For centuries nearly every European who visited Sierra Leone was struck by the great potential for trade to which the area seemed geographically suited. Caravans from Kankan and Segu, and even from as far away as Bamako and Timbuctu, came down through Siguri and Faranah, passed through the dispersal points inland of the forest at Timbo, Bunban, and Samaia, and carried the gold, ivory, hides, and produce of the interior down to the tidewater towns, of Temneland (Canot 1854, p. 89). From Kambia, Mange, Port Loko, and Magbeli the trade accumulated with local produce, and the caravans ferried their goods by canoe and “Bullom Boat” to the European ships waiting off the mountainous peninsula in West Africa's deepest and largest natural harbor.
Anyone familiar with the map will note that much of Temneland is well situated to command this inland trade from the Futa Jallon and the upper Niger. The northwestern Temne control the navigable reaches of the Scarcies and of Port Loko Creek. Likewise, the southeastern chiefdoms are astride the Rokel and command the approaches to Freetown. Ijagbemi has noted how the major trade routes going inland from the coast “took a north-easterly direction, which, though hilly, was only partially forested and so afforded a relatively easy access to the interior (1970, p. 45).
Slave traders recognized the strategic value of controlling the estuaries, and some of the earliest “slave factories” were built right in the Sierra Leone River.