A ethno-linguistic group of Mande origin who occupy a number of coastal chiefdoms either side of the Sierra Leone-Liberian border, where they are thought to have been settled since at least the 16th century. It has been suggested that they and the Kono (q.v.) were originally one people, but that they were split off from one another by a later wedge of immigrants, possibly the Mende, moving from the interior of Liberia into south-eastern Sierra Leone. They share a number of cultural institutions, such as the Sande society, with their Mende and Gola neighbours. In the 19th century they were particularly known for their weaving of fine country cloths and for the invention of a indigenous Vai script.
- G.W.Ellis, Negro Culture in West Africa (New York 1914)
- A.Jones, 'Who were the Vai?', Journal of African History, 1981, 22, 159-78.