A nation is more than just a geographical or political entity. It is a group of people who share a common culture, history, language, and way of life. The nation’s societies are the foundational elements that shape its identity, values, and future. A nation is, in many ways, a reflection of its societies and how those societies interact with one another. A nation, like a mirror, reflects the identity and values of the society that forms it. In this article, we will look at how a nation serves as a reflection of its society. I will look at the sense of humour, generosity, hospitality, tolerance, and selflessness that was embedded in the cultures that form our societies and how this reflects that amiable nation referred to as the Smiling Coast of Africa. Then we will look at the gradual degeneration of the identity and values of the societies, the causes, and the consequences of these.
In some ways, a country’s societies can be thought of as microcosms of the country as a whole. How these societies interact can help shape the nation’s political, economic, and cultural landscape. For example, by collaborating to promote the common good, societies can build a more cohesive and harmonious nation. In contrast, societies characterised by chaos and selfishness will produce a fragmented, backward, and confused nation.
There were days in rural Gambia when the sense of community was truly alive. There was no abundance like today, but society provided for everyone. I can remember when the entire clan would annually gather at the farm of the clan head to lend a helping hand. The memories of the youths gathering to weed the farm of the in-laws of one of the newly married young men are still fresh. I can vividly imagine the youths preparing to go in search of mangroves and wild grass to thatch the roof of one of the youths as a sign of motivation.
There were the days when a bundle of cola nuts can earn you acres of land in the urban Gambia never mind if you are from Kayai, Kiang, or Karumbu. No wonder decades after independence, non-indigenes became land dealers. When did lansarolu become inimical? When did the Sankarankas, Cham Dembas, Touray Moris, and the Jatta Njies become xenophobes? When will Old Man By Force apologise? When did the Muslims and Christians become antagonists? Tell me, when did hospitality become confused with hostility?
There were days when no two people disputed over the alkaloship of our communities. Similar to the British royal system, there was that unique chain of power transmission from generation to generation.
Domestic disputes used to be arranged and resolved at Alkali Kunda or Seyfou Kunda. In these courts, an array of issues, including conjugal matters such as the number of rounds a man will demand in a single night, are settled. Could this be the pre-jumbo era?
Indeed there were the days when men were men—really horny. Weren’t they?
There were days when there used to be a common jujuwo (circumcision) initiation. This will gather the youngsters of an entire village for a month or more. The memories of the lessons learned from these events will never fade. I can still recollect some of those melodious songs sung by Simaa Keita as well as the educational parsingolu (puzzles) and the consequences of not being able to decode them. Indeed, this was the time when the village was still a village.
There was the open Saturday night fural for those who care, and there was the homegrown and the Bambaco for those who care. Vodka actually was a rare substance. Whatever it was, the euphoria that accompanied those events was incredible. Zidane will dedicate to his friends his favourite track by Junior Kelly, Hungry Days, whose lyrics refuse to let go of memories. “Whata gwaan inna de ghetto?” Junior Kelly preaches and echoes, “You know what? Min uh like wah gwaan! A just sufferation, sufferation, Hey! Hungry days, mi want a change of pace….” Whatever the reason, it was all about camaraderie, given the perilousness of youth. Fights were precipitous and often bloody but swift were the reconciliations and reunions. If you still upheld the scientific belief that the brain cells cannot regenerate or the theological notion that the dead cannot be resurrected go to Bundung Markaz. A spiritual rehabilitation centre that saw the demise of the Dancehall Masters, and other musical crews and the reorientation of otherwise outcasts of the society.
There were days when the people of the Smiling Coast were truly smiling. This was before the politicians meddled with our social fabrics – the essence of our unity and peaceful coexistence. They have employed the divide-and-rule mechanism of the colonial masters to disintegrate our societies for their selfish interests.
When undefined bigotry grips society’s smallest hamlets, tribal, political, and religious chauvinism becomes a reflection of this. Differences are fostered because Bajonki is from Bajonkito and Sukuta is from Sukoto. Elsewhere in Njakunda, Waareh hails from Baa Santo, while Jola hails from Baa Duma. Isn’t this the case? These differences, which might be considered trivial, metamorphosed over time, corroding the social fabrics of our societies, and consequently, our peaceful coexistence as a people of one nation—a nation considered the smallest in mainland Africa, with a population of barely two million people.
When the politician came, society embraces amusement and fanfare. Then extravagance and frequent uncalled-for traversing of the length and breadth of the nation becomes the order of the day. Isn’t this the case? It has even extended to organising festivals and inviting the leaders of the local societies (the alkalolu, religious leaders, and the seyfolu) to the main office for fun. Isn’t this the case? There is a saying in my Mandinka which translates as, “you are treated as you are perceived”. Society seems to have succumbed to the whims and caprices of the politicians. The disintegration of the social fabric has brought along moral decadence as a result of “mind your business”. It has also given the politicians a further opportunity to take us for a ride.
When Gambians showed interest in farming and food self-sufficiency, the government of the day had no choice but to include this in its agenda. Those are the days of Gambia Produce Marketing Board (GPMB), Gambia Cooperative Union (GCU), and the Jahally-Pachar rice project. During those heydays, the government took the financing, processing, and export of cash crops seriously. However, those critical of this view may attribute the downturn to marketing issues but even then a more serious and independent nation would have carved strategies to curb the situation.
When religion was at the heart of the people, the government of the day had no choice but to include this in its agenda. Those are the days when no two people will debate about the prevalence of Qur’anic teachers in our schools. It’s society’s disregard for religions that brought about the government’s indifference to the core religious principles such as wearing the veil and allowing religious teachers in schools. Isn’t this the case? Again contestants may attribute this to MC Cham, but remember, the nation is a reflection of the society.
In conclusion, a nation is a reflection of its society. A nation’s identity, values, and future are shaped by the diverse and complex communities that constitute it. The way these societies interact with one another can have an impact on the nation’s political, economic, and cultural landscape. As a result, it is critical that we recognise the importance of societies in shaping our national identity and collaborate to build a more harmonious and inclusive society. Only then will the people of the Smiling Coast smile again.
The author, Yankuba Yabou, is an academic staff of the University of The Gambia.