THE SIERRA LEONEAN FEMALE CHIEF YOU DON'T KNOW

Updated: Jul 2

By Joseph Kaifala

March 2020


Madam Tembi Yeva was a respected chief. She held Mocassi, Benduma, Kawayo and Jagma under her dominion. When Momoh Loko and another Frontier Police went looking for Madam Yeva just before the Hut Tax War broke out in 1898, they were informed that the old chief was seriously ill and under medical care, but Officer Loko assumed the people were hiding their chief.



When Captain Samuel Moore began collecting the Hut Tax in 1898, Madam Yeva was gravely ill, so the women of her town had evacuated her to a private place in the bush to administer traditional medicine and treatment. The chief was old, sick, weak, and could barely walk. She had to be carried in a hammock for long distance journeys.


Some hours after Officer Loko departed, 10 police officers raided the town, taking two bullocks and three sheep. On their way back, they also raided a small village belonging to Kabba Gainda, Madam Yeva's servant, and took nine goats.

After the raid on her town, Madam Yeva's warriors removed her from treatment and took her to Benduma from where she wrote a letter to Captain Moore informing him that she was there. The messenger returned to inform her that the captain wanted to see her and her principal men.

When Madam Yeva and her principal men, including Gainda, arrived in Sembehun to see the captain, he asked why was it that when he sent officers to see her Gainda hid her from them? Madam Yeva replied that she was unwell, but now that he asked for the tax, she would return and inform her people. Captain Moore detained Gainda even when Madam Yeva told him that Gainda was the principal man to collect the tax.

According to Gainda, who had also served Madam Yeva's father, Captain Moore gave orders “and they took me and placed me in handcuff, and tied me round a post. I was there the whole day and the whole night.” He was later taken to Kwalu and jailed.

Like many prisoners taken during the Hut Tax raids, Gainda was held like a pig in a pen: “It was a bad place. It was a mud hut, and there are plenty inside it, and we lie on the ground…they gave us rice to eat, but no meat…” In addition to his six month arbitrary sentence, he was told that if he refused to pay £50 he would remain in jail for a year.

When she decided to return to Kwalu, Madam Yeva sent some country cloth to Madam Yoko, her paramount chief, and also asked for permission to go to Kwalu. Madam Yoko, who was on her way to Freetown, asked Tembi Yeva to wait for her in Kwalu. Tembi Yeva was arrested and thrown in jail. The old chief was placed in a small division behind the jailer's house.

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