Yet the palm tree and the rice grain are the national symbols par excellence, immortalized in currency, song, and folklore, and valued for their central and staple contributions to everyday life.Different species of palms contribute to cooking oil, thatch roofs, fermented wine, soap, fruits, and nuts.Perhaps the only thing more important than the palm tree is rice, the staple food, usually eaten every day.It is often hard for outsiders to grasp the centrality of rice to daily existence in Sierra Leone.The population had been increasing at just over 2 percent per year, though this has declined somewhat since civil conflict began in 1991.Thirty-six percent of the people live in urban areas.
In 1808 Sierra Leone became a British crown colony, ruled under a colonial governor.The official language spoken in schools and government administration is English, a product of British colonial influence.It is not unusual for a child growing up to learn four different languages—that of their parent's ethnic group, a neighboring group, Krio, and English. To some extent symbolic imagery is regionally based—people from the western area often associate the tall cotton tree, white sandy beaches, or the large natural harbor with home; people from the east often think of coffee and cocoa plantations.The English loss had forced them to move to Canada, where they were not entirely welcome.Still others were ex-slaves who had revolted and were living freely in the mountains of Jamaica, until the British conquered the area and deported them to Nova Scotia, from where they emigrated en masse to Sierra Leone.Relations have been generally cordial among them, and Sierra Leone has largely avoided the racial tension characteristic of other parts of the world.In the recent conflict, for instance, one family may have children fighting for opposing sides, a fact which makes the violence difficult, as well as deeply and personally felt.With a land area of 27,699 square miles (71,740 square kilometers), it is slightly smaller than the state of South Carolina.Sierra Leone is bounded by Guinea to the north and northeast, Liberia to the south and southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The name "Sierra Leone" dates back to 1462, when Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra, sailing down the West African coast, saw the tall mountains rising up on what is now the Freetown Peninsula and called them the "Lion Mountains," or " Serra Lyoa ." Successive visits by English sailors and later British colonization modified the name to "Sierra Leone." Despite distinctive regional variations in language and local traditions, Sierra Leoneans today are united by many factors, such as their shared lingua franca Krio, widespread membership in men's and women's social associations and societies, and even sporting events, especially when the national football (soccer) team plays.At the same time, a worsening domestic economy, declining infrastructure, and deteriorating health conditions have prevented the country's progress, and have to some extent hindered the development of a strong sense of collective pride or shared national identification, especially in the rural areas outside the capital city. Sierra Leone is located on the west coast of Africa, north of the equator.