Kissi people

Total population
Regions with significant populations
Kissi, English, French, Krio
Christianity 85%, African indigenous religion 10%, Islam 5%
Related ethnic groups
Temne, Baga, Sherbro, Gola

Kissi people is an ethnic group living in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. They speak the Kissi language, which is a Niger–Congo language. They are well known for making baskets and weaving on vertical looms. In past times they are also famous for their iron working skills, as the country and its neighbors possess rich deposits of iron. Kissi smiths produced the famous "Kissi penny", an iron money that was used widely in West and even Central Africa.


The Kissi are primarily farmers. Rice, their staple crop, is grown on most hillsides and in low, swampy areas. Other crops include peanuts, cotton, corn, bananas, potatoes, and melons. Beans, tomatoes, onions, and peppers are grown in small vegetable gardens, and coffee is raised as a cash crop. Most of the farmers also raise some livestock.

Agricultural work, such as sowing, weeding, and harvesting, is shared equally by the men and women. Additional responsibilities for the men include hunting, fishing, and clearing land. The women's duties involve caring for the small vegetable gardens, tending to the chickens, trading in the local markets, and doing some fishing. Boys tend to the livestock, which are usually cattle and goats. Cows are considered very valuable animals, not for their milk, but as religious sacrifices.

Resistance to French conquest by Kissi Kaba Keita

In Guinea, the Kissi warrior Kissi Kaba Keita managed to unite many kissi chiefdoms under his reign and resist French conquest for many years. Prior to French attacks, he had rallied the Kurankos of Morige, and the Leles of Yombiro. When the French arrived in 1892, he had to let the relatively autonomous chiefs of the respective areas defend themselves. Due to the French's technological superiority, Kissi Kaba resorted mainly to guerilla tactics, thus delaying their conquest of his kingdom. However, by 1893, Kissi Kaba realized that his resistance would fail and subjected himself to the French. As such, they recognized him as chief of the northern Kissi territory. However, he his relationship with the French gradually worsened, which first led to the French appointing his rivals in a number of his chiefdoms, until he was finally executed in Siguiri.

Social Systems

For many generations, the Kissi have been known as a hard working people. They are very age-oriented, dominated and led by the chief and the elderly people. The Kissi live in small, self-governing villages that are tucked inside groves of mango or kola trees. Each village is compact, containing no more than about 150 people. Houses are usually raised slightly above the ground and are round with mud walls, cone-shaped thatch roofs, verandahs. In the center of the village is a public square with a dwelling place for the village headman. He offers sacrifices at the village shrine and acts as judge over the community.

To the Kissi, a child is not considered "complete" and is thought of as dirty and impure. Therefore, when a boy or girl reaches puberty, a purification ritual is held. This ceremony, called a biriye, "cleanses" the child and ushers him into adulthood. Afterwards, the boy or girl is expected to take on adult responsibilities.

Music plays a unique role in the Kissi culture. Sometimes, it is used for certain types of communication. The music does not necessarily have a melody, but rather a rhythmic sound with much drumming and whistling.

Religion and spiritual beliefs

Although many Kissi have converted to Christianity, most of them continue to practice their traditional ethnic religion. Ancestor worship or praying to deceased relatives is a common practice among the Kissi. The Kissi believe that ancestral spirits act as mediators between them and the creator god. Small stone statues are used to represent the spirits. They are worshipped and offered sacrifices by the village headmen. Many carved soapstone figures and heads were produced by the Kissi people in the past prior to colonial contact with the Europeans. It is not clear why they were made; some scholars argue that they form part of an ancestral worship while others say they may represent gods to increase agricultural yields A large number can be seen in the British Museum's collection.[1]

The Kissi constantly live in fear of the supernatural. They wear charms in order to protect themselves from the evil spirits. Witchcraft is also practiced by sorcerers and witches. Some of the elders and religious leaders communicate with spirits through trances and hypnosis. The biriye and other rituals are held in the forest, since this is thought to be a sacred setting.

The Kissi reside in an area affected by the Ebola virus and the customs of the people are a substantial contributing factor to the spread of Ebola virus disease.[2]

An interesting corruption of the name Kissi linked Christmas Mass to it to become Kissy Mess Mess, a neighbourhood of Freetown, SL.

Notable Kissi people

× Michael Fayia Kallon - active Kissi writer from Kissi Bendu in Sierra Leone, living in the United States. His website is -


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