Gombu Smart

1700s-1800s
Traditional Religionist
Sierra Leone

Gombu Smart or Koko (18th-early 19th centuries) was an ex-slave who became a powerful chief, ruling at Rokon near the Rokel (Sierra Leone) River in the Sierra Leone colony towards the end of the 18th century.

A Loko from Kalangba, in what is now Bombali district, he accidently killed his brother as a boy, and fled from home. He was eventually sold as a slave at Bence (today called Bunce) Island a British trading post on the Rokel River, where he showed such intelligence (hence his nickname ‘Smart’) that he was kept as an employee instead of being sold. Sent inland as a slave-buying agent, he bought up many of his own Loko countrymen, but retained them as followers, soon to become powerful enough to make himself independent of his European employers.

He joined the Wunde Society (a Kapaa-Mende secret society), which specialized in military training, and took the name “Gombu,” meaning “fire.” When civil war broke out among the Rokel Temne he was called to help, and was ultimately rewarded by the Temne by being allowed to settle with his people at Rokon in Masimera state, on the Rokel River, where he built a large, well laid out town.

When the Sierra Leone Company established itself on the Sierra Leone peninsula in 1791 Smart made friends with its European employees. Several of them visited Rokon, and he allowed Christian missionaries to settle there, though they left without accomplishing anything. He also supported the Sierra Leone Company in its wars against the Koya Temne under “King” Tom II in 1801-2. He was still alive in 1806 when he was visited by Joseph Corry, an employee of a trading firm on Bence Island, who mentioned Smart in his Observations (a book on the Sierra Leone coast published in 1807), but was dead by the 1820s.

Christopher Fyfe


Bibliography

Joseph Corry, Observations upon the Windward Coast of Africa, London, 1807; Christopher Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone, London, 1962.


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This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Two: Sierra Leone-Zaire. Ed. L. H. Ofosu-Appiah. New York: Reference Publications Inc., 1979. All rights reserved.