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By Dr Cherno Omar Barry,
President of Writers Association of The Gambia

Now Praise we Great and Famous Men

In my early school days, I had realised something really awkward, perhaps unfair, about us African children learning accounts of our history written by the very people who had had a great deal to do  with the distortions and malformation of that history. To hurt someone is a terrible thing; to deny his pain is worse. My study of Small revealed that I was not unique in that experience. There was a price to pay for siding with the underdog or to speak out. However, while the voice of conscience runs the risk of paying the dear price, its silence only allows more injustice to thrive.

There was something intrinsically wrong with us passing examinations based on the inflictor’s account of our discomfort in which our national icons were bandits and marauders and Europeans were conquerors, builders and towers of strength and truth. It did not sound right to me that we the so-called subjects should be singing prayerfully for the queen of England that God would save her from her enemies so that she would reign long over us from the distance of her land of hope and glory and the mother of the free. How could we when, in reality, there was little to hope for in our own self-esteem, nothing of our land to speak of our glory and even less to ensure our freedom?


The first eye-opener for me came when my friends at primary school, during the Empire Day parade, were changing the lyrics to God Save the Queen of the British National Anthem. Their loud refrain was instead: “God save my mother!”

The deep irony was that we were singing in MacCarthy Square, at the near end of Allen Street in Bathurst, where a little less than two hundred meters away at NO. 4, Edward Francis Small was languishing away in his home in penury and passing the twilight of his years after a life of struggle to change that Imperial colonial relationship to which we so lustily were committing our young selves. While Small lay sickly and friendless, a recluse and a seeming loser, the nation he fought to emancipate from the mentality of subjugation seemed oblivious to the contributions of such a patriot who spent all of his 66 years correcting the anomaly of subjugation by calling for a liberation of the African Mind so that  Gambians, able and capable of conducting their own affairs, would assume the architecture of their own history and become the determiners of their own destinies.

It dawned on me that these were our first questioning of the sense of adulating a colonial queen who represented a culture of domination and emasculation of our reality, the killers of our prophets, those who abused our dignity and humanness in a dastardly Slave Trade, bent our self-perception with Colonialism and preached the inferiority of our genes and mentality and presided over our ‘civilization’ with the greatest condescension. There we were, the leaders of The Gambia of the future, asking God to ensure that that state of affairs of slave and master continued.

For a while, and for a little while only, it seemed that untruth had triumphed until time began to reveal the true heroes of our history. It began to happen when Gambians started to go beyond the memory of the griot to write down their own ft-ue story. Records began to yield the truth that those who struggled against the Europeans were not devils and demons as they were branded, but patriots and heroes. Our generation is comparatively more fortunate.

When Edward Francis Small tried to chart that destiny under the umbrella of labour unionism and journalism in the pages of his newspaper, The Gambia Outlook and Senegambian Reporter, I the colonial regime used every means at its disposal, from trickery and denouncement to sabotage and covert surveillance by New Scotland Yard, to ensure that the seed of self-determination was crushed and that the British imperial order prevailed.

To believe that the British kings, queens and governors for whose safety and longevity we prayed believed in the quality ofjustice that had in 1873 appointed a white trader, Thomas Brown, a magistrate to hear the cases of Africans indebted to his own company! To believe that the white Governor Gouldsbury in 1883 would order the murder by stabbing and laceration of the king of Barra, Wally n’Jammeh, in his jail cell and have a police constable, mBye mBuss, promoted in the services after he reappears from a secret government mission in which he had absconded with the legitimate queen of Barra, the only witness to her husband’s murder! They kill my king and abduct my queen and I sing for long life to their queen? It does not make sense to me. To believe that to cover up the crime of murder, the murder of an African king, the white Coroner’s verdict after the ‘inquest’ said it was suicide!

The history books we read did not chronicle the criminal missions of deprivation unleashed upon a people who only wished to remain Niuminka and not British. At no time were we told that the governor had ordered the destruction of king n’Jammeh and prosecuted the fall of the Jowlah monarchy because the king had sworn on his cattle, his men, his fields and his own life that the British Union flag would never fly over Barra, Niumi. Likewise, we were never examined on the facts of the ashes of history still smouldering from the fires of the marauding forces of the British Government that torched scores of villages in the Fulladu kingdom, burnt the crops in the fields and the grazing cattle with them in a bid to force king Mousa Mollah to concede his land and sovereignty to Britain.

Is this not the exact pattern of the orchestrated destruction by the Western powers of Kwame Nkrumah for simply wanting Africa to unite? How different was he from Patrice Lumumba, a man who wished Congolese diamonds to be extracted to build schools and hospitals in the Congo instead of in Belgium? There are a thousand of our stories still untold while we can recite with our eyes closed the details of the repeal of the Corn Laws and recount with erudition the parliamentary debates of Palmerston or Disraeli. Our children have been led to believe the Mau Mau War was a mission against terrorism and devilish African paganism. The slaughter of the independence vanguard in Kenya has been sold to us in history books as one of the biggest ever victories for Africa’s civilization. Apartheid historians have written that when the Dutch sailors landed at the Cape in search of water and shelter from the storms there were no Africans in sight. Imagine the thousands of students who are now history graduates of that fallacy!

How many of us would pass today if we answered in our examinations that Columbus did not discover America? That Sherpa Tensing was the first human being to stand on the top of the world at the North Pole? And for students of the Arts, when did Jesus, a man of genetically dark complexion, become so white? It is necessary to make the observation that Satan was once a white angel; when during his fall did he turn so black? Not only books and paintings, Dear Reader, the psychological perceptions also have to change. That is what the gripping African agenda of the Liberation of the Mind is all about.

In this history, as has been taught to us, nearly three-quarters of all the body of knowledge which qualifies us as educated is made up of distortions and halfü-uths that will persist if we do not write our story. That body of knowledge as it now stands demonises us, teaches us to hate ourselves and to accept that we richly deserved what had come to us. This is the time to ask with more seriousness ‘how long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look.’ It is imperative that the children of the future read the true history of their heroes and patriots and reinstate them to their proper status in their minds and society and redeem them from the ignominy of relegation by those who denied every advancement those heroes had envisaged for their people.

This book about the life and times of Edward Francis Small is an extract from a larger and more comprehensive labour of love, The Story of the Newspaper in The Gambia, 3 telling it from the first newspaper The Bathurst Times that was launched in 1871 to the line-up on our busy newsstands today. In that meticulous documentation of the development and history ofthe newspaper, the author has endeavoured to throw light on the pioneers who gave up their comfort, liberty and sometimes their lives to ensure that the Black race everywhere rise above the stigma of slavery and contribute again to world civilization and advancement. For Africa, it is not a renaissance, rather, a resurgence. For many nationalists, the struggle has been fraught with stumbling blocks, foreign and domestic and by the formidable stopping power Of

Grey-Johnson, Nana, Book Production and Materials Resources Unit (BPMRU), Kanifing South, The Gambia, 2004government machinery, wealth, education and, at other times, simply by the treachery and self-centredness of the Africans themselves.

Summarising those sections on E.F. Small for special publication has been irresistible. I hope, Dear Reader, that you will find the fine messages that will crystallise the legacy such a selfless leader and patriot had struggled to bequeath to your generation and those yet to come. I do not have, how I wish I did, a Gambian lyricist or poet from whom to borrow such powerful lines as I find in the Hymn 896 in the Methodist Hymn Book penned, of course, by a European writer, William George Tarrant (1853 – 1928), that aptly describe the honour due to E. F. Small and his band of patriots:

Now praise we great and famous men,

The fathers named in story;

And praise the Lord who now as then Reveals in man his glory.

Praise we the wise and great and strong,

Who graced their generation;

Who helped the right, and fought the wrong, And made our folk a nation.

Praise we the great of heart and mind,

The singers sweetly gifted; Whose music like a mighty wind The soul of men uplifted.

Praise we the peaceful men of skill

Who built homes of beauty, And, rich in art, made richer still The brotherhood of duty.

Praise we the glorious names we know;

And they – whose names have perished, Lost in the haze of long ago In silent love be cherished.

In peace their sacred ashes rest,

Fulfilled their day’s endeavour;

They blessed the earth, and they were blest Of God and man, forever.

I sincerely hope that by the time you finish reading this book you would agree that the words are a fitting tribute to an unsung hero. If this hymn was not sung at his pauper’s funeral service at the Wesley Church, Dobson Street, Bathurst, in January 1958, here is our chance to sing it always in his memory and honour.

Nana Grey-Johnson.

Covenant House, Kanifing Eas

September 2020.