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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Lessons the TRRC should learn from the Great Gabara of Manding If God had asked me: “Dembo, which event in history would you have wanted to be part of?”, I would take a mental flight to the year 1235 on the laterite plains of Manding Kangkaba.

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First things first.

Some 786 years ago this year, a people gathered on the plains of Kangkaba to draft a constitution that would govern not only their lives, but also the lives of millions of people in the great expanse of an empire that would continue to grow and last centuries later. At the head of this council or Gabara of 12 kings sat a young and fearless 35-year-old Sundiata Conateh who would later become known as Sundiata Keita and crowned Emperor of the Manding Empire.

The name Sundiata is from two words: “Sung” and “Diata”. Sung from a part of his mother’s name (SUNGulung) and Diata  from (Maghan Diata) his maternal grandfather. Diata has nothing to do with his paternal side. Keita has nothing to do with Diata as well. Diata was a praise name of his uncles which he inherited. His paternal line was always Conateh and his maternal side was Conde. Diata in Mandinka means a lion and keita or kay taa simply means to inherit. Sundiata became keita because he restored kingship to his family after years of powershift to Sumanguru.

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The Conde are from the state of Do and are also the line of another clan name called Jarra and it was just natural that Sundiata would go into exile to the land from whence his mother came from. The land of the uncles (in the African context that would be the land of one’s mother’s brothers) has always held a great significance in the lives of West Africans especially in times of crisis.

Chinua Achebe showcased this when Okonkwo was banished from his village of Umofia and he would travel to his mother’s village of Mbanta to be among them. Okonkwo was welcomed to Mbanta by his maternal uncle, Uchendu, and given  land on which to farm and build a house for his family. Okonkwo accidentally killed a clan member and according Igbo tradition, he must be banished for seven years. Mothers hold key roles in the lives of their children hence the Mandinka saying: Ning faa laa teh ding lah, baa laa beh ding lah (If a child has no father’s line, there must be a mother’s line). The Jarra are Bambara and that is why the theory that the Bambara and Mandinka are different is unfounded.

The Jarra are from the state of Do as well and are central to the popular song Tutu Jarra, a baby prince of the Jarra named after a snake called Tutu in Bambara or Tuto in Mandinka which is no other snake but the puff adder. That is a history beyond the scope of this article which we will visit when showcasing the great women of Manding under separate cover.

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And so, Sundiata Keita was half Bambara (if we believe the Conde and Jarra share a common ancestor called Aba Sara) and half Mandinka but both dialects share a common ancestry of the greater Mande speaking. In the genealogy account of Sundiata’s maternal side, Aba Sara begot Sama Sineh, who begot Sama Bunuma Sara, who begot Naminyan of Sankaran who begot Maghan Diata of Do (his maternal grandfather) and who begot Sungulung Conde his mother. Sama Bunuma also had another son called Du Kamisa said to be the ancestors of the Jarra Clan.

The 12 Doors of Manding and its parallel with the 2016 Coalition

Students of history for the most part mistaken Manding Empire as a lone state. No, it was not. Manding had what was called the 12 Doors of Manding consisting of 12 that came together at the Kurukang Fuga in 1235 to adopt a constitution and crown Sundiata as Emperor of the newly minted Manding Empire; a sort of an imperial empire after the defeat of the tyrannical Susu king in the person of Sumanguru Kanteh. The following were the 12 Doors of Manding:

1. State of Jalo – This state according to oral accounts was annexed by Farang (Fran) Camara;

2. State of Bambougou  – This state was conquered by Faa Koli Daaba, Faa Koli Kumbaa, the nephew of Sumanguru Kanteh;

3. The State of the Bozo people;

4. The State of Kri;

5. The State Zahari;

6. The State of Djedeba;

7. The State of Tabon;

8. The State of Kaniaga. It is believe that Sundiata Keita himself conquered this state;

9. The State of Siby, which voluntarily joined the alliance under Kamanjang Camara;

10. The State of Toron;

11. The State of Oulata also said to have been conquered by Sundiata Keita himself;

12. The State of Do. This is the state where Sundiata Keita’s mother Sungulung came from. Many future queens of the Manding Empire also came from this state. A mother’s family was well trusted in Manding.

Our 2016 Coalition is no different from what happened in 1235. When a people unite, they become formidable and the majority of opposition parties negotiated and agreed around a single flag-bearer and the rest is history and I have no interest in prosecuting the evolution or its aftermath. The common contender was defeated at the polls and the people went haywire dancing into the nights just as it was the case in Manding leading to a popular song called Bii Lambang or in our neck of the woods, known simply as Jaali Yaa, which was a song dedicated exclusively to the jali or griots. It is a song played on a plethora of instruments for as long one was available and the jali cleverly introduced a few lines in the song basically equating their role with that of the emperor.

They sang:

Allah meng yeh mansa yaa daah, wolleh fanang yeh jaali yaa daah (The God who ordained the position of kings, also ordained the art of music); perhaps introduced after the delegates were just too tired, happy to come to an agreement and most definitely overly drunk to have properly understood the lyrics.

The Kurukan Fuga or the Manding Constitution of 1235 and its parallel Gambian TRRC

History would record that prior to the fall of Sumanguru Kanteh in 1235 or 1236 by another account, and prior to the Kurukang Fuga, the last assault on Sumanguru which ended his reign was under the auspices of a Camara king of Siby called Kamanjang Camara. He organised all the states to meet at Siby, where a battle plan was drawn for the invasion. That took place in 1235 when Kirina fell and that ended the reign of Sumanguru much the same way the 2016 Coalition did. Kamanjang was already married to one of Sundiata’s sisters and so he was helping his brother-in-law. Kamanjang was said to be old enough to be Sundiata’s father.

Sumanguru Kanteh was a well-known ruthless king recorded and etched in the memory of his subjects especially of the Manding people. In the Epic of Sundiata, the jali or griots have a well-crafted repertoire of his tyrannical rule:

When Sumanguru entered Manding, he entered with a cloak made of human skin

When Sumanguru entered Manding, he entered with a hat made of human skin

When Sumanguru entered Manding, he entered with shoes made of human skin

When Sumanguru entered Manding, he put a bridle on the mouths of the people (Sumanguru ka bara dung mokho bay dama).

These statements may be hyperboles but they point to a ruthless ruler in whose wake, deaths, destructions, cries and wailings were the order of the day and Sumanguru would not spare even his own nephew Faa Koli Dumbuya, whose beautiful wife he coveted and in anger, Faa Koli would switch sides to Sundiata to fight his uncle in order to have his wife back at the Battle of Daka Jalang and earned himself the royal tune called Jang Jong Baa, which hitherto, was a song dedicated to the royalty but also to those who killed in battle, or killed a lion or a an elephant. Today, Jang Jong Baa is exclusively dedicated to the Dumbuya clan because of Faa Koli’s feat of bravery and loyalty to the cause of the Manding people to free itself of a ruthless ruler before whom rights were violated and the soil desecrated with the blood of the innocent, the weak and those who refused to bend their backs so Sumanguru could ride.

And so when the oppressed people of Manding won their freedom in 1235, they entered into some negotiations to align the different states into building a just and equitable society they knew best at the time. These negotiations according to some oral accounts, is the reason why some believe that the conference of the states took place in 1236 and not 1235 when the war ended. Either way, a people gathered on the high laterite plains of Kang Kaba to punish perpetrators of war crimes, and bring justice to them, a format probably the Nuremburg Trials would mimic. They would also adopt a constitution to guide people in positions of power. (Kurukan Fuga simply means the meeting on the laterite plain. In our Senegambian Mandinka dialect, we would have said Kurokan instead of Kurukan).

Forty-four articles which formed the basis of the constitution were enacted in to law and thus was born one of, if not the only constitution in Africa at the time. Students of history would agree that the Magna Carta evolved due to a revolt of the people. The Manding Constitution was enacted through a voluntary process borne out of the realisation that people should live dignified lives and that all men were born with inalienable rights. This constitution was inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.

The people were on a march and the empire would expand in all directions from Northern Nigeria to Thiaroye in present day Senegal and from thence to the fringes of the Sahara covering a  great expanse of territory where individual efforts and right to own capital was encouraged as provided for in Article 6 which states:

Article 6: To win the battle of prosperity, the general system of supervision has been established to fight against laziness and idleness.

Cognisant of the fact that private wealth creation may lead to corruption in high circles, the people also legislated against abuse of office to enrich oneself as provided for in Article 32 listing the only 5 ways one can earn property legally:

Article 32: There are five ways to acquire property: buying, donation, exchange, work and inheriting. Any other form without convincing testimony is doubtful.

God, this is the era I would have loved to live.

They would go on to build one of the best military structures in the region and enjoyed the trademark: “Quiver Carriers”. Their art of war is still taught in some military schools.

They were not satisfied.  They built great institutions of learning where it is recorded that one university (Sankore) boasted of 10,000 students foraging in science, astrology, medicine and so on when many parts of the world were in the dark ages. They would achieve this by creating a Depart of Education and tasked five people to oversee education throughout the Empire which today their descendants are simply called the Manding Mory or the religious clans of Manding. These five clans were the Touray, Sise, Janneh, Komma and Berete but the actual appointees were Maghan Berete, Seri Bukari Janneh, Sira Maan Touray, Jabi Sise and Fodele Komma.

The TRRC should endeavor to seek funding for continued education of Gambians about the historical record they are about to put together. Ignorance is a recipe for sliding into chaos, something Manding knew and devised a mechanism to enlighten the people. The art of Music would continue to remind the citizens of the wrongs of the past a reason why the history still survived after 786 years.  

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