By Sulayman Njie
The Ngum Family (year unknown). Front row from left: Mam Sabel Secka (deceased), Mam Madun Ngum (deceased), Mam Maget Ngum (deceased), and Uncle Momar Ngum. Back row from left: Auntie Mammy Ngum, Uncle Pa Seedy Ngum (deceased), and Uncle Tamsir Ngum
Some years ago, I visited a doctor for a routine check-up, then the doctor asked for my vital statistics?—?the health records of my parents and grandparents. After leaving the doctor’s office, I called my mom to ask about her and my dad’s health records and that of my grandparents’. For some reason, I was more interested in my grandparents’ because I know about my parents’ health records. I wanted to know whether my grandparents had any cancer related illnesses, whether they were smokers, among other things. I knew my maternal grandparents quite well. As a matter of fact, grandma Maget was still alive?—?a mild-mannered, soft-spoken octogenarian, in her twilight years?—?pushing the boundaries of living and nearing the end of the natural progression of this life. My maternal grandfather?—?Mam Madun Ngum?—?was a grumpy old man in his 90s when he passed.
Be that as it may, I wanted to know more than their health records, I wanted to know more about the lives and livelihoods of my grandparents, where they came from and how Olof speaking Ngums ended up in Tujereng. As my mom, who was readily willing to discuss her lineage, started explaining, my neurons started firing?—?I was spellbound. She’s well-versed in her family’s history. In that conversation, I learnt that my maternal grandfather came to Serekunda?—?on the trails of his uncle?—?Alpha Njie?—?also known as Momar Cabarona Njie?—?“Cabarona” in honor of his former Arab boss. Mam Momar Cabarona was the father of Alieu Momar Njie, of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), and Abdoulie Njie, of Lie Fish. Mam Momar Cabarona was one of the elders of Serekunda?—?the patriarch of Lion House?—?who married the daughter (or granddaughter) of the founder of Serekunda?—?Sayerr Jobe. Long story short, grandpa Madun first moved his family to Fass, North Bank, where his other uncle?—?Mam Tamsir Jibril Njie?—?the brother of Mam Momar Cabarona was residing with his family, then eventually ended up in the Kombos.
After years of living in Fass, Serekunda, Wellingara, Kerr Makumba (now Makumbaya), among other places?—?he moved his family to Tujereng?—?on the banks of the Atlantic coast. Poor, faraway from their ancestral home of Ngumen, in the Saloum country, the Ngum family established roots in Tujereng?—?farming and trying to eke out a living. They struggled. It was hard. Back breaking work in the “Dodou Colley” area of Tujereng. Many sacrifices were made for family members. Regardless of distance, the Ngums have always remained in contact with the Ngums of the old country?—?always?—?up to date.
Interestingly, in the midst of the hardships and poverty, apart from my mom, who was sent to live with a relative in the old country, every one of the Ngum children had some form of formal education. Some of them like Uncles Saccu, Pa Ebrima, Ablie (deceased), and Pullo (deceased), became educators, while Uncle Alieu became a career civil servant and diplomat; Uncle Omar became an international development expert. Tujereng became my maternal family’s home. Within a generation or two, the Olof speaking Ngums of Tujereng became Mandinka speakers?—?years of assimilation and intermarriages with Bojangs, Sambous, Manjangs, Jabangs, Ceesays, Tourays, Jarjous, and Jattas. As it happens, even though I was raised in Churchill’s Town?—?I was born and christened in Tujereng.
It is easy to forget in this world of phds, of ivory towers, of modern conveniences, of new worlds?—?removed from the struggles and lives of Mam Maget, Sabel, and Madun?—?that I am the accumulation of stories, of history, of sacrifices, of dreams, of people, of generations that came before. I am the product of generations of people with aspirations, likes, dislikes, wants. It is important to remember that they were people, with parents, grandparents, who lived individual lives, with emotions, livelihoods before becoming great-grandparents to, and ancestors of, Ya SaBelle Njie, Pa Matarr Ngum, Ramou Bojang, Nyima Loum, and Mariam Jarjou. For a culture that relies on memory, this is my attempt to document and catalogue my history for posterity, and, in a sense, my communion with history?—?thus, placing me in conversation with the living and the dead?—?the present generation, the generations preceding, and the generations yet unborn.
This is my quest for discovery, of my lineage, of identity?—?researching and documenting my history?—?for sooner or later, I, too, shall become one of those long forgotten ancestors?—?so it goes for most of us. My sequel to this piece would focus on my paternal side of the family. Unlike my maternal lineage, where I can trace back generation upon generations?—?from old Mali to Saloum to Baol to Fass to Serekunda to Tujereng?—?my paternal lineage, like many Olofs who settled in Banjul in the 1800s, it is hard to trace an ancestor or even a distant family member beyond Banjul. But, thanks to family members, griots, and historical documents, I have been able to piece together my paternal lineage?—?putting me in communion and conversation with Mam Hara Njie, Maba Jahou Bah, colonialists, pogroms, bloodletting?—?with the folks of the old Saloum Country and, eventually, Banjul. These series are going to be part of a larger, extensive work examining Senegambia and, by extension, my own lineage and the lineage of some families in Banjul, Serekunda, and Tujereng?—?highlighting the interconnected families, last names, and ethnolinguistic groupings. This is my story and I intend to exact the right to tell and document it for posterity.