Palavers, great meetings, grand conferences, “tribal” meetings— these are terms used to describe meetings among peoples in and near Sierra Leone, meetings in which political, diplomatic, and economic questions are discussed and sometimes resolved at the village, intervillage, and occasionally, national levels. These conferences vary in size and importance, depending on dimensions of conflicts or questions to be resolved. This paper focuses on one such conference that convened at Forékariah, the capital of Moria, in 1805 and on circumstances leading to it. It is based largely upon a lengthy first-hand report deposited at the University Library, University of Illinois at Chicago. This paper is presented in two parts: a description of the conference and its placement in Sierra Leone and Morian histories, and the text of the report produced by Sierra Leone observers.
From the earliest records of British officials at Sierra Leone, there are citations to specific “indigenous” meetings and allusions to others that supposedly occurred (indeed they would have had to occur for certain events to follow). One of the earliest large conferences described in detail in these records is one that convened at Forékariah from 24 March to 6 April 1805. The extant contemporary written record of this conference was produced by Alexander Smith, the Sierra Leone Company's and Governor William Day's principal representative at the conference. Other observers from Freetown included William Francis, Andrew Moore, Captain Smith, and Charles Shaw. Alexander Smith did not identify a specific interpreter nor describe what method he used to record the detailed arguments presented by participants. Certainly the filter of language and inter pretation must have influenced the record's content. If one places the conference within the framework of Company and Sierra Leone history, however, and accepts the premise that the Freetown observers were relatively unbiased since they were not principal parties to the palavers resolved, the report can be seen as one of a very few in which Sierra Leone's officials presented themselves in such uninvolved fashion.