Mama Tamba Jammeh Prominent chief of Illiasa


By Hassoum Ceesay

He was the son of Jatta Selung Jammeh, a Serere–Mandinka and Awa Jobe, a Wolof. Jatta Selung was one of the top generals of the famous jihad leader Maba Jahou Bah. When the Baddibu wars ended in the 1870s, Jatta Selung was appointed ruler of the whole of Baddibu by the victorious Maba Jahou, who asked him to form a theocratic state. However, when the British colonialists declared the colonial protectorate in 1894, Jatta Selung was allowed to become the first Chief of IIIiasa. As a son of a chief, Mama Tamba attended Muhammedan School in Bathurst from 1905 to 1913. Soon after, he was employed as a court scribe in his father’s tribunal. In 1925, the Travelling Commissioner Ozanne appointed him deputy chief, as his father was infirm and unable to continue with the demanding tasks of his duties. In 1928, his father died and Mama Tamba Jammeh was promoted Chief of IIIiasa on 28 February 1928.

He remained on the seat for nearly 40 years and brought much prosperity to himself, his people and family. Archival records of reports on him and his district compiled by colonial commissioners show their acute ambivalence about him. In some instances, he was praised for his intelligence, literacy, foresight and loyalty; yet, in other instances, he was roundly criticised for his strong rule. However, nearer to the end of his long rule, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, the Governor in Bathurst called him ‘one of the best chiefs in the country’. Mama Tamba was not an autocrat, if he were the colonialists would have deposed him long ago. He was above all a strong ruler, who cared so much for his people’s welfare that he did as much as possible to have them under control. In fact, as we will see later, he was open enough to allow some of his courtiers to openly rebel against him in the 1930s and challenged his rule head on.


Mama Tamba was a progressive chief. He was concerned with bringing the wherewithal of progress to his people including communication, education and agriculture. In 1935 he completed the causeway across the famous Bao Bolong creek in the district that was an all season structure which greatly facilitated communication within the district and linked IIIiasa with the rest of the country. Before the completion of the causeway, motorists will have to wait days for the low tide to risk crossing the water body into Sanjal and Farafenni. As he owned a motorcar himself, the causeway must have greatly helped him to run the affairs of his district. Besides this bridge, he also regularly maintained the paths and roads in the area such that colonial officials were able to access his people with much ease than in other parts of the country. Such communication infrastructure greatly helped trade in the area as goods and people were moved much faster.
Mama Tamba was a devout farmer.

He promoted the cultivation of food crops so as to bring about food self-sufficiency. He particularly promoted the cultivation of rice. In 1941, he cleared the Kanikunda swamps and established a huge rice project that was described by a visiting colonial official from London as one of the biggest projects of its kind in British West Africa. The project was so successful that in 1946, there was ‘a 50 per cent increase in rice harvest in the district’. In 1947, Prince Phillips, while visiting The Gambia Colony, visited the rice project to see for himself the success story. Mama Tamba replicated the project at Bambali and other villages in the region. However, the most visionary decision he ever made concerning boosting agriculture was his fiat in 1943 that all married men in IIIiasa must cultivate a rice plot. Hitherto, rice cultivation was seen as women’s thing. This decree therefore revolutionised the rice culture in IIIiasa and had limitless impact on the production of the grain in the country. Mama Tamba retired in 1962 and died in 1987.