The untapped gem that could make fortunes for Sierra Leone

 “If you can’t speak Temne, you must not say a word throughout the tour of this historic graveside and no one should enter the sacred shrine with shoes or slippers.”

That order from Pa Kombrabai Santi, the Ceremonial Chief of Mahera village sent shivers down the spine of all present.

On Saturday 8th September, 2018 an Expert Team from the Ministry of Tourism and Monuments and Relics Commission was doing a conservation needs assessment of the graveside of Bai Bureh Kebalai of the historic 1898 Hut Tax Uprising.

Proclaimed a national monument in 2016, Bai Bureh’s Grave remains an untapped gem in the BKM Chiefdom, Port Loko District.

Although the site is undeveloped, the ceremonies associated with a visit to that heritage speak volumes about the community’s rich cultural practices.

Like a Commander of a paratroop regiment, the ceremonial chief led the team into the sacred shrine. He was quick to reveal that such visits usually comes with great economic benefits.

“We can generate billions of leones from touristic visits to Bai Bureh’s grave but we need to improve the asset.” he retorted in his Temne dialect.

As the visitors took off their shoes to enter the graveside. Solemnity gripped them to a point that they could only imagine what lies ahead in that thick forest.

Arguably one of Sierra Leone’s greatest warriors, the burial site of Bai Bureh has survived since 1908 when he died. Such is the importance of that man that his portrait occupies the front view of the country’s 1998 One Thousand Leone note.

Like Bai Bureh’s grave, Madam Yoko’s Grave in Moyamba, Captain Lendy’s Grave in Kono and Marco Conteh’s Grave in Lungi urgently need restoration. The team discovered the urgency to restore all these assets during the five day assessment tour to Moyamba, Kono, Port Loko and Lungi.

Occasioned by years of neglect, most of the country’s heritage resources are in a dire state of disrepair.

Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Memunatu Pratt is determined to change the state of the nation’s cultural assets. She has endorsed the comprehensive rehabilitation of six heritage assets. What better way to diversify the nation’s economy than to invest in cultural tourism.

From Fiama to BKM, Kaffu Bullom to Kaiyamba chiefdom, the economic life of the communities hang on the development of those monuments.

Paramount Chief Momoh Foday Gulama of Kaiyamba Chiefdom, Moyamba District while appealing for serious political investment on cultural heritage preservation was optimistic that the rehabilitation of Madam Yoko’s Grave would bring great economic benefits to his community.

Ing John Sheriff and Arch Lambert Odokwu of the Prime Engineering Solutions assured that the sites could be restored but cautioned that some of them need urgent actions to prevent further degradation and deterioration.

Restoration and conservation of Sierra Leone’s heritage assets coupled with robust marketing could be the engine for cultural tourism development.

In a recent seminar with new envoys, the Minister of Tourism challenged them to market the country as an enviable tourist destination.

“The erection of buffer zones, perimeter fence, signage and other development efforts are amongst the needs of the various heritage sites visited.” remarked Francis Musa Momoh, the Research Development Officer of Monuments and Relics Commission.

A national cultural resource survey would soon be done according to Director, Foday Jalloh.

Preservation of heritage poses huge challenge for low income countries like Sierra Leone but the Julius Maada Bio led government has promised to diversify the economy through tourism development.

As the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs continues to make strides to overhaul the sector, could heritage tourism be the new goldmine?

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