Archaeology findings show that Sierra Leone has been inhabited for thousands of years. Traditional historiography has customarily presented it as a people by successive waves of invaders; but the language pattern suggests that the coastal Bulom (Sherbro), Temne, and Limba have been in continuous settled occupation for a long time, with sporadic immigration from inland Mende-speaking people including Vai, Loko and Mende.
They organised themselves in small political units of independent kingdoms or chiefdoms, the powers of whose rulers were checked by councils. Secret societies, notably the Poro society also exercised political power as well as instructed initiates in the customs of the country.
Muslim traders brought Islam. Portuguese sailors, Alvaro Fernandez (1447) and Pedro Da Cintra (1462), were among the first European explorers to detail their adventures along the coast of Sierra Leone. Located near present day Freetown, the Rokel estuary was established as an important source of fresh water for sea traders and explorers. Over the next 30 years, sea traders opened a bay for trading goods such as swords, kitchen and other household utensils in exchange for beeswax and fine ivory works. By the mid 1550’s, slaves replaced these items as the major commodity. Though the Portuguese were among the first in the region and their language formed the basis for trade, their influence had diminished by the 1650’s. English, French, Dutch and Danish interests in West Africa had grown. Trade was established through coastal African rulers who prohibited European traders from entering the interior. Rent and gifts were paid for gold, slaves, beeswax, ivory and cam wood.
British traders of the Royal African company established Forts along the coast for trading in 1672 but the British did not have monopoly on the area. Rival European nations attacked the Forts. Admiral de Ruyter is noted to having sacked Tasso Island in 1664 as a reaction to the maltreatment of Dutch traders. In 1728, Afro-Portuguese traders captured the New Royal African Company’s fort at Bunce Island.