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City of Banjul
Friday, September 18, 2020

Eulogy for Banjul

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These men kept the youths of the city busy with the league games. During the summer months, aspiring young football patrons organise nawettan leagues and teams sprung from different neighbourhoods or interest groups. Some of the most prominent teams that evolved out of the city were Bob Marley, Binnets, Freezings, Tally 8, KG5 and Hurricanes. Legends such as Paolo Rossi, Dini Boy, Ardi Fofana, Tijan Faye, Mayweya Dean, Unche, Mboteh, Fara Njago and Amadou Njie Branco burst in the sporting scene of the city. On a sunny and humid Saturday afternoon, the inhabitants of the city converge at KG5 or second division of Box Bar to watch the emerging talents of the city ply their trade. After the games, the youths will fill the dancing floor of Oasis nightclub for a good blast. The soul of this city needs to rise from the dead and be allowed a new lease on life.

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Ramadan is a solemn month that calls for repentance, reflection and dedication. Ramadan in BJL has always been eventful. Banjul has always been a close-knit community where the haves and have-nots cohabitated in harmony just like the Wolofs would say… “Banjul amut hajj ak sen”.  Banjul as a city was culturally diverse and all the ethnic and caste groups of Banjul lived harmoniously.  Ramadan in Banjul has always been a highlight. The milling machines were all busy preparing the millet for the evening porridge while the mortar and pestles were used for the grinding of beans for akara. Bakers such as Modou Pol, Pa Barry of Independence Drive and Harris Kunda were churning out bread for the ndogu and hadah of the Muslim community of Banjul. Nafila was a major highlight in the city after the breaking of fast. The Ahmadiyas used to have a little mosque by the tourist market nestled between the State House and Printing Department. The Hausas had a mosque at Allen Street which was notorious for a quick nafila and most people called the Imam ‘404’ as in Peugeot 404 for his speed in completing the nafila. Most Banjulians especially the ones residing in Banjul north performed their nafila at ‘Democracy Mosque’ also known as Independence Drive Mosque. After nafila, the kids gather under the street lights for a chit-chat before heading back home for a good meal. At the break of dawn, the minarets of Banjul amplified with loud speakers issue the adhan for people to wake up and prepare for the fast. Alieu Sallah was also notorious for using his bike and mega-phone to wake people up.

The women folk start their day by going to the market to shop for the evening meals. They start by taking a taxi to the market and prominent amongst the taxi drivers were “Ndama Taxi”.  Taxi fare within the city was 25 bututs per passenger. This routine was repeated until Lailatul Qadr when the women folk converge to cook cherreh and most of it was taken to the mosque for charity. At the Independence Drive Mosque “Jallow Patat” and Joker were responsible for the distribution of alms with the assistance of “Bologu”. These men were notorious of keeping the best portions for themselves. 

A week before koriteh, families start preparing for the feast. Sanitation in Banjul was prided and most if not all homes were white washed with lime and the beach sand in the compounds were sieved to remove debris from the sand. Kids were taken to Aisha Banani, Paul Joseph and Bata to shop for shoes. The tailors were busy sewing clothes and most up market families went to a tailor by the name of Barham Diop at Allen Street (Willan Kunda). On the eve of Koriteh, all the kids were eager to display their new outfits and show off at the prayer grounds next to Corren. Then come time for salibo and yes we used to collect loads of money from relatives. We used to spend our money shopping at Sonnar Stores and Chelerams and Walls Ice Cream and Biscuiti Banana were high on our shopping list. My memories of Banjul are synonymous with Youssou N’Dour’s song “ah maneh ah maneh mun nu ma fateh Bamako”. Banjul hasn’t change but the people of the city have morphed into new creatures that are no longer compassionate and have also been sucked into the rat race called materialism and in the process, we have lost our anchor and identity.

Myth and legend has always been part of the Banjul way of life. The elders of Banjul created myths that crystallised in the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of the city. Banjul has three distinct geographical divisions (Banjul South or Half die, Banjul North or Soldier Town and Banjul Central or Portuguese ward). Each of these sectors had distinct mythologies that lingered in the minds of the residents for generations. Soldier Town was known to have a ghost on “Talli Morgan” or Box Bar Road, it was also believed that there were some dwarfs by the Masonic lodge on the road to Radio Syd and the famous tree man “Assan Domitaal” at Haddington Street. Kids hardly venture out after sunset without a piece of charcoal in their hand. Banjul Central was rumored to have a unicorn “fassi benaa tanka” that was out on Wednesday nights. Marina Parade was open from the British War Cemetery all the way to the old fountain at Albert Market. The inhabitants of the city enjoyed a scenic promenade. The mouth of the River Gambia on one side and beautiful sentry points of the State House on the other side. With all the scenery and colorful guards along Marina Parade, the inhabitants of the city believed that a roaming football called “kick deh nyaaka kick deh” reside on the stretch of Marina Parade and most inhabitants of the city rushed to finish their daily shopping and head back home to the North of the city using alternate routes such as Independence Drive. Half-Die was known to have a Stove that chased the inhabitants at night. All of these made Banjul ripe for a big screen horror movie. Prostitution is the second oldest profession apart from politics and it flourished in the city with impunity. Mass Club, Kitimus Bar and the lodge at Dobson Street were establishments frequented by sex workers. Night life in the city was vibrant and Sahara Night Club and Tropical were raving spots that provided ambiance and home for Motown and funk music. Politics in Banjul was dominated by three men; Pierre Njie, JC Faye and Garba Jahumpa. All of these men had their political bases centering on religion, culture or social class. The flamboyant PS Njie was a “Saloum” who believed that his blue blooded Njieyen lineage gave him the divine right to rule and lead Banjulians. Reverend Faye had his base centering on religion and same as Garba Jahumpa of the Muslim Congress. By all standards, PS Njie was the political don of the city. His charisma and wit outclassed all of his political rivals. Legend has it that the people of Banjul believed that he had direct access to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. The city of Banjul was made up of a working class public servants (government workers), traders and dockers. Mr Edward Francis Small and ME Jallow were on the fore front of labour rights and Pa Sanjally Bojang was the boss of the dock workers. 

I hate visiting Banjul today because I feel like a stranger in the midst of strangers. Wish I can have the city I once knew as Banjul back. Racing my miniature boat along the canals and gutters of Banjul was a joy. 

 In my spare time, I do get into deep trance trying to comprehend what went wrong with my great city. I always hear the elders saying that “Banjul dafa am barkeh” and I want to know where this barkeh has gone. The social fabric of the city has disintegrated to the point that the mayor of the city has to cross the bridge to come to work daily and most if not all the families that anchor the fabric of the city have migrated. Kudos to men Like Alhaji Ebou Taal, Alhaji Babou Sowe, Alhaji Gabby Sosseh and not forgetting our dearly departed uncle Ousainou Njai of blessed memory who refused to break the communal yolk of the city. How can we Dekil Banjul?

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