Sierra Leone: A Trip to Banana Island

In November 2018 I went with some friends to Banana Island, a little-visited island paradise located 25 miles from Freetown. Banana Island has both natural and historic attractions with friendly local people who are happy to show you around.

BELOW: A beach on Banana Island early in the morning.

 

To get from Freetown to Banana Island, travel to the small coastal village of Kent located at the bottom of the Freetown Peninsula, then take a boat to the island which is a mile or two off the coast. The boat can be arranged by your guesthouse or it might be possible to hire a boat at the Kent boat landing.

 

This is the only map of Banana Island I could find on the web, so thanks to the person who made it.

Banana Island is also referred to as “The Banana Islands” because it is made up of three small islands situated so close to each other that it can look like a single island. The upper right, very long island is Dublin Island with the larger village of Dublin and where guesthouses are located. The second island is Ricketts Island, with the smaller village of Ricketts. We didn’t take a boat to Ricketts village or circle the island, but web sources say the two islands are connected by a stone causeway. The third, tiny island isn’t inhabited. The total population is around 900, according to Wikipedia.

 

OUR TRIP

Driving to Kent from Freetown, if you take the Waterloo route you get some nice views of the Peninsula Mountains.

When you reach Kent, drive through the village, pay a small “tourist” entrance fee, and walk down to the boat landing where there are people selling snacks and fresh fish.

Local fishing boats in the breakwater at Kent. We took a motorboat to the island sent by Dalton’s, the guesthouse where we stayed.

To the right of the boat landing is Kent Beach, currently almost deserted but ripe for development.

Kent beach has coarse, gold-colored sand like some of the beaches on Banana Island.

 

ON THE ISLAND

Dalton’s Guesthouse on the island. Basic facilities and communal meals, but almost OK for a night or two. The cove next to Dalton’s is a perfect swimming beach called “Big Beach”. There are a few other places to stay on the island that can be found by internet search and reserved by phone.

 

DUBLIN VILLAGE

It was a short walk from our guesthouse to the village of Dublin. You can hire a local person to give you a tour, which is good for the community as some of the tourist money will trickle down to local people. The tranquil village, with no motor vehicles, has widely-spaced houses and a lot of vegetation. There are plenty of bananas growing on the island, but people say the island got its name not from the plant but because it’s shaped like a banana.

Back yard of a house — I took pictures of houses when no one was around so I wouldn’t embarrass or irritate the local people. But in fact, there were few people in the village because almost everyone goes to work in the bush or on boats in the daytime.

A typical local “pan-body” house, not considered unattractive, and practical against the wind and rain.

More houses in Dublin:

 

Smoking fish in a kitchen — kitchens are in small buildings behind the houses.

 

HISTORY

Little is known about Banana Island before the Portuguese arrived on the West African coast in the 1600s. During the 1600s, 1700s and early 1800s, when the transatlantic slave trade was at its height, Banana Island was one of a number of slave holding sites along the coast where captives awaited ships to carry them to the Americas. These sites were usually located on islands or where a major river met the ocean, and control of Banana Island was fought over by two local families in the 1700s.

Starting in 1787, a colony was established where Freetown stands today on land purchased from a local chief, populated by poor blacks from London and former slaves from the Americas. Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807 (though the institution of slavery continued in the Americas) and in 1808 Freetown and the peninsula were declared a British Crown Colony. The British Navy patrolled the west coast capturing slave ships, and the captive Africans were landed in Freetown. These former captives were from many African tribes, and their descendants became the Krios (Creoles) of Sierra Leone with their own culture and language based on English with borrowings from several African and European languages.

As the population of liberated Africans grew in the colony people moved out of Freetown and populated villages around the peninsula, including Kent and the villages on Banana Island.

I couldn’t help but think that the houses on the island were the country cousins of the large Victorian-Krio houses you see in Freetown, as in this picture. (Photo by Chad Finer)

An old lamppost in Dublin, probably from the late 19th Century, which shows the extent of local development and community pride during the Krio period.

There are two churches in Dublin. The older of the two is Zion Methodist Church.

Inside the church

Baptismal font

Memorial plaques on the wall of the church.

The other church is St. Luke’s Catholic Church. The current church was built recently, and the ruins of the old church are nearby.

An old bell outside St. Luke’s Church.

There’s also a mosque under construction. A local person told us that the original inhabitants of Dublin were Krio, who are mainly Christians. but during the civil war (1991-2002) people escaping fighting on the peninsula came to the island for refuge and some of them stayed, so the population is now more mixed and includes Muslims.

Dublin has a new primary school. Secondary level students attend school on the mainland.

The health clinic is also being refurbished.

 

 

FOREST AND SHORE

Still on our tour, we walked through the forest to see some of the shoreline near Dublin. Most of the palm trees on the island are straight-trunked oil palm trees as seen here, with few coconut palms.

One of the old cannons on a promontory overlooking the ocean. The cannons might have been used in the 1700s when protection was needed for the cargoes of captives being sent to the Americas. In 2014 the wreck of a ship was found off Banana Island by a diving and photography team from the U.S.A. There were indications that the ship belonged to the East India Company and the team found 29 cannons on board, one of them dated 1762. (The wreck and cannons were left in place.)

This old guest house on the shore was closed.

But nearby we found the Bafa Resort and talked with their friendly staff.

Near Bafa Resort is a beautiful little cove with a view of the mainland. This area is on the upper right tip of Banana Island, facing the mainland.

Continuing to the next cove, we walked down a path to a beach sheltered by two enormous cotton trees.

This was Kuiwa Big Wharf, a landing spot for boats. There’s a small island just offshore.

People sitting under one of the huge trees.

 

LEAVING THE ISLAND

Time to leave Banana Island. We weren’t sure if this little dinghy from Dalton’s would make it across the open water.

But we made it back to Kent and had a taxi waiting for us, arranged by phone from the island.

We’re hoping for another chance to explore the island and swim at Big Beach. Banana Island is a great place to visit! If you’re in the country try to get there. It’s an easy trip from Freetown.

Questions and comments:¬†Here’s my email address. And if you’re interested in finding out more about Sierra Leone, see the home page for information on our book about the Civil War that includes sections on Sierra Leonean history and culture.

jimhigbie@yahoo.com