Captain History: Flight Attendants prepare cabin for takeoff.
Chief Flight Attendant Time: Please put your seat in an upright position. The captain has also switched on the seatbelt sign. Buckle up until he turns off the seatbelt sign and then you are free to roam about the cabin.
Captain History: My name is Captain History and I am assisted at the controls by Co-Pilot President Jammeh. The time capsule is the latest in a family of time machines and so we can take comfort in the fact that the technology is quite ahead of its time. We will be cruising at 100,000 feet above sea-level and will be travelling back in time to find the Mandinka people who for some reason are reported to not exist.
You therefore do not need to set your watches because our destination for this flight is unknown and sometimes we may have to oscillate between the future and the past in order to provide a better perspective of the events being discussed. So, save your watches the unnecessary adjustments as we will not be responsible for any damages caused to your watches by our travel into the future and a sudden travel back in the past. Unfortunately, there is no insurance company ready to insure your watches.
We will fly until we run out of fuel. Weather reports are not favorable either and you can at least avoid making this flight an unpleasant experience if you can be quiet and not interrupt unnecessarily.
Like I said, we are on a mission to find the Mandinka, who according to Co-Pilot Jammeh did not exist or if they did, were never in Gambia before 1864.
So you will experience sudden loss in cabin pressure as we quickly travel at the speed of light from year 2017 to 1864 in five seconds to fight gravity and avoid overheating of the solar panels. It is a dangerous undertaking but the effort is worth it. Guaranteeing rights of every citizen is worth the risk. Lives are at stake and so we must rise to the challenge.
We have now reached our cruising altitude and you are free to roam about the cabin. However, if you are seated, please keep your seat belt on as we may experience unexpected turbulence. If for any reason, an account of a historical event runs against your grains of understanding, bear with us until we land and the aircraft has come to a complete stop.
We have arrived back in time to year 1864, the cutoff date by Jammeh that the Mandinka were never in Gambia.
Our first port of call will be the Kingdom of Kombo. For those of you seated to the right of the cabin, you may look over and enjoy the scene I am about to explain. If for some reason, the address system is not functioning well, let my Co-Pilot know.
Tumani Bojang Mandinka king of Kombo is seated with Foday Sillah, Foday Kabba and Governor D.A.K. D’Arcy signing a truce after series of wars between 1863 and 1864 against the Muslim forces both factions led by Mandinka men.
I wish they knew what they were signing because by 1871, this truce will not be honoured and war will break out again between him and Foday Sillah and Mansa Tumani Bojang will seek refuge in Lamin town in 1874, by which time Busumbala and Brikama would have already been taken by Foday Sillah. The British would inform Tumani Bojang that they were not going to help him and Tumani is going to be forced to face his enemy who will shave his head and convert him to Islam (Arnold Hughes and Harry A. Galey 1999, pp 44).
Even though the scene we just saw was in 1864, and we travelled this time into the future for the benefit of the ones going to be born so they can understand. But we will not stop there. We need more than just one proof to rest our case.
History recorded that in 1863, the north bank based marabout cleric, Maba Bâ decided to set his eyes on the south bank of the Gambia river. Destination Kiang, and to be specific Kwinella. With a large army, he crossed the river and suffered one of his worst defeats (Arnold Hughes and Harry Gailes; Historical Dictionary of the Gambia, 1999, pp8) second to his campaign against the Serere kingdom of Sine in 1867 where he died. Kiang is a Mandinka kingdom and Kwinella was and still is a Mandinka settlement.
The story goes that around 1862 a native of Baddibu, in the person of Sambou Oumanneh Touray, who later became a disciple of Maba Diakhou Bâ initiated his own jihad in the provinces of Sabach and Sanjal. He was disturbed by the fact that it would take an outsider to propagate Islam in his neck of the woods whiles the indigenes sat by and watched. He felt, that role should be taken by the indigenes. It was his victory in both provinces that led to their unification and he sat at the helm as the leader. Thus, was born what we still know as Sabach-Sanjal. Both provincial leaders died in the 1862 jihad of Sambou Oumanneh Touray.
Governor D’Arcy mounted a campaign against the “Mandinka” king of Baddibu with help of the French forces who travelled south through Saloum and the king of Baddibu was defeated. There were accounts that Maba Bâ secretly supported the move since the Mandinka king was not a Muslim and that it was Maba who helped negotiate the peace term. A weak Soninke king was very much in Maba’s favour and after the British attack against the King of Baddibu, the latter sent his son to kill Maba but survived the assassination attempt by the son of the king of Baddibu in 1862.
An interesting figure in this British campaign was Major Finden Harry, an African of Igbo (Nigeria) origin who in 1849 succeeded Thomas Reffell as leader of the Igbo Friendly Society. Perhaps, under separate cover, I may need to write about the growing Nigerian and Ghanaian populations during colonial times.
The scene we are about to review is the coming into Niumi of a man named Masamba Koke Jobe who was a brother to Lat Dior, the King of Kayor. It was said that Lat Dior had sent him south to buy gunpowder from the British to help him in his conquests. When he arrived in Niumi, naturally his first port of call was the court of the King of Niumi in the person of Demba Sonko. For some reason, Masamba never continued his journey to British Kombo having been convinced by Demba Sonko to live in his kingdom. Demba, it was said even gave him his daughter Jebu Sonko in marriage.
Masamba was asked to meet the elders of Tubab Kolong where the elders showed him a land called Bantang Kiling forest which was reputed to have a lot of spirits residing in it, which Masamba fought and conquered (Assan Sarr, “Islam, Power and Dependency in the Gambia River Basin. The Politics of Land Control 1790 to 1940 pp 98).
This spirit of good neighbourliness is what is characteristic of our Senegambia where we offer refuge to anyone irrespective of ethnic origin or religious orientation. Maba Bâ’s father was a recent arrival in Baddibu and was welcomed when he migrated from Fouta. Maba was born in 1809. The migration into our region was a complex one. It is not true we all moved from the east to the Senegambia region. Some moved from the north down south.
Next stop Baddibu. As we enter the year 1833, Mansa Jereba Marong ascended the throne and within a short period, had earned himself title of a brave warrior. British merchants had series of complaints against him but Governor O’Connor was not the type attracted to war. By 1859, the merchants will find a willing governor in the person of Colonel D’Arcy who was reputed to be one of the colonial governors who was ready to fire his cannons at a moment’s notice. During his time, The Gambia experienced series of expeditions from the Barra War to the campaigns upriver and the Baddibu War.
Baddibu in the 1840s was embroiled in a war with Saloum and in the interim, one of Jereba’s generals Yira Massan took over power rendering Jereba more or less a nominal ruler until the death of Yira. So, in 1860, Governor D’Arcy travelled to Baddibu to sign an agreement with Jereba and they agreed that the Baddibu king will pay compensation to the merchants for their losses due to his attacks.
Jereba later could not pay because some of his people refused and was unable to enforce it. With the support of the Legislative Council, a blockade of Baddibu was declared which proved ineffective. With reinforcement from Sierra Leone and the West India Regiment, the Governor on 21 February 1861, attacked and his first campaign was against Suwareh Kunda but what followed next as reported by the Governor to the Secretary of Colonies was amusing:
“The enemy did not quail before our fire – even during the time the sixty-eight pounder was crushing away and making large gaps in the earthwork, some of the warriors were walking calmly up and down on the top of the work for purposes of encouraging others” (CO/87/71 D’Arcy to Newcastle 26 February 1861) (Quinn pp101).
It ended in a hand-to-hand fight. They proceeded to Saba, Kinteh Kunda and Kerewan and burnt these settlements to the ground. A treaty was signed and the king was fined 100 pounds, 400 heads of cattle and 15,000 trade measures of groundnuts which was later revised to avoid weakening of the authority of the king against the impending marabout threats.
The king was to be paid an annual stipend of £600 and the alkalolu of Suwareh Kunda, Saaba, Bani, Salikenni and Katchang each £100. It was too little too late because Maba by this time was becoming a rising star and the British campaign had the unintended effect of rendering the Soninke kingdom weak to repel external aggression which they will later regret as thousands of malnourished and starving refugees flooded Barra and Bathurst.
Mansa Suling Jatta, King of Kombo was forced to cede a portion of his territory to Lieutenant Governor Sir Henry Vere Huntley which later became known as British Kombo or Kombo St. Mary. He was further forced in 1853 to cede more land approximately 25 square miles of territory to the British and was no longer able to collect rent and customs duty in compensation for an annual payment from the British. Mansa Suling’s territory was one of the first to be attacked by the marabouts from mainly Gunjur and Sukuta although majority of the inhabitants of Sukuta were by then Soninke. He would suffer further losses when the British asked for more lands to expand British Kombo and insisted on adding Sukuta to British Kombo. Mansa Suling had no choice but accepted the request in May 1853.
This angered the people of Sukuta, who although mainly Soninke, sympathised with the marabouts and refused to recognise the agreement and the British sent forces to put down the rebellion. However, by June 1855, the marabouts under Foday Kaba attacked British Kombo and almost took Bathurst while another attack was launched on Busumbala.
Although the attack on Busumbala was repelled, Mansa Suling Jatta was killed. Later struggles between the Soninke families of Yundum and Busumbala greatly weakened their base and made it easier for the marabout to gain more territory in Kombo. Foday Kaba was assisted by the imam Foday Kari and by Omar of Sabiji an obscure Mauritanian national who saw combat in the Algerian uprising by Abd-el Kadir in 1847. Omar later moved to Sabiji and was much involved in the marabout wars having already got a name for turning bullets to water. However British regrouping and assault on Sabiji in July 1855, the town was desolated and Omar fled probably into the Casamance never to return.
To be continued…