Adopted American woman discovers she’s a Sierra Leone princess

Sarah Culberson began searching for her biological family at 28 years old and found she is related to African royalty in Sierra Leone

Sarah Culberson was adopted and raised by a white family in West Virginia and uncovered a rich history in her search for her birth family.

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NBC News reported at the age of 28-years-old, Culberson began her search when she learned her biological mother died when she was only 11. After a phone call from an uncle, she learned she was related to African royalty. According to the news outlet, she is from the Mende tribe in Bumpe, Sierra Leone, and is considered a mahaloi, the child of a paramount chief. This makes Culberson the princess of the Bumpe village.

Sarah Culberson Sierra Leone
(Image via / Brandon Flint Photography)

Hundreds of people came out to celebrate her return during a special ceremony in 2006 where her biological father gifted her a dress that matched his own suit. Culberson shared with the news outlet that although a royal title sounds glamorous, learning her identity came with responsibility.

“My only guidance of what a princess was was what I saw in movies,” Culberson said to NBC News. “[But] it’s really about responsibility. It’s about walking in my great-grandfather and grandfather’s footsteps and what they’ve done for the country. I realized that’s my role as a princess, to keep moving things forward in the country.”

Her adoptive father, James Culberson, a neurobiology professor at West Virginia University, told the outlet her passion for people was natural.

“Sarah was an outgoing, people-meeting, 1-year-old when we adopted her. She is still that same outgoing person who genuinely loves and enjoys almost everyone she meets,” he said. ” “Almost from her first visit to Sierra Leone to meet her father, she saw her ‘princess’ role as one involving trying to find some way to help. She certainly recognized her close connection to a family and chiefdom and country; her work to improve life there has demonstrated tremendous personal growth in many areas.”

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Together with her biological brother Hindo Kposowa, Culberson founded the Kposowa Foundation (now called Sierra Leone Rising) in 2006 to rebuild Bumpe High School and advocate for education in the country. According to the organization’s website, it focuses on education, public health, and female empowerment.

According to NBC News, Sierra Leone Rising has provided nine wells, serving 12,000 people across the country, and is working to support menstruating people with reusable pads and working to slow the spread of COVID-19 with a new initiative Mask On Africa.

“I was like, ‘OK, let’s do this. I’m willing to do the work. Whatever it takes.’ This nonprofit has brought all of us together in such a wonderful way,” Culberson said to the news outlet. “My birth father and I have done a lot of work together with the foundation, along with my brother. I stepped out into a space that has been very new for me and has challenged me in many ways.”

In 2009, she wrote the book, A Princess Found: An American Family, an African Chiefdom, and the Daughter Who Connected Them All to expand on her story. According to NBC News, an animated series is in the works as well as a film produced by Stephanie Allain. Although she lives in the United States, Culberson frequently discusses moving to Sierra Leone with her boyfriend, the outlet reported.

“It was such a life-altering experience,” she said of her initial visit. “It was shocking, amazing, overwhelming, exciting. It was beautiful, glorious and uplifting!”

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