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City of Banjul
Friday, July 19, 2024
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Eulogy for Banjul

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 The city of Banjul is a blessed city and most soldiers of God (Sheikh Oumar Futiu Taal, Mam Mawdo Malick SY, Sait Matty Bah, Maba Jahou Bah, Mam Mass Kah) have left their imprints in the city. Most compounds in the city have alternate access points called (port) and this was done for a specific reason by the elders of the city. These ports act as social conduits to facilitate and resolve social issues of Banjul and also maintain the social safety net of the city. Sutura was the operative word in the dispensation of social duties of the inhabitants of the city. 

The city prided itself with men and women of distinction in all spheres of life. The business pedigree of men like Alhaji Sulay Sarr Penda Chorro, Alhaji Alieu Jeng, Alhaji Alieu Ceesay, Lie Samba ‘Bokut Façon’, the Carrols, Mahoneys, Fosters, Oldfields could have been the issue of a case study in any Ivy league school. Fashionistas and socialites like Njie Artiste, the hip and hot crew of (Everly Brothers) with men like (Tijan Foon, Ebrima Dondeh, Ass John, Alfred Cummins and Omar Njie) controlled the social scene. The city also churned world class administrators and intellectuals who handled the affairs of not only the city but the country. Mr Eric Christensen, Sir Hardy Faye, AA Faal, Mr Wadda, Pa Alieu ‘Kama’ Badjie, Uncle NSZ Njie were torchbearers and trailblazers of their time. Camden Vous, Kent Street Vous and other social clubs were breeding grounds for social reform and enlightenment in the city. A Wolof adage nopaa mak borom is evident with my narrative. I was too young to remember but I have seen many seniors of the city reminisce about the good old days.

Banjul invokes memories of yester-years that bring back nostalgic feelings because I feel like a stranger in the midst of strangers. I 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; a childhood that was so eventful and joyous. For starters, I consider myself a hybrid Banjulian because I was born across the bridge at Westfield Clinic and spent most of my time in Banjul as a child. My parents are thoroughbred Banjulians and they made sure that my values and social orientation were deeply rooted in the Banjul way of life.

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I still have vivid memories of many a good afternoon spent at the Box Bar Stadium watching legends such as ‘Butut’ Joof and ‘Biri’ display their talents. A stone’s throw from the Box Bar Stadium was the tennis lawn. Young basketball players like Moses Malone (Suchet), Cooper (Pa Boy) and others were dazzled by our nouveau Yankees otherwise called ‘Gamericans’ with their newly imported basketball moves. The likes of Ousman Sabally, Mam Essa Gaye, Remi Joiner and Bai Malleh Wadda were the centre of attraction on the hard floor. Banjul had enough pastimes and Pakin was one of the favourites. Kaka Rass could have given Usain Bolt a run for his money on any diamond league circuit. Ndo Secka and Sal Drammeh gave the Pakins daring pursuits on the stretch of Fitzgerald Street. The fanfare in the city during sporting events was not only colourful but memorable. Men like Alieu Sallah and Oye (the rattle man) added to the fanfare. 

Every city has its underworld and the dons of the city had their base at the coconut grove behind the market called “Pool”.  The city mob converged at Pool to showcase their exploits. Georgie was a permanent fixture alongside the midget Abou Sey at this rendezvous. From Pool one heads to the government wharf for a stash of groundnuts. Then off to Wharfi Njago where Albert the crab king was exploiting the riches of the river for his daily sustenance with a bicycle wheel and net. From Wharfi Njago it was time to steal sweet potato around the Sanatorium and veer off to Sekabi in Jollof town.

The late night culinary experience in the city was somehow diverse. Bange lal had great omelette with Bai Dam on the stove. Kaba at Peel Street was another good spot or Sawyer at Primet. A town will never be lively without men like Yusupha Jaiteh, Kebba Buya (schoolen) and Lie Bamba Jagne (Awoh KT). I hated going back home to Fajara because Banjul was this playground that had all the ingredients for a big screen blast. We listened to stories of the seamen. JCJ of Old Perseverance narra ted his adventures out west in the United States.

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Banjulians are nice and peace-loving people. Generally they are upbeat, progressive and jolly. In July 1981, the inhabitants of Banjul witnessed an unprecedented carnage of epic proportions. Legends were born and myths were cast in the psyche of people for years to come. Names such as Gaddy, Ibliss Jobe and Ndo Secka became household names for their exploits during the foiled revolution. Anarchy and pandemonium was the order of the day during the hot summer month of July 1981. Fully armed rascals turned outlaws were gallivanting the city of Banjul tormenting innocent souls and living a life that was imitating art. Gaddy was brandishing a Kalashnikov in the streets and alley ways of Banjul being a don without a constituent. Ndo Secka on the other hand was enjoying the life of an outlaw albeit just for a week. He became the don of the northern sector of Banjul (Soldier Town) with impunity. Ibliss Jobe stationed himself in the city morgue along Telegraph Road and he was the tombraider who robbed the dead of their material belongings. One of the undertakers at the morgue realised that a certain corpse was always on top when new casualties of July ’81 rebellion were brought into the morgue.

Fast forward to 1986 when The Gambia was at the tail end of its economic depression and the IMF prescribed ERP (Economic Recovery Programme), a group of young disgruntled men with entrenched social ties to the city decided to be a menace to society. A group called “Terror 18” was conceived by a brilliant yet trouble kid from Perseverance Street called Macumba Sanneh alias ‘Marcus Garvey’. Garvey as he was fondly called by his peers and comrades was disillusioned with the status quo and the easiest target for him was the sons of the political and economic class of society whom he believed resides across the bridge and predominantly in Fajara. He organised a posse and prominent in the posse where Sulayman Gaye of Perseverance, Lamin Camara alias Ltigo, Batch Faye, Abu Gabarr alias Colonel Ngum and Mbye Jammeh of Gloucester Street. Mbye is the son of a prominent butcher in town and he facilitated the provision of machetes and knives for the assaults. This group tormented students at both Saints and Gambia High School who were not inhabitants of the city. A rational and peace-loving soul with an exceptional IQ by the name of Gabel Faal intervened on several occasions to stop the meleé that was to be unleashed by the Terror 18 squad. Banjul my Banjul is dead and never to be resurrected because the people who made up Banjul have all deserted the city. Shame but we have lost our heritage as Banjulians. Time come and time passed and most of these men in this squadron are now productive members of society. 

Summer months have always been interesting time in the city by the sea. Football and the rite of passage for boys (Lèël) have always been high on the city’s calendar of events. The outpatient wing of the Royal Victoria Hospital was always flooded with droves of young men getting circumcised. Circumcision in the city was normally conducted in numbers either by family or by neighbourhood. The Selbes and Mbortal Mbaar will trek to the outskirts of the city looking for good mangrove cane otherwise called lengeh for the evening entertainment called kassack. Musa Ngum and Mbye Gaye were permanent fixtures in the kassack scenes. Dr Henry William was also prominent in the circumcision of young men. After a month of isolation and cultural education, the “art” or njulie were ready to be presented to society. Big ceremonies called Samba Soho were organised and the families and friends of the njulies do gather for a colourful ceremony rich in ambiance and culture. Generally, a bonfire is lit and people sing and chant into the night. Just before the crack of dawn, the Mbortal Mbarr leads a procession to call maam. This was normally done in the woods behind the Gambia National Library or at a place called “Taati Park”. Maam is an elusive enigma that is deeply rooted in our folklore and it invokes fear in the hearts and minds of the young initiates. Musa Ngum never failed the crowd with his stellar performances. After the break of dawn, the new initiates are taken to the beach to wash off their childhood and enter the world of manhood.

 

The author, a trained economist, is the business development manager at Comium Gambia.

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