OLD YAGALA – The Resistance Element - December 30, 2019
According to archaeologists, excavations at the Wara Wara Rock Shelter in Yagala Old Town (commonly known as Old Yagala) show two distinct periods of occupation: "an initial occupation late in the first millennium or early second millennium A.D., followed by a later eighteenth- to nineteenth-century occupation, clearly associated with the Limba people of modern-day Sierra Leone.
According to research done by scholars touching on historical data and oral traditions there is indication indeed that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Yagala had some known history with regard to its use as a defensive strategy against slave trade invaders; archaeological evidence from studies however, points to an era pre-dating the intervention of the Atlantic trade. Which means Yagala may have been a defensive mechanism prior and therefore could be a pre-Atlantic internal African Frontier.
So there has been some study done on this remarkable site. In fact, more than we originally thought. Nevertheless, the most detailed account, which followed the visit of two scholars in 1879, only gave a description of the town but nothing in the settlements history and organization. We do know however, that it was inhabited until 1952 (Decorse), and old folks who still remember stories of the place can offer a lot in terms of oral history. They remember life in the Old Town, the succession of chiefs (five of them buried up there in a unique manner); how identified witches were disposed of; and some of the settlement’s general history.
BRIEF NARRATIVE of THE SITE
Old Yagala, is one of the most striking of Limba fortified towns (as there are others identified). It is located just three miles from Kabala Town, and according to Decorse, “is positioned on top of an almost inaccessible crag of plutonic grano-diorite, a site clearly chosen for defense.” Perched at 800-ft above the new settlement (New Yagala) it is one heck of a climb up a steep hill as our guests who made it up there recently will attest.
For the author, at one point it became mind over matter to get to the top. How could they not make it? The site extends across a hilltop 800 ft above the modern settlement. Women... got water; fetched at the base of the hill from two streams. What an arduous task it must have been as we observed how long up the hull they had to climb while balancing buckets of water on their heads? In fact, the local oral historians said to us that some women preferred to take public beating in the village than make that walk down and up again, that steep hill, to get water.
Archaeology recovered items such as local ceramics, imported trade material (ceramics, beads, and glass) and others such as gunflint, indicating circa 1780 for the historic period. For our purposes, we will end the discussion here from an archaeological perspective and transition to what this place means for AFRICAN PRIDE!
Simply, some Africans from Sierra Leone settled at a place called Yagala where they signified institutional resistance to the transatlantic Slave Trade. It is one thing to go to Bunce Island, see a warehouse of humanity, and feel the pain and suffering that goes with that. However, it is quite another thing to climb up that mesa and see how our ancestors built homes using African ingenuity to resist invaders of the slave trade at a place that lasted for decades until 1952; when the settlement was deserted.
Our guests were taken to a burial site on the mesa: 5 Chiefs were buried there; using a very unique way of burial where the bodies of the Chiefs were hung on a hammock over a dug pit and will stay there until their successor dies. Our guests were also taken to a spot where witches were pushed off a cliff to their deaths. It is said they stopped that practice because the last person that was pushed grab the pusher and together they met their demise.
Together, with our guests and guides, we marveled at Old Yagala! There is a different feeling up there than one would experience at Bunce Island. Even our guests felt it! Coming down was a lot easier; but only if you had not experienced cramps going up. We conquered Old Yagala as African Americans and Africans… proud of their common ancestors. See the group photo and count the record number of people up there at one time.
SOURCE: DeCorse, C. (2012). Fortified Towns of the Koinadugu Plateau: Northern Sierra Leone in the Pre-Atlantic and Atlantic Worlds. In J. Monroe & A. Ogundiran (Eds.), Power and Landscape in Atlantic West Africa: Archaeological Perspectives (pp. 278-308). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511921032.015
Old Yagala Village
Old Yagala Village,
Old Yagala Village