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Foday Kaba Dumbuya – The Jihadist from upper Gambia

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Dumbuya is one of the Susu appellations of the clan better known elsewhere as Koroma. They are perhaps of Serahulé origin and go back to the days of the pre and post Islamic empire of Ghana.

The Dumbuya clan descended from Fa Koli Koroma, the famous military commander during the time of Sundiata Keïta. According to family informants, one branch of the family crossed the Falémé River into Bundu, Sierra Leone during the 18th century. 

One of Dumbuya notables Ibrahima Dumbuya had a son Jarafin Kaba. They were devout Muslims. Jarafin had a son named Foday Bakari and when he came of age, he was told that he would be the father of a great Muslim scholar and leader, but he must “go where a great fire is lighted in a small country where the hearts of men are pure”. There is where his son must be born.

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He was told to look for a particular young woman with a scar on her foot, and he found her in the village of Gumbel in Bundu where he settled and founded a madrassa with a large number of students. He resided there for two or more years before he asked her father for her hand in marriage. She was Hawa Kassama, a daughter of a great Jahanka scholar. Foday Kaba, their second child,

was born in Gumbel between 1818 and 1828.

Foday Kaba’s father later relocated to Badari in Wuli, then Dobonkunda in Niani before establishing Kerewan Dumbuto.

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Foday Bakari sent his son to study with Simoto Kemo Sanuwo, a renowned scholar in the Senegambia region born in Kantora Sama.

How many years he stayed with Simoto Kemo Sanuwo is uncertain, but, according to the usual pattern of Islamic learning and from inferences in the oral narratives, it was many years. Foday Bakari informed his son that he was destined to serve Allah and must prepare himself intellectually and spiritually for leadership.

While Foday Kaba was a student, Simoto Kemo was asked by Faramba Tamba Sanneh, the Mandinka ruler of Kapentu, for a promising ṭālibé who could make nasoo to protect Kābu from attack by Fula forces from Futa Jallon; he chose Foday Kaba to assist Faramba Tamba.

Although the dates are not certain, Foday Kaba probably returned to his father in Kerewan Dumbuto between 1855 and 1860. One informant states that his father sent for his son to assist him with his affairs.  

Pressures on Foday Bakari’s religious and commercial community intensified due to increased Muslim-Soninké hostility during the 1850s and 1860s and also because of the rising religious fervour that developed over several decades.

On his way home Foday Kaba preached to the non-Muslims in various towns, but he did not receive a warm welcome. When he returned to Kerewan Dumbuto he told his father that he wanted to begin a jihād.

“The father divined the matter; he retreated into halwa [a state of spiritual meditation]. The Ruwaaniyes favoured it.. and if he is going to start his wars, he should start at Badari the eastern part of the country,” the historian Bamba Suso, wrote.

His father advised him to wait three years before beginning the war, and Foday Kaba went out to raise an army in Niani, Jimara, and from among relatives in Wuli. He launched the war in the early to mid-1860s. The order of battles is not clear from the oral sources. Some have the first battles fought in Badari in the east, moving to the west and ending in Jimara. Foday Kaba attacked Soninké towns such as Badari but also Muslim towns such as Kundam Kunda. His justification in this instance was that Kundam had fired on his army as he besieged Badari; however, the Muslims of Kundam responded that they were part of the same community and were obliged to assist Badari. In another incident when his forces entered Korojula Kunda, the elders said, “Let no gun sound. We shall embrace the Muslim faith.” The 14 elders presented themselves, but the Muslims made a secret pact: “You must place your knives on their heads; you must shave them [a sign of conversion]; when the knife comes to the back of their neck, it must cut their neck.” The elders who had converted to Islam were killed and the town was destroyed. But Foday Kaba built mosques and madrassa and left a teacher to assist the new converts with their devotions.

At a point in his campaigns, he thought it was prudent to return to Kerewan Dumbuto and consult with his father about the state of affairs. This was the time of the terrible cholera epidemic that swept the Gambia River region in 1869.  His father disbanded the troops with the words: “You say that this leader of yours [Foday Kaba] is a saint. Well did he see what heaven has sent down upon us? Men of the army, let everyone who has anything in the form of slaves or booty take his own share and go; God’s war has now come; it is not man’s war.”

Shortly after Foday Bakari disbanded the army, Foday Kaba left for Nioro in Baddibu to participate in the wars there. The conflict north of the river was well-known throughout the region, and Muslims from many districts had supported Maba Ba. Indeed, the British were concerned that Maba’s uprising would be joined by other Muslim forces to form a “super jihād” from Kombo to Wuli, and the British began to expand their political and military affairs along the river.

In April 1872 the king of Kataba complained to the British that forces led by Foday Kaba and Biram Sisé had captured the towns of Pallang and Sukuta and destroyed his kingdom. Sisé proceeded eastward, while Foday Kaba was camped with Lamin Marang at Kihie, nine miles from McCarthy Island. Foday Kaba postponed attacking Alfa Molo Baldeh’s forces in Nyama and instead continued his local raids. In June it was reported that Foday Kaba’s forces attacked Fattatenda, appropriated cattle, and trade goods and then returned to Kerewan Dumbuto for the rainy season.

By 1875 Foday Kaba had become a formidable power on the south bank and was at war with Fulladu led by Alfa Molo Baldeh. Foday Kaba was joined in 1877 by N’Dari Ba, and Alfa Molo in turn sent a counterforce into Baddibu. The conflict between Alfa Molo and Foday Kaba was caused in part by Alfa Molo’s murder of his father and abduction of his family at Kerewan Dumbuto in 1871, but the intensity of the hostilities stemmed from their competitive territorial ambitions. Alfa Molo was the ruler of Fulladu and an ally of Futa Jallon’s territorial expansion.

Foday Kaba based his army in Sukuta and neighbouring villages in Jarra and expanded his operations during the 1870s into the border areas of Alfa Molo’s state.  According to Bamba Suso, Alfa Molo sent messengers to Foday Kaba to make peace, but he killed five of them, so Alfa Molo left for his fortress at Kerewan Pakau. Foday Kaba besieged the fort  without success. Alfa Molo’s son, Musa, and several associates escaped and through superior horsemanship eluded Foday Kaba’s army. In a counterattack Foday Kaba’s army was routed.

From his base at Jarra Sukuta, Foday Kaba planned an attack on Pinyai Fula Kunda, but Nyadu, the town ruler, asked Kutubo Kassama of Barrow Kunda to be his spiritual overlord. Kassama agreed, and met with Foday Kaba and said: “My nephew, these people have entrusted themselves to my care; you must leave them alone. God will make them Muslims without a shot being fired.” Foday Kaba responded: “I have gone into retreat for 40 days against them. God has given me that place and I will not let them be.” Kutubo Kassama warned him: “You will not escape with even a feather.” When Foday Kaba attacked Pinyai, forces from nearby Katamina counterattacked and forced his army to flee. He stayed at Barrow Kunda where ambassadors from western Jarra asked for his help against Soma. On his way west he was welcomed by the Muslim town of Karantaba, but another Muslim town Kani Kunda did not allow him to enter. He stayed at Sankwia, and before attacking Soma burned down Kani Kunda for refusing to cooperate with his mission. He besieged Soma for 11 months, and in desperation the people invited him to make peace at the mosque, but burnt the building with the Soma Muslims in it.

By late 1879 Foday Kaba had moved across Jarra, through Kiang and was threatening the Jola towns and villages in the district next to Kombo. In December 1879 the chief of Bondali offered to cede “Jola country” to the British. Two months later the British reported that Foday Kaba had taken all the towns for 60 miles on the south bank up to Kansala. He had established his headquarters in Bondali from where he intended to conquer all the territory up to British Kombo. A colonial official visited Bondali in June to discuss Foday Kaba’s activities, but Kaba refused to meet with the official, who described Foday Kaba as very wealthy. From his base Foday Kaba also supported a dissident Fula faction against Musa Molo to the south of Jola Foñi.

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