Location. The Temne occupy some 29,000 square kilometers of Sierra Leone's Northern Province, specifically in the districts of Bombali, Karene, Kambia, Port Loko, and Tonkolili. They are bounded on the west by the nearly absorbed Bulloni; on the north by the Susu, Limba, and Loko; on the east by the Kuranko and Kono; and on the south by the Sherbro and Mende. The area occupied predominantly by Temne thus stretches roughly west from ll°20′ E, to the Atlantic and from 8°20′ to 9°20′ N. In elevation most of the Temne area is below 150 meters, excluding only isolated hills and the extreme eastern portion. Rainfall averages between 254 and 305 centimeters annually, with higher averages of 305 to 356 centimeters along the Atlantic beaches and the extreme eastern portion. Ninety to 95 percent of the annual rainfall is received during the period from May through November, the rainy season. Much of Sierra Leone was once covered by forest, but it has been almost completely cleared; the only primary forest remaining is in the remote reserves. Most of the area is farmed using the slash-and-burn technique, whether it is secondary forest, savanna, or mixed trees on grassland. Small stock are kept, but comparatively few cattle—and these only of the dwarf Ndama strain.
Demography. Of Sierra Leone's 4.5 million people, about one-third are Temne. Population density is highest in the west, in the Kambia and Port Loko districts (57 to 96 persons per square kilometer), and lower in the east (20 to 58 persons per square kilometer). Both fertility and mortality estimates are high for Temne in particular and for Sierra Leone as a whole.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Temne language is included in Greenberg's West Atlantic category and in Dalby's MEL category (with Bullom, Gola, and Kissi in Sierra Leone and others to the north), which is a subdivision of West Atlantic. Dalby found at least five Temne dialects: Western (with variations in the Sanda area), Yoni, Bonbali, Western Kunike, and Eastern or Deep Kunike. The major cleavage is between a grouping of the first four and the Eastern or Deep Kunike, which is nearly unintelligible to speakers of the other dialects. There is no lingua franca in use, although the pidgin English of the Freetown area, known as Krio, has come close to serving as such since the early twentieth century.