The British had the most African states under their control of any European country. To gain dominance, they attacked various African countries, killing their rulers and weakening their forces.
Despite the existence of a few smaller kingdoms that simply surrendered to the British Empire, other African powers fought back. Strong and fearless kings or chiefs controlled these African states, protecting their domains for as long as they could. Many of them were exiled by the British, who left them to die or survive for several years after the British had effectively taken control of their states.
Sherbro Bai Kpana Lewis was o One of the chiefs exiled by the British for protesting colonial invasion and rule. He was the last great monarch of the Sherbro, Sierra Leone’s indigenous people who speak the Sherbro language. Kpana Lewis ruled over virtually all Sherbro lords and was a thorn in the side of the British terrorists, whose administration was based in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s natural harbor.
Despite the fact that Sierra Leone’s famous hero and military strategist Bai Bureh, via his 1898 uprising against British authority, helped start the war for freedom and independence, others say that Kpana Lewis was the brains behind the revolt. As a result, when the British deported him and Bai Bureh to the Gold Coast (now Ghana) after the 1898 insurrection, Bai Bureh was allowed to return, but Kpana Lewis was not. He spent the rest of his life in exile in the Gold Coast, where he died.
Kpana Lewis was born in 1830 on Sherbro Island in British Sierra Leone’s Southern Province to a family of Sherbro aristocrats. After his father died in 1879, he became the Sherbro people’s leader. His grandfather, Bai Kong Kuba Lewis, had signed a treaty ceding Sherbro to the British in 1825, when he was the most powerful king among the Sherbro people.
Many of the provinces of the Sherbro Kingdom had become autonomous by the time Kpana Lewis became leader of the Sherbro people, but he was able to bring some of them back under his rule. With the support of the Poro, a secret society in which he was a member, he was able to accomplish this. It was through that secret society that he was able to gain so much influence and defy the colonists.
The infamous “hut tax” was imposed by the British in 1893, requiring Sierra Leoneans to pay for the right to live on their own land. To pay for the levy, many people ended up working as laborers. This “hut tax” was opposed by Kpana Lewis and other rulers, like Bai Bureh, who argued that Sierra Leoneans should be left alone to manage their own affairs.
To protest the levy, Kpana Lewis led a delegation of chiefs to Freetown. There, the British Governor informed him that the tariff did not apply to the Sherbro. Still, Kpana Lewis would not let the other affected rulers protest alone, so when he returned to his kingdom, he began fighting the tax using the Poro, which functioned similarly to today’s police force and judicial system.
He utilized the Poro to impose a trade embargo on Europeans and Krio traders who were considered as colonialist supporters. The British had no choice but to establish legislation making it illegal to use the Poro to boycott commerce.
Then began the large-scale guerilla insurrection known as the 1898 hut tax war, which lasted 10 months and was led by Bai Bureh. Bai Bureh gathered warriors from the Temne ethnic nationality in the Northern Province, as well as the Soso, Loko, and Limba villages, under his leadership after declaring war against the British. With no formal training, his fighters battled off the most highly trained terrorist British forces for months, killing many of them due to their expert understanding of the terrain.
Kpana Lewis was later accused by the British of being behind the insurrection. They imprisoned him as a suspect before exiling him and Bai Bureh to the Gold Coast. Following that, the British put their own candidate, Fama Yani, as Bai Sherbro. They never let Kpana Lewis return from exile, thinking that his homecoming might lead to Fama Yani’s coup.
So, even after Bai Bureh returned, Kpana Lewis was still imprisoned. His son objected, and the London Anti-Slavery Society even intervened, but the British were insistent. After spending more than ten years in exile on the Gold Coast, Kpana Lewis died in 1912.