadership ��is the same car
just a different driver.��439 This kind of cultural insensitivity
is also displayed in the production of religious pictures, films
and film-strips that are found almost everywhere in Africa
portraying Jesus as a white man, from a white mother, and as the
leader of white disciples.440
(3) The NPLC exhibits a high level of Ecclesiological conformity.
Like the NPLC, there are other African independent churches whose
clergy and church officials have adopted the use of Western
liturgical vestments, songs, music and musical instruments.441 The
African Christians attending these churches feel marginalised, and
have constantly stigmatised the church for painstakingly aping the
mannerisms of the western culture. Healthy interaction has
resulted between the church and African Christians, in churches
that have adopted ��some aspects of traditional religion like the

438Awolalu (191:113).
439Paul Mansaray (Telephone interview April 2004).
440Taylor (1963:13).
441Cf. Taylor (1963:15).
use of extempore prayer, drumming, singing, and dancing during
(4) Christianity is seen as being Novel and inadequate.
As we have proven through this study, African theology shares
affinity with Christian/Biblical theology in many areas. Although
the divergences are few, they touch on the major teachings of the
two systems. For Limba Christians, the Christian teaching about
the death of Christ as a sacrifice for the propitiation of sin is
strange because missionaries have condemned human sacrifice as
sinful and inhumane. If human sacrifice has been condemned by the
God, how then can he, as a loving and faithful God, change his
mind and become a savage by offering his own son as sacrifice?
For Limba Christians the teaching about Jesus�� death as a
sacrifice seems hypocritical.
This problem is not, however, confined to African Christians.
Even in the west, many Christians have been challenging the
rationale about the sacrificial death of Christ. Many western
Christians no longer believe that a loving God could have offered
his son as sacrifice for the sin of humankind. African Christians
are not alone, ��no people, ancient or modern, have found the whole
of Christian thought congenial, or absorbed it painlessly into
their own culture�� (Fashole-Luke n.d.: 2).
As mentioned above, another aspect of Christian teachings that the
Africans consider strange is the mediatory role of Christ. In
general, Africans believe that their ancestors are able to act as
mediators between them and God, because they know them and are
part of their community. Christ, however, is seen as a stranger;
and as such, cannot serve as a mediator for people he did not
Most Africans feel that Christianity does not cater for the
African spiritual appetite. The absence of protective charms and
important African rituals in the church creates a spiritual void
for the African.
11.3.2 The effects of Limba religion on the NPLC
On a positive note, the religious devotion, and numerical success
of the NPLC have been attributed to the traditional heritage of
the Limba people. The heritage in question is the concept of
religion being ��a way of life�� that all Limba were brought up into
as a vital part of their culture.442 Without that heritage, it is
believed that the NPLC would not be renowned as one of the most
religious groups, and the fastest growing ethnic church in Sierra
Leone. Religious devotion is important in the NPLC. The doors of
all their churches are opened for services at least six days a
week. Unlike a majority of the Christian groups in Sierra Leone,
for NPLC members, religion is not a matter of convenience, nor is
it confined to Sunday. Religion plays a vital role in the daily
lives of NPLC members. This religious devotion has been largely
attributed to their traditional upbringing.
In their attempts to help recognise this tendency, several
traditional ceremonies, like the naming and out-dooring of
children, and the fortieth day funeral observance, have been
adopted and modified by the church to portray Christian values.

442See pages 59-50 above.
On a negative note, the youths/young adults are complaining that
even these efforts show that the NPLC is compromising with
traditional values, which are affecting the church nationally.
Some evangelical denominations now consider the NPLC as ��lost
souls searching for salvation�� because of their adoption of
traditional values into their churches.443
11.3.3 The effects of Christianity on Limba religion
Positively, credit should be given to the missionaries for their
stance against the Limba traditionalists�� inhumane practice of
child sacrifice. ��It was the missionaries who first condemned
this outrageous act before the government stepped in.��444
The negative effects of the NPLC on Limba traditional religion
need not be overemphasised. There is no doubt that factors such
as missionary policies or revolutionary ideologies that are still
being espoused in Africa have taken their toll on traditional
religions and continue to do so ��by questioning their basic
premises or outlawing certain practices�� (Hackett 1991:146).
Throughout this study, we have seen the NPLC��s position and
reaction to traditional values. The primary cause for the
church��s negative attitude towards Limba Religion is, as noted
earlier, to guard against syncretism and nominalism among its
membership. A majority of the NPLC members do not think it is
right to mix elements of traditional beliefs into Christianity
because Limba religion is considered ��crude, uncouth and

443Hamusa Kargbo (Interviewed August 2002: Freetown). See also page 11 above.
444Sieh Sesay (Interviewed July 2002: Binkolo Town).
devilish,��445 and any such incorporation would alter the church��s
spirituality. Therefore, ��anything that would dilute or
substantially alter the basic structures of Christianity�� is
strongly combated (Schreiter 1985:144). The NPLC continues to
��take a rigid line on the question of any cultural accommodation
whatsoever�� (Schreiter 1985:145). This zero tolerance attitude
has affected Limba religion considerably. Homes have been divided
as older people stick to their past while younger people embrace
Christianity as their new found way of life. The negative attacks
on traditional values are destroying the foundation of the culture
and the young Limba are being deprived of their cultural heritage.
11.4 Recommendations
In general, the ongoing discussions about the relationship between
African Christianity and the gospel suggest ��that there is still
work to do in the area of relating the Christian message to
African cultures�� (Tienou 2001:161). It has been noted that
Africa has enough tools and expertise to evolve a viable form of
Christianity for African Christian (Mbiti 1977:30-31). However,
this task is complicated by the lack of a clear consensus among
African theologians/religionists/missiologists as to the
appropriate method/approach of relating the gospel to the African
Christian situation. ��A house divided against itself cannot
Rogers (1994) using the article of Young (1987) as his point of
departure, categorised African theologians into two main groups
based on the differences in their hermeneutical perspectives. The
first group, which Rogers (1994:259) calls the ��Old Guard,�� is

445Yaluba Kargbo (Interviewed July 2002: Binkolo Town).
��somewhat at variance on the degree to which dialogue between
Christianity and traditional religion is useful.�� The second
group, which he calls the ��New Guard,�� does not have such dialogue
as a major theme on their theological agenda�� (Rogers 1994:259).
Analysing Mbiti��s theological constructs for African theology and
Kato��s critique of those constructs, Eitel (1988) illustrated the
contextualisation methods of Mbiti and Kato by evaluating and
contrasting their thoughts, and concluded that:
African theology, as formulated by Mbiti, is context
dominant and lends itself to the capricious whims of a
syncretistic amalgamation of African traditional
religions and Christianity that is neither African nor
Christian. Kato, however, approached culture with the
absolute standard of priori truth. His theocentric
emphasis requires the Bible to dominate the
contextualisation process. Scripture critiques culture
and never the reverse (1988:334).
The debate lingers on not only in academic circles, but also in
ecumenical platforms.
The NPLC is in a very similar situation. Leaders and members of
the church have varying opinions on how to relate to the Limba
Christian situation. On one hand, some leaders suggest a
compromise in which some aspects of traditional spirituality would
be included in the church��s liturgy. On the other hand, a
majority do not want anything to do with traditional practices.
As of now, the churches in the hinterland and Freetown have no
unanimous strategy for a reconciliatory end to the ongoing
problem. In fact, they are only beginning to raise the
I will now make a few general recommendations. Although they may
not be new in African theological circles,446 in the context of the
Limba situation, they may prove to be helpful guides to map out
possible strategies for mutual understanding between Limba
Christians and the NPLC:
(1) On the basis that we can only speak about what we do know,
the clergy and the elders of the NPLC must find ways and
means to educate themselves about traditional values, and the
methods of relating the Bible to these values as we have
tried to do in this study.
(2) As the church is already aware of the concerns of Limba
Christians, its leaders should now be willing to sit and
assess their method of approach to Limba religion and their
treatment of Limba Christians.
(3) The church must be willing to establish a dialogue with Limba
Christians. The NPLC and traditionalists must be able to sit
together and work out their differences. In order for this
dialogue to be effective each side must be willing to listen
to the other��s ideas, and volunteer their own.
11.5 Conclusion
We have achieved the objective of this study by providing, for the
first time, a comprehensive and systematic study of Limba
religious beliefs, practices and teachings. We were able to

446For some of the published suggested guidelines for dialogue between
Christianity and ATR, see Mbiti (1970b; 1971; 1977; Kailing 1994; Tienou 2001).
discuss the persistence of these issues in the NPLC, and to
compare and contrast them with NPLC theology and Judeo-Christian
traditions and teachings. All these we have already recounted in
this chapter. We were also able to discuss the reasons why Limba
Christians are reluctant to give up their religious heritage in
place of Christianity, and the church��s reaction to the stance of
these Limba Christians. A few suggestions were provided as
guidelines to foster better relationship between the Limba
Christians and the NPLC.
Although the greatest divergences between Limba religion and
Christianity hinge on the core teachings of each system (for
example, ancestral veneration, sacrifice and rituals, and objects
of worship for the traditionalists, and for Christians, the
atoning death of Christ as the only source of salvation) both of
these systems are based on faith and mystery. Because of these
religious qualities, there are beliefs and practices in each of
these systems that deny human logic and understanding. That God
allowed his son to die for the sins of the world is a mystery that
Christians believe and accept by faith. Similarly, the ATR belief
in the power of sacrifice is a mystery that the practitioners
accept by faith.
The National Pentecostal Limba Church (Formerly AOG)
Doctrinal Teachings
The Bible is our all-sufficient rule for faith and practice. This Statement of Fundamental Truths is intended simply as a
basis of fellowship among us (i.e., that we all speak the same thing, 1 Corinthians 1:10; Acts 2:42). The phraseology
employed in this statement is not inspired or contended for, but the truth set forth is held to be essential to a full-
gospel ministry. No claim is made that it contains all biblical truth, only that it covers our need as to these
fundamental doctrines.
1. The Scriptures Inspired
The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to
humankind, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter
2. The One True God
The one true God has revealed himself as the eternally self-existent ��I AM,�� the Creator of heaven and earth and the
Redeemer of humankind. He has further revealed himself as embodying the principles of relationship and association
as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10, 11; Matthew 28:19; Luke 3:22).
(a) Terms Defined
The terms trinity and persons, as related to the Godhead, while not found in the Scriptures, are words in harmony
with Scripture, whereby we may convey to others our immediate understanding of the doctrine of Christ respecting
the Being of God, as distinguished from .gods many and lords many. We therefore may speak with propriety of the
Lord our God, who is One Lord, as a Trinity or as one Being of three persons, and still be absolutely scriptural
(examples, Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14; John 14:16,17).
(b) Distinction and Relationship in the Godhead
Christ taught a distinction of persons in the Godhead which He expressed in specific terms of relationship, as Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost, but that this distinction and relationship, as to its mode is inscrutable and incomprehensible,
because unexplained (Luke 1:35; 1 Corinthians 1:24; Matthew 11:25-27; 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 John 1:3, 4).
(c) Unity of the One Being of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Accordingly, therefore, there is that in the Father which constitutes Him the Father and not the Son; there is that in
the Son which constitutes Him the Son and not the Father; and there is that in
the Holy Ghost which constitutes Him the Holy Ghost and not either the Father or the Son. Wherefore the Father is
the Begetter; the Son is the Begotten; and the Holy Ghost is the One proceeding from the Father and the Son.
Therefore, because these three persons in the Godhead are in a state of unity, there is but one Lord God Almighty
and His name one (John 1:18; 15:26; 17:11,21; Zechariah 14:9).
(d) Identity and Cooperation in the Godhead
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are never identical as to person, nor confused as to relation; nor divided in
respect to the Godhead; nor opposed as to cooperation. The Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son as to
relationship. The Son is with the Father and the Father is with the Son, as to fellowship. The Father is not from the
Son, but the Son is from the Father, as to authority. The Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son proceeding, as to
nature, relationship, cooperation and authority. Hence no person in the Godhead either exists or works separately or
independently of the others (John 5:17-30, 32, 37; 8:17, 18).
(e) The Title, Lord Jesus Christ
The appellation Lord Jesus Christ is a proper name. It is never applied in the New Testament either to the Father or to
the Holy Ghost. It therefore belongs exclusively to the Son of God (Romans 1:1-3, 7; 2 John 3).
(f) The Lord Jesus Christ, God with us
The Lord Jesus Christ, as to His divine and eternal nature, is the proper and only Begotten of the
Father, but as to His human nature. He is the proper Son of Man. He is, therefore, acknowledged
to be both God and man; who because He is God and man, is .Immanuel,. God with us (Matthew
1:23; 1 John 4:2, 10, 14; Revelation 1:13, 17).
(g) The Title, Son of God
Since the name Immanuel embraces both God and man, in the one person, our Lord Jesus Christ, it follows that the
title Son of God describes His proper deity, and the title Son of Man, His proper humanity. Therefore, the title Son of
God belongs to the order of eternity, and the title Son of Man to the order of time (Matthew 1:21-23; 2 John 3; 1
John 3:8; Hebrews 7:3; 1:1-13).
(h) Transgression of the Doctrine of Christ
Wherefore, it is a transgression of the doctrine of Christ to say that Jesus Christ derived the title Son of God solely
from the fact of the Incarnation, or because of His relation to the economy of redemption. Therefore, to deny that the
Father is a real and eternal Father, and that the Son is a real and eternal Son, is a denial of the distinction and
relationship in the Being of God; a denial of the Father and the Son; and a displacement of the truth that Jesus Christ
is come in the flesh (2 John 9; John 1:1,2,14,18,29,49; 1 John 2:22,23; 4:1-5; Hebrews 12:2).
(i) Exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord
The Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, having by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty
on high, angels and principalities and powers having been made subject unto Him. And having been made both Lord
and Christ, He sent the Holy Ghost that we, in the name of Jesus, might bow our knees and confess that Jesus Christ
is Lord to the glory of God the Father until the end, when the Son shall become subject to the Father that God may
be all in all (Hebrews 1:3; 1 Peter 3:22; Acts 2:32-36; Romans 14:11; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
(j) Equal Honor to the Father and to the Son
Wherefore, since the Father has delivered all judgment unto the Son, it is not only the express duty of all in heaven
and on earth to bow the knee, but it is an unspeakable joy in the Holy Ghost to ascribe unto the Son all the attributes
of deity, and to give Him all the honor and the glory contained in all the names and titles of the Godhead except
those which express relationship (see paragraphs b, c, and d), and thus honor the Son even as we honor the Father
(John 5:22,23; 1 Peter 1:8; Revelation 5:6-14; Philippians 2:8,9; Revelation 7:9,10; 4:8-11).
3. The Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ
The Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. The Scriptures declare:
(a) His virgin birth (Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:31, 35).
(b) His sinless life (Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22).
(c) His miracles (Acts 2:22; 10:38).
(d) His substitutionary work on the cross (1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
(e) His bodily resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:6; Luke 24:39; 1 Corinthians 15:4).
(f) His exaltation to the right hand of God (Acts 1:9, 11; 2:33; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:3).
4. The Fall of Man
Man was created good and upright; for God said, .Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. However, man
by voluntary transgression fell and thereby incurred not only physical death but also spiritual death, which is
separation from God (Genesis 1:26,27; 2:17; 3:6; Romans 5:12-19).
5. The Salvation of Man
Humankind��s only hope of redemption is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
(a) Conditions to Salvation
Salvation is received through repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. By the washing of
regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, being justified by grace through faith, humankind becomes an heir of
God according to the hope of eternal life (Luke 24:47; John 3:3; Romans 10:13-15; Ephesians 2:8; Titus 2:11; 3:5-7).
(b) The Evidences of Salvation
The inward evidence of salvation is the direct witness of the Spirit (Romans 8:16). The outward evidence to all men is
a life of righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4:24; Titus 2:12).
6. The Ordinances of the Church
(a) Baptism in Water
The ordinance of baptism by immersion is commanded in the Scriptures. All who repent and believe on Christ as
Saviour and Lord are to be baptized. Thus they declare to the world that they have died with Christ and that they also
have been raised with Him to walk in newness of life (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 10:47-48; Romans 6:4).
(b) Holy Communion
The Lord��s Supper, consisting of the elements bread and the fruit of the vine is the symbol expressing our sharing the
divine nature of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:4); a memorial of His suffering and death (1 Corinthians 11:26); and
a prophecy of His second coming (1 Corinthians 11:26); and is enjoined on all believers .till He come!
7. Sanctification
Sanctification is an act of separation from that which is evil, and of dedication unto God (Romans 12:1-2; 1
Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:12). Scriptures teach a life of .holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.
(Hebrews 12:14). By the power of the Holy Ghost we are able to obey the command: .Be ye holy, for I am holy. (1
Peter 1:15-16).
Sanctification is realized in the believer by recognizing his identification with Christ in His death
and resurrection, and by faith reckoning daily upon the fact of that union, and by offering every
faculty continually to the dominion of the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:1-11,13; 8:1,2,13; Galatians 2:20;
Philippians 2:12,13; 1 Peter 1:5).
8. The Church and Its Mission
The Church is the body of Christ, the habitation of God through the Spirit, with divine appointments for the fulfillment
of her great commission. Each believer, born of the Spirit, is an integral part of the general assembly and church of
the firstborn, which are written in heaven (Ephesians 1:22,23; 2:22; Hebrews 12:23).
Since God��s purpose concerning man is to seek and to save that which is lost, to be worshiped by humankind, and to
build a body of believers in the image of His Son, the priority reason-for-being of the National Pentecostal Limba
Church as part of the Church is:
a. To be an agency of God for evangelizing the world (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16).
b. To be a corporate body in which man may worship God (1 Corinthians 12:13).
c. To be a channel of God��s purpose to build a body of saints being perfected in the image of His Son (Ephesians
4:11-16; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 14:12).
9. The Ministry
A divinely called and scripturally ordained ministry has been provided by our Lord for the threefold purpose of leading
the Church in: (1) evangelization of the world (Mark 16:15-20), (2) worship of God (John 4:23-24), and (3) building a
body of saints being perfected in the image of His Son (Ephesians 4:11, 16).
10. Divine Healing
Divine healing is an integral part of the gospel. Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the Atonement, and is the
privilege of all believers (Isaiah 53:4,5; Matthew 8:16,17; James 5:14-16).
11. The Blessed Hope
The resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in Christ and their translation together with those who are alive and
remain unto the coming of the Lord is the imminent and blessed hope of the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17;
Romans 8:23; Titus 2:13; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
12. The Millennial Reign of Christ
The second coming of Christ includes the rapture of the saints, which is our blessed hope, followed by the visible
return of Christ with His saints to reign on the earth for one thousand years (Zechariah 14:5; Matthew 24:27, 30;
Revelation 1:7; 19:11-14; 20:1-6). This millennial reign will bring the salvation of national Israel (Ezekiel 37:21-22;
Zephaniah 3:19-20; Romans 11:26-27) and the establishment of universal peace (Isaiah 11:6-9; Psalm 72:3-8; Micah
13. The Final Judgment
There will be a final judgment in which the wicked dead will be raised and judged according to their works.
Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels, the beast and the false
prophet, will be consigned to everlasting punishment in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the
second death (Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:43-48; Revelation 19:20; 20:11-15; 21:8).
14. The New Heavens and the New Earth
.We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness (2 Peter 3:13;
Revelation 21-22).
Profile of Interviewees and consultants
Kabba Bangura Dialect: Thonko
Co-author: Limba Textbook and Reader for Secondary Schools, series
1-3; member: Limba Literacy Committee, Freetown.
Setigie Conteh Dialect: Biriwa
Yelie Conteh Dialect: Safroko
Rev. Dantheke-Kanu Dialect: Biriwa
Pastor NPLC; Translator: Limba Literacy Committee, Freetown.
Pastor David B. Kallon Dialect: Biriwa
Asst. Pastor: NPLC; Supervisor: Limba Literacy Committee,
Pa Dauda Kamara Dialect: Biriwa
Rev. MacFoday Kamara Dialect: Sonko/Biriwa
Assoc. Pastor: African-American Baptist Church, Freetown; co-
author: Source Book for Sierra Leonean Languages.
Brima Kargbo Dialect: Thonko
College student: Limba Studies
Lamin H. Kargbo Dialect: Thonko
Language Programme Co-ordinator: The Institute for Sierra Leonean
Languages, Freetown
Hamusa Kargbo Dialect: Biriwa
Church Elder: NPLC; member: Limba Literacy Committee, Freetown
Madam Kumba Koroma Dialect: Safroko
Traditionalist/Limba Christian
Pastor Samuel G. Koroma Dialect: Safroko
Assistant Pastor: NPLC
Rev. T. A. Koroma Dialect: Safroko
General Superintendent: NPLC
Paul Mansaray Dialect: Wara Wara
Traditionalist/Limba Christian
Santigie Nyankuthegbe Dialect: Sella
Rev. S. S. Pahlor Dialect: Sella
Pastor: NPLC
Bagbon Samura Dialect: Sella
Alie M. Sesay Dialect: Thonko
Church Elder: NPLC; member: Limba Literacy Committee, Freetown
Pa Alimamy Sesay
Section Chief, Freetown West
Santigie Sesay Dialect: Thonko
College student: Limba Studies
Alex Turay Dialect: Thonko
Co-author: Limba Textbook and Reader for Secondary Schools, series
Ya Alimamy Turay
Female Chief, Freetown East
Sinneh Thoronka Dialect: Sella
Binkolo Town: Safroko Chiefdom
Traditionalists: Dottey Conteh, Dura Conteh, Mbompa Turay, Saray
Kamara and Yaluba Kargbo
Limba Christian: Pahlor Conteh
Christian: Sieh Sesay
Kamabai Town: Biriwa Chiefdom
All Traditionalists: Bakor Conteh, Bombolai koroma, kalawa Conteh,
Molai Sesay, Salemeh Kargbo, Momodu Turay and Alimamy Kamara
Bafodea Town: Wara Wara Bafodea Chiefdom
All Traditionalists:
Alimamy Mansaray, Yambah Mansaray, Banoi Kamara, Kulunkeh Sesay,
Momdu kamara, Borboh Mansaray and Santigie Mansaray.
Kamakwie Town: Sella Chiefdom
Traditionalists: Sinneh Turay, Bapaloh Samura, Pa Alimamay Sumaila
Kamara, Mucosay Conteh, Pa Momodu Luseni and Kandeh Samura
Limba Christian: Kewulay Sesay.
Madina Town: Thonko Chiefdom
Traditionalists: Kutuyan Bangura, Abu Dumbuya, Siah Conteh, Sama
Dumbuya, Sorie Sesay and Maco Conteh
Limba Christian: Kawuta Bangura.
Hamidu Mansaray Dialect: Wara Wara
Seattle Washington
Former Research Assistant to Prof. Simeon Ottenberg.
Professor Ruth Finnegan: Open University, England.
Professor Simon Ottenberg: Seattle University, Washington state,
Officials of the Ministry of Local Government and Community
Development, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
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[Reproduced from Fyle 1981]
Limba current traditional homeland in Sierra Leone
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