Kombo Sillah (The Jihadist )


Pa Malick Touray, 97, a great grandson of Kombo Sillah, explained to The Standard: “Ibrahima Touray had an inkling of the great future of his son and in order to protect him, he asked him to use the surname of Sillah when he started his tutelage in Pakau. In those days and times, there was great rivalry and if people espy that a certain child was destined for greatness, they will use occult means to destroy them.”

So Ibrahima Touray became Ibrahima Sillah and he was given the sobriquet ‘Kombo’ by his masters to differentiate him with the many other pupils who went by the last name Sillah. Even while he was studying in Pakau, Gunjur was in the throes of the jihad waged by Kabba Touray. Kabba Touray had fought the Soninke (heathens) throughout the Kombos but his efforts stalled by his failure to conquer the principal town of Brikama and Busumbala.

Upon completion of his studies in the Casamance, Kombo Sillah returned to Gunjur and was anointed by the people to take up the mantle of ‘The Jihad King’ previously held by his deceased forebear Kabba Touray. With his fervor and conviction, Kombo Sillah was able to marshal the jihadists and eventually conquer the remaining Soninke settlements pushing as far as the Casamance in Senegal.


“Unlike the others, Kombo Sillah waged a pure jihad,” his great grandson explained. “He was fair and just and distributed booty accordingly. He completely rejected the idea of selling slaves and converted the captives, kept them in Gunjur and taught them Islam.”

Pa Malick said the glory of his great grandfather’s exploits should be shared with his generals, chief among whom was Manjang Fing, Lang Sula Darbo, Bunja Janneh and Sita Kunda Jammeh.

The suzerainty of the Gunjur jihadist was suppressed and eventually ended by the British, after he rebuffed their demand that he ceased warring. Kombo Sillah characteristically replied that he would wage war until all the Soninke embrace Islam. The colonialists invited him to a meeting but suspecting a sleight of hand, he refused to meet them and made the notable statement: “The bird in the air or on top of the tree is happier than the bird in a golden cage.”

The British dispatched forces to capture him, but they were sent back on the double in two battles in Kembujeh near Brikama and in Gunjur. Smarting from their defeat, the British dispatched a naval force, which bombarded Gunjur destroying the first mosque and killing many people. Fearing further British assault, the scared villagers inveigled him to leave town and after pleas from his praise-singers, he acquiesced and crossed the Alahein Bolong into the Casamance.

The British then reported his presence in the Casamance to the French, who promptly hunted him, captured him and restricted him to the village of Nkaye Meke and forbade him from ever visiting Gunjur. Kombo Sillah passed the rest of his days in this Casamance backwater until death came calling. He was survived by many wives and children. Kombo Sillah remains the icon of Gunjur’s long association with the faith of Islam.