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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

I500 people lay dead at Kombo Sabiji: Why August 4th should be commemorated as a National Day of Mourning Part 2

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In the end, the deaths that would have occurred in the bowels of the slave ships on the Voyage of No Return, did mature on the island.  They were in my opinion wrongly classified as Liberated Africans because they had no liberty on the island. They were simply traded from one master to another as forced labour was legalized in colonial Gambia.

And in the words of Macbrair regarding slavery and slave trade:

 “and for such deeds of cruelty as these, European and American slave-dealers have to answer at the bar of God, since it is they who incite the naturally-peaceful African to violence and murder in procuring slaves”.

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Perhaps the only westerner willing to tell the truth that slavery and slave trade were engineered and the violence sustained by the West.

Cupidon asked for arrests but both the Lieutenant Governor and Colonial Secretary refused to effect arrests.  He would take his case to the Secretary of State for the Colonies before a warrant was issued from London. According to the senior priest, Reverend Macbrair,  justice came when the “finger of God” burnt down the colonial Administrator’s storehouse in McCarthy. Cupidon became a teacher responsible for the school in McCarthy and also as a Missionary.  He retired in 1848.

The Kombo Road Ordinace for example had an element of forced labour and it would have to take the protest of the League of Nations for forced labour to be removed from our statutes. TESITO (self-reliance), was probably coined by politicians but was crafted by a lawyer or someone with some legal background. TESITO is nothing but mellowed forced labour and the only difference being that TESITO at least provided food to workers who could not refuse a call from their Chief.

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A lawyer must have devised this to circumvent being accused of enslaving citizens especially in the Protecorate. That is why I am not a fan of TESITO because it was exploitation of the poor to work for the state even after citizens have paid their taxes. It was double taxation of the most vulnerable of our societies who were time and time again, called to duty and they never failed.

Prelude to August 4, 1885 massacre of the marabouts

Why am I bringing these examples of flagrant and deliberate disregard to the enforcement of the anti-enslavement statute in the Colony? These examples and many more, are part of the foundation upon which I am basing my argument that the Colonial administration was not serious about enslavement and was more preoccupied with how to halt the growth of Islam and the popularity of its leaders.

In a bizarre case in Bathurst, a man who lived in Casamance, (a French territory) had his wife captured and enslaved when war broke out in his area. He had been looking for his wife in many places only to find her in Kombo Faraba in the king’s court. The reader must note that by this time, Kombo Faraba was neither part of the Colony or Protectorate. As a matter of fact, a Protectorate had not existed which would not be until 1894.

The man tried to seek the freedom of his wife but unsuccessful. He hatched a plan to escape with his wife which he did via a canoe to Bathurst.  Shortly after his escape with his wife to Bathurst where under British law, they were entitled to full protection, the King of Faraba sent a Messenger by the name Shebu Brister to the Governor in Banjul demanding the return of the two fugitives. The husband was accused of “stealing three bundles of pagns and a slave (obviously his wife) and making his escape to Bathurst.”

The man was arrested and later brought to trial and Mr. Pine who then was the Queen’s Advocate presided over the case and after deliberations, no evidence of theft was proven.  Instead of being released he was sent back to his death as detailed below:

“The matter was then presented before his Excellency, (Governor) and the decision was that the man and his wife were to be put in irons, and carried secretly into a canoe by two constables, and conveyed to the king of Faraba. This duty was performed and the man and his wife were put in irons and carried by two constables and a Police Sergeant and carried to “Half Die,” where they were shipped and well tied in the canoe which conveyed them to the King of Faraba; and the poor fellow was immediately murdered on arrival “ (The African Times, April 24, 1865)

A native took the case up and protested to Mr. Pine about the travesty of justice and the unwillingness of the colonial administration to enforce the law and provide protection to British subjects on the island. This was also conveyed to Governor d’Arcy but fell on deaf ears on the grounds that the Governor did not want to start a war with the native Kings.

“A few days afterward Mr. Pine called on the said native gentleman, to ascertain from him whether he had given up the matter. Mr. Pine asked if he was satisfied so far with the decision. He received answer, that there was no help for it but to be satisfied, seeing it had gone so far and the man could not be obtained, but that it was not according to British principles; British Governors ought not to be so afraid of war as to cause them to hand over their subjects to native kings, &c. Mr. Pine then replied, ” But do you drop the matter?” Answer, ” Yes, I do; ” and Mr. Pine added (after knowing that the matter was dropped), ” I am very glad to hear that you have dropped this matter, because if such a thing were heard in England–I don’t say anything about myself–but the Governor would not be five months holding his office, nor I five days longer.” (The African Times, April 24, 1865).

And “on the return of the messenger, the king (of Faraba) made Governor d’Arcy a present of a cow for his Excellency’s kindness, which was such as had never yet been obtained from his Excellency’s predecessors. But the poor man was already murdered”.

Corruption is as old as humanity. How could a cow be equated with the life of a human being?

A third force that needs to be acknowledged

In almost all the deliberations on the Soninke-Marabout Wars, a third force which had been an underlying catalysts to disturbances, but which force has been downplayed but quite central was the case of the Liberated Africans, who were rescued from the high seas and brought ashore by British naval ships and resettled mainly in McCarthy but also in Bathurst.

As the population of Bathurst grew, along with the population of the Liberated Africans many of whom served in the British military, there became an urgent need to find more land to house these people especially those who retired from the force or from the colonial civil establishment. This pressure for land necessitated the need to approach the native authorities to cede land for the purpose.

We have to also understand that most of these Liberated Africans were Christianized, through an elaborated scheme in order to qualify for some benefits. They had no choice in deciding which religion they would want to be identified with. The resettlement of these Christians was a cause for concern to the Muslims especially in Kombo and trouble would start at Sabiji which was teeming with many Marabouts and under the direction of a Mauritanian Jihadist known simply by the name Omar, who saw combat in Algeria fighting on the side of Abdel-Kader. He had a great military experience and appeared to have been directing the attacks by the people of Sabiji. And although having never visited “Gambia”, there was another important spiritual leader of the Marabouts called Haji Ismail who had some following especially in Bathurst and were credited with smuggling guns from the Colony to the Marabouts of Kombo.

Perhaps at this juncture, we may need to do a quick detour and provide some history into the founding of the settlement of Sabiji. According to mainstream oral accounts, Sabiji was founded by the Cham clan migrating from Futa Toro and the journey was undertaken by three brothers. One settled in Chamen in Nianija, the other at Jara Sutukung and finally the last brother continued to found Sabiji but not before seeking permission of the king of Busumbala for a Royal Charter to acquire land. The story further goes that when the people of Busumbala were approached, it was agreed to give them land where a big snake was said to have been hiding. The name Sabiji is said to be from the Mandinka phrase: SAA BEE JAY which means “where the snake is” and hence Sabiji.

It would of course have to take a strong will and bravery for the Cham clan to settle in such a dreadful environment but they did and rest is history. Sabiji would attract many Muslims in the area and swell her population to be reckoned with as a major player in the political and religious arena of Kombo, a position that was not lost to the British colonial administration.

To be continued.

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