By Margaedah Michaella Samai
In 2019, I had the distinct honour and privilege of representing my paternal home, Kenema District in the Miss Sierra Leone Beauty Pageant. It was a momentous moment in my life because I was representing a district of lush greenery, timber, diamonds, the traditional country cloth weaving, and above all, beautiful people. Kenema in Nongowa chiefdom is the third-largest city in Sierra Leone. The capital city of the eastern province is also the second most populous in Sierra Leone and the largest city in that province.
I still have fond memories of how I used to visit Samai Town, around Kombema Road, and not far from the Kenema Government Secondary School during school holidays. Then, I would join my relatives to our rice and cocoa farms respectively from dawn to dusk, only to return to town to traditional dancing, singing, drumming and storytelling.
In one of those gatherings, I was told that the name of the district itself was Keh-ma-ina, meaning figuratively that there is nothing beyond this point. And that it was disrupted to Kenema by educated folks who struggled with the direct translation from Mende, one of the predominant tribes in the district. The city is located on the railway line, in a valley of the Kambui hills.
Kenema is approximately 300 kilometres (185 miles) southeast of Freetown and about 60 kilometres (40 miles) south of Bo. It consists of the following chiefdoms; Dama, Dodo, Gauru, Gorama Mende, Kandu Leppiam, Koya (Bauma), Langurama Ya, Lower Bambara, Malegohun, Niawa, N o n g o w a, Noma- Faama, Simbaru, Small Bo- Blama, Tunkia- Gorahun, and Wando.
In the 80s, Kenema was the hub of the timber industry. It has a population of about 609,873. The district is ethnically diverse though Krio is by far the most widely spoken in the city. Kenema is governed by an elected city council, headed by the mayor.
Kenema is a religiously tolerant city. Muslims are in the the majority, but peacefully co-exist with Christians. The number of mosques supersedes churches, and both religions have, for centuries, lived peacefully.
Kenema is the home of the following learn-ing institutions; Eastern Polytechnic, The Kenema Government School, and The Holy Rosary Secondary School, established in the 70s for girls. The Eastern Polytechnic College through the government of Sierra Leone will soon be upgraded into a technical university. When completed, it will be the first university in that part of the country. However, education among boys is higher than girls.
In the district, generally if one gets sick, they are treated traditionally with herbs or by visiting the hospitals or private clinics. Malaria and Lassa fever are the most common in the township. Majority of the residents seek medicinal attention from pharmacies or drug stores. The government hospital is by far the most trusted. But in extreme cases, people travel to Nixon Memorial Hospital, Segbwema or the Bo government hospital in the southern province.
On regular occasions, community leagues and gala competitions are organized at both chiefdom and district level. At the National Premier League, the district is represented by a professional football club based in Kenema, the mighty Kamboi Eagles. Kenema is the hometown of some of Sierra Leone’s greatest local and international stars, including Mohamed Kallon, Kei Kamara, Musa Kallon, Paul Kpaka and Kemkai Kallon. Kambui Eagles won the Sierra Leone FA cup twice, in 1981 and 1985.
Kenema is a lively town. You can see in our cultural festivals such as the Cocoa Show (pronounced Kakawo Show). It is a celebration that brings farmers and their products at a centre. In December every year, family, friends and loved ones travel from different parts of the world to celebrate and witness August celebrations of the Bondo and Poro secret societies. Paddle, Goboi, and the Nefali dance have also formed part of our social life. The town has many bars and clubs that cater to the needs of nightlife. Kambui Night Club, Empire Night Club, Paloma Guest House, Capitol Hotel, Dorwaila Bar & Suite and Hotel Albertson are all home to the township.
Kenema boasts at least two significant forest reserves of great scenic beauty. Kambui Hills Forest Reserve located 10km from Kenema city is managed by a whole community and was established in 1919. A birdwatchers’ haven, it holds an Important Birds and Biodiversity Area (IBA) status to protect the over 200 bird species. Kambui Hills is home to diverse primates, antelopes, and African Buffalos. The forest ecosystem serves as a water catchment for Kenema city.
Known as Sierra Leone’s green diamond, Gola Rainforest National Park located some 40km east of Kenema officially opened in 2010, is Sierra Leone’s second national park. This park boasts exotic flora and fauna and wildlife and is one of the few protected parks in the sub-region. It covers an area of about 71,000 hectares with over 330 bird species and comprises the largest remaining lowland forest in Sierra Leone.