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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Destiny: Moulaye Alieu Gibril

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By Nana Grey-Johnson

When immigrant and trader Moulaye Alieu Gibril passed away on February 21, 2006, he was 102 years old, the only son of Moulaye Hussein, a Saudi Arabian, settled in Fez Morocco after a sojourn in Egypt, and his wife Nematoulie, a woman of the Oku-Marabou lineage from Freetown in the Colony of Sierra Leone. Although Hussein tried settling in Freetown childhood for his boy Alieu was turning out some trying times. The boy’s maternal uncles carried every fear that the boy’s father would one day leave with him back to Morocco.

It was this fear the uncles addressed by taking the boy upcountry where they were traders and, to give even wider berth, his Uncle Hashim took him further way to his trading post in St Louis (known to its locals as Ndarr) in the northern stretches of the Senegambia corridor already bustling with traders, some venturing even further out into Mauritania and Morocco.

However, it seemed that tragedy would unfold at every turn. Uncle Hashim would die after only two years. Alieu’s father Hussein would return to Morocco and die after a short illness. There was not much choice left to the boy but to accept his other uncle’s plan to travel with him back to Freetown.

In 1916, he and his Uncle Gibril Abubacarr arrived in Bathurst from Ndarr and caught a steamer to Freetown where more heartbreak awaited the boy. His mother Nematoulie had gone away to Nigeria with her new husband Daddy Osho, a clan chief from Abeokuta. He would never see her again since news soon came that she had died in Abeokuta. 

Alieu settled into the next best thing for a determined young man. He guarded his beginner’s grounding in the Koranic studies he had gathered in Ndarr and enrolled in Model School to get an English primary education and went on to St Edwards, a reputable secondary school in Freetown. He made friends at school and, in 1927, he and a school friend Ebrima Adams decided they would try the waters in Bathurst. Adams had convinced Uncle Gibril to put Alieu, now a sporting 23-year-old, in business.

That was the ignition and lift-off the determined young man was waiting for. He went to work for Ya Harret Jow, a successful businesswoman whose reach extended from the Gambian capital to outlets in provincial Niumi across the estuary where the robust young Alieu rode his bicycle to collect monies in dotted villages on behalf of Madam Jow. 

Many years of hard work paid off. Alieu had learned the ropes well, gathering enough knowledge for business and a reputation for honesty and service to start trading in 1937 for a British firm, the United African Company at their post at Bai Tenda where he quickly became a household name among big trader guns such as Gorghee Gaye, Musa King and the Nachifs. Two years later, at the outbreak of the Second World War, he went to trade at Jerung; Gibril Betts, another Oku-Marabou trader of renown, was making a name for himself at Balingho down the stretch of the same river.

However, Hitler’s war came with its demands on peoples and economies the world over. The intrepid Alieu opted to enlist in the West African Frontier Force 2nd (Coast Defence) Battalion, The Gambia Regiment, as operations officer and storekeeper at the airfield base at Brikama in charge of contracts, vehicles, bombs, and fuel.

In the heat of the war Alieu took time off to add on to his responsibilities by starting a family; in 1940 he married Hadijatou Fye.  The Gibril family, with Alieu having adopted his Uncle Gibril Abubacarr’s first name as his surname, began to grow and would end up with six children—three boys and three girls. In later years he would marry a second wife, Kady Adams, who bore him a daughter.

In 1945, Berlin fell and Alieu demobilised and went back to trading, this time for the Sarkis Madi Company, a local outfit, and, several years later, with Vezia, a French company.  He would then open his own outlets at Sankwia in the 1950s and 1960s, and at Pakali Ba, and, lastly, at Kudang in the 1970s.

At the height of his powers, with eleven trucks at his service and three compounds to his name, he established his family home at 6, Long Street, Bathurst, a piece of property he purchased from his former employer Ya Harret Jow. From there, in his long years of happy retirement he continued to live a full and active life, guiding his children who eventually fanned out into coveted ranks and places, grandchildren, in-laws, relatives, and the numerous friends and acquaintances that sought his counsel, while never relenting in his hobby of reading novels; he was constantly on the look out for a good one to read.

If there was ever a voyager who never looked back Moulaye Alieu Gibril was he; he never returned to Freetown since he left in 1927 despite the many requests for him to pay a visit. In fact, he never travelled outside The Gambia except when he went to Mecca in 1979 to perform the Hajj. He died on February 21, 2006.

Moulie Hussein married Nematoulie of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and had Moulaye Alieu Hussein. Moulaye Alieu (Hussein) Gibril married Hadijatou Fye of the renowned Sheikh Omar Fye, trader, legislator, and Islamic scholar, patriarch of the Fye family of Dobson Street, Bathurst. Moulaye and Hadijatou bore Hadijatou Olatunde Gibril, Moulie Alhusein Gibril, Isatou Swade Gibril, Fatmatta Offolunsho Gibril, Hassan Abulanwar Gibril, and Omar Nuru Deen Gibril. Moulaye married Kady Adams in his second union and they begat a daughter, Mariama Ebironke Gibril.

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