‘Mandinka is not a tribe and before 1864, there were no Mandinka speaking people in Gambia’ says Jammeh – My response


Year 1840 (continued)
Destination Niumi. The scene we are looking at is the arrival of about 700 Sarahule mercenaries brought in to the kingdom at the request of Mansa Demba Sonko, King of Niumi who hired them to maintain order and to exact taxes on the kingdom’s rebellious eastern border. (see Quinn, pp27).

The Sarahule private army under their leader of Ansumana Jaju married Demba Sonko’s daughter and was given land to cultivate and stayed for 12 years (Quinn pp 42). However, by around 1857, this private army was becoming uncontrollable and the king was forced to request that they leave the kingdom but not before they destroyed several settlements in their wake. In other accounts, the king had to seek refuge on the other side of the riverbank.

This is the reason why I think that the joking relationship between the people of Baddibu and the Sarahule should probably be between Niumi and the Sarahule who came to the king’s aid in time of need and saved a kingdom. Hiring of private armies was not unusual as oral history would record that when the people of Kombo were facing an onslaught by the Bainunka tribe, they called for help from Kaabu and that partly explains the large number of people with Kaabu ancestry in and around Kombo especially Brikama.


It appeared out of place to have a Sarahule leader with the last name Jaju. I had all along believed that the last name Jaju was either Jola or Mandinka but not in my wildest dreams was I stretching my imagination in the direction of the Sarahule. Then again…

Year 1823
Kemintang Camara, a maternal ancestor of mine, who was king of Upper Niani was involved in a series of wars against the king of Lower Niani at Kataba partly angered by the decisions of the king of Kataba, Mansa Koli to sell the island of MacCarthy to the British. In 1834, he seized the vessel of a British merchant at Tendaba which was just two years when the first Wesleyan missionaries arrived on McCarthy Island.
By August 1834, the British launched an attack against him but by then he had retired to his fortress at Ndungosine (present day Senegal) which was heavily fortified. The British lost the war and retreated. Kemintang mounted two of the guns left by the British in his fortress to the embarrassment of the colonial forces. (Arnold pp108).

Eventually, it was diplomacy not war that calmed this king. It was said that a diplomat in the person of a clergy was sent to his capital to request the return of the guns to the British. A son of his I was told was also taken to be provided with Western education but this son appeared to have never returned and no trace of him exists. Perhaps, his family may be resident in Banjul and most likely Christians.
However, to better appreciate this scene, we may have to travel further into the past and probably into the 13th century when the Kingdom of Niani was said to have evolved.

Oral tradition has it that after the conquest of Tiramakan Trawally, two Camara princes were sent from Mali to survey the area and familiarise themselves traditionally called “Bankoo Taamo” in Mandinka. These two princes were Prince Hung and Prince Jenung. It happened that while they were on the riverbank at present day Niani Maro, Jenung fell into the river and disappeared for a while.

Everyone thought he had died and people were walking along the river bank to search for him. It so happened that he was found alive at a place now called Jenung Tenda just around Wassu which is now a sort of tourist beach/ resort. The place where Prince Jenung was found alive was named after him. So Jenung Tenda, is merely an affirmation of the incident mentioned above.
So the people present shouted “Sabally” which in Mandinka means the one who does not die. Up till today, the family that ruled the area was called Sabally but they are actually Camara. After the tour of the lands, they went back to Manding to report.

One of the senior protocol officers at the king’s palace in Manding liked the younger Prince Jenung and confided in him that on a particular night, he must make sure he slept in the front of the bed because by early morning, the coronation team will walk in the their room and the one found sleeping in front will become king of Niani. And so the younger prince for some reason managed to sleep in the front and he was coronated. In the morning, the elders realised that it was the younger brother who was crowned not the elder brother.
That triggered Article 12 of the Manding Constitution which states that:

Article 12: “The succession being patrilineal, never relinquish power to a son when one of his father’s brothers is still alive. Never relinquish power to a minor just because he has goods.”
And so, the law was broken and as a compromise, Niani was divided into Lower and Upper Niani. Jenung ruled over Lower Niani with his capital at Kataba which is northwest of Kuntaur around Palan village while Hung ruled over Upper Niani with his capital at Ndungosine in present day Senegal. That is north of Sami Karantaba. A Senegalese village still bears the name of this history. Malem-Niani is still in existence. You will also still find Mandinka villages in places like Kungel Sosseh, Ko Sosseh where some Touray families and Camara still live and also Taba.

The famous Wolof song “Niani Bangena” meaning Niani is not relenting, was testimony to the recalcitrant king of Upper Niani who was very fierce in his campaigns against British interest especially when a brethren of his, sold the island of McCarthy to the British in 1823.

That history is a separate discussion not suitable in this response if we have to do justice to the history.
When Kemintang died in 1843, his kingdom was annexed under the Protectorate Ordinance and after the signing of the 1889 Berlin Conference, parts of his kingdom were split between the French and the British. The British part is what we now call Sami District which is a very recent creation. After the end of the Camara dynasty in both Nianis, we had the Keitas, Mannehs, Kommas, Ndows, Jawlas and so on becoming traditional chiefs.

Year 1821
The scene being set is a land dispute between the people of Mandinaring and the king of Kombo who had granted land at Mandinaring to two missionaries John Baker and John Morgan to build a church in the town. (John Mogan, Reminiscences of the Founding of a Christian Mission in The Gambia, London Wesleyan Mission 1864)
But before we delve into the conflict, a background to the evolution of the kingdom of Kombo will be necessary.
According to oral accounts, a group of Karoninka moved into what is now Sanyang town and settled there when it was all wilderness running away from war in Karoni (most likely present day Guinea Bissau). A mysterious lady in the name of Wuleng Jabbi lived in the forest and had a cave as her abode. She ruled over the area as queen. The story further went that the Jatta family were the first rulers after Wuleng Jabbi abdicated the throne in an epic historical account I would like to share.

There was a great hunter by the name of Karafa Yali Jatta known in the surrounding villages as a proficient hunter.
One day, as he was walking in the woods, he heard a cock crowing from a distant and curious to find out what was happening, he moved in the direction of the sound until he arrived at the outskirts of what is present day Sanyang and saw women pounding grain. He got closer and had contact with the Queen Wuleng Jabbi who was said to have spiritual powers to drive the spirits. The two fell in love and they got married but not before Karafa insisted that he be crowned king which she accepted and abdicated the throne.

An important issue here is that it appears people migrated into this part of our world not knowing the existence of various authorities. If Karafa, who lived in present day Busumbala (old busumbala which is off the road towards Jabang village) never knew of a queen who lived about 20 miles away, says a lot about who arrived here first and whether the migration was an organised one. We may never know who really arrived here first since kingdoms in those days appear to be few square miles of land not necessarily a vast span of land under a central authority with a council in place.

This is the version narrated by Bakary Kutu Jatta in 1973 when he was alkalo of Busumbala in an interview he granted to the staff of the oral History and Antiquities Division. This version was upheld almost in its entirety in the Commissioner’s Report in 1939.
Another version indicated that Queen Wuleng Jabbi did not marry Karafa but rather it was one of her daughters who fell in love with Karafa and when they got married, she abdicated her throne in favour of her son in-law.
The famous Brikama kora player and historian Bai Conteh however narrated that Karafa Jatta was actually a brother of the King of Kaabu who was also a hunter. They founded the settlements of Busumbala, Jambur, Yundum, Manduar and Brikama. (Skinner, David, E; “Islam in Kombo: The Spiritual and Militant jihad of Foday Ibrahim Sillah Ture; Islamic africa3 no. 1; 2012, pp87-126).

Whatever the version, there is at least agreement that the Jatta were the first Mandinka rulers in Kombo after the Jabbi, who until my recent research never heard of a Jabbi dynasty in Kombo. My suspect is that Wuleng Jabbi may perhaps have been daughter of a venerable religious scholar and perhaps the encounter may have been misunderstood to liken her to a queen.

As always, another version has it that it was the nephew of the Brikama ruler, with a Jatta last name who founded Busumbala and that a son of a ruler of Busumbala being unsatisfied with his position, left to found the town of Jambur, whose son also went to found Brufut.(See Sarr pp53 and Skinner, David, E; “Islam in Kombo: The Spiritual and Militant jihad of Foday Ibrahim Sillah Ture; Islamic africa3 no. 1; 2012, pp87-126).
By these accounts, the Bojangs would be later arrivals in Kombo having migrated from Kaabu. According to Professor Sarr, they came along with their own marabouts: the Janneh and Touray. The Touray were settled in Pirang, Brikama, Jambur and Kartong.

Now that we have a perspective of the evolution of Kombo, we can now go back to our land conflict in Mandinaring in 1821.
Mandinaring was founded by a religious leader named Moriba Ceesay who migrated from Pakau (modern day Casamance) and asked for a place from the King of Kombo who by then was a Bojang in Yundum. He was granted permission to settle subject to payment of royalty. It happened that the daughter of the Kombo king, Madiba Bojang, got sick and was taken to Moriba for treatment and after a successful treatment, the king gave him his daughter in marriage and Moriba was no longer required to pay royalty on the land he lived on. (see Sarr pp67).

After the king’s death, and precisely on 5 May 1821 (Kevin Morgan diary), a meeting was called by the king in Mandinaring to find a solution to the problem of the missionaries in their town. The people of Mandinaring argued that since they first settled on the land even though they were allocated the land by a previous king, and now that they were no longer required to pay royalty to the crown, then the new king of Kombo had no right to allocate their land to another person without being consulted and compensated. And of course they healed the previous king’s daughter.

Eventually, the king ruled that the missionaries would stay and threatened to behead anyone who went against his ruling and the rest was history.
Mandinaring or Mandinari town is dear to my family because a grandfather of mine is buried there and an uncle in the person of Kunchumpa Fatty was born there as well..

To be continued…