Historian suggests overhaul of Gambia’s ‘chaotic’ history education system

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By Alagie Manneh

Top historian Hassoum Ceeesay has said the controversy caused by the claims that Fulas hailed from Tekrur is indicative of a wider need for a comprehensive textbook for use in our schools on Gambian history.

The claims, which many said have ‘distorted’ the origin of the Fulas, were made by Sierra-Leonean writer Abdul Rahman Barrie in his book ‘Guide to Success in Wassce History,’ currently in use in some Gambian schools.

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Although the Conference of Principals of Senior Secondary Schools (Gamcop) has since announced a review of the book, Mr Ceesay gave a blunt assessment of the entire history education system. “The situation as it stands is a bit chaotic; almost each senior school or set of senior schools have textbooks on history. In some schools, there could be more than one text in use. Each history teacher wants to use their pamphlets.”

He said history teachers should “bury their egos” and come together to write set textbooks on Gambian history and thereby build on the works of pioneers like Dr Florence Mahoney, D Faal, Bakari Sidibe, Patience Sonko Godwin, and Faith Renner.

“The intention to write on Gambian history is good, and should be saluted, but the historical facts should be strictly adhered to,” Mr Ceesay said. “We can interpret Gambian history according to our ideological biases, which is allowed, but must stick to the historical facts and dates and events which are constant and consistent for the historian.”

He said a “radical review” of the history syllabus across the board is what the country needs “to give our children knowledge on history of women’s role in the country, environmental history, Gambian maritime history, history of medicine, and history of trade and commerce, history and entrepreneurship etc to enable history graduates to be more rounded and ever relevant to the discourse of national development. A national taskforce on review of history syllabus of The Gambia can do this.”

On the controversy caused by the claims that the Fulas hailed from Tekrur, Ceesay said: “It falls under the controversial issue that historians called Myths of Origins or Origin Myths. Each ethnic groups have tales about where they came from. And they always want to gloss it. In the early days of the writing of African history, the Europeans like John Gray, who wrote the famous book History of The Gambia (1940), believed that fair complexioned Africans must have had some links with Europe or the Mediterranean. Or that anything great found in The Gambia must have come from Europe. These early writers even claimed, falsely, that the Carthaginians built the Stone Circles, not Gambians. So, the Fula origins fall in this conundrum. Writers like the late Guyanese historian Walter Rodney claimed the Fula came from North Africa; others say from Ancient Egypt; others say they came from the regions lying in borders of present-day Senegal and Mauritania, which was also the limits of the Middle Ages Tekrur Kingdom. But in today’s geography, this region is called Fouta. This could be the mixture.”