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


Even though we have passed the 1850s, I just thought it necessary to provide the names of the Mandinka people who signed or witnessed two very important historical events namely the acquisition of the Ceded Mile from the King of Niumi and the Kombo St Mary’s.


November 18, 1850
This scene I am about to describe is the signing of the document which gave the British more rights to land beyond the Ceded Mile.
These were our own Gambians present:
Demba Sonko, King of Niumi
Amadou Tall, Alkalo of Juffureh. (The Taal
are the founders of Juffureh)
Mahmoudi Sankoora, Alkalo of Berending and brother of Demba Sonko.
(See Parliamentary Papers (UK) Select Committee on Africa (West Africa) House of Commons, Gambia Treaties; Session Feb. 7-July 6 1865, Vol. V, 410 also see Sarr page 80).



December 26, 1850
This scene is about the signing ceremony of the accession of the land we now know as Kombo St Mary’s by the King of Kombo to Governor Richard Graves MacDonnell which took place at present day Old Jeshwang.
Those present with the King of Kombo were as follows:
Tumani Bojang, King of Kombo
Ansumana Jatta
Mardy Mariama (Yundum)
Ansumana Ceesay, Alkalo of Mandinaring
Foday Ansumana Munang
Other Attendants:
Majibo Ceesay
Bass Bootoko
Foday Bakary
Moosa Channang
Janka Fatima
Kassee Koonkong
Samba Deber (most likely Dibba)
Ansumana Jatta, Alkalo or Chief of Bedjulo
(most likely Bijilo)
Alkalo of Baccon (most likely Bakau)
(See Parliamentary Papers (UK) Select Committee on Africa (West Africa) House of Commons, Gambia Treaties; Session Feb. 7-July 6 1865, Vol. V, 411; and Sarr Page 80)


Year 1826
This scene I am about to describe is the signing of the document which gave the British rights to the Ceded Mile which covers what is now Fort Bullen from Jinack Creek to Jokadu Creek and one-mile inland. The fort was named after Admiral Sir Charles Bullen who enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1779 and commanded HMS Britannia at Trafalgar in 1804. He was sent to West Africa station first in 1801 and again from 1824 to 1827 but this time on HMS Maidstone to Gambia to assist acting governor of Sierra Leone Kenneth MacAulay in negotiating agreement with Burungai Sonko to allow the British access to the coastline known as the Ceded Mile.
Those present were:
Burungai Sonko, King of Niumi
Seney (probably Taal), Alkalo of Juffureh

Other alkalolu

Year 1827
Burungai Sonko, the Mandinka king of Niumi, becoming very disturbed by the British attempts to build a fort (Fort Bullen) on the Ceded Mile (Barra point), decided to abrogate the Ceded Mile Treaty of 1826 and Commodore Charles Bullen at some point abandoned Barra until he was assisted by the French before work on the fort could restart. This led to the Barra War from 1827 to 1832. It would be interesting to the reader that the name Barra was derived from the Portuguese meaning “ narrows” or “straits” due to the narrowing of the River Gambia from that point into the interior. The ceded Mile covered the area one mile from the coastline inland from Jinack Creek to Jokadu Creek.


Mansa Kollimanke Manneh who was king of Barra at the time Captain Grant started building the first buildings in Bathurst, allowed Captain Grant to quarry stone from Dog Island for free in return for the king to enjoy a portion of the duties levied on ships entering the river, which was reduced over the years.

This ill treatment of the king was a long-harboured anger towards the British and so when he [Kollimanke] died, this was still fresh in the memory of Burangai Sonko and was partly one of the reasons for the outbreak of the Barra War.


It is said that the Jammeh clan were the first Mandinka group to move in the area from Manding and were later joined by the Manneh from the Kingdom of Kaabu. The Jammeh founded the settlements of Bakendiki first and later Sitanunku. The Manneh founded Kanuma first then later Bunyadu. The Sonko were later arrivals from the east and initially were tax collectors for Burr Saloum from the Wolof and Serere communities and first settled in Bankiri (near Saloum border) a Mandinka word meaning “by force”. When they fell out with Burr Saloum, they joined the Jammeh and Manneh and fought the King of Saloum and won. Thus, started the three-rotating kingship system between the three families of seven towns as follows: Bakindiki (Jammeh), Kanuma (Manneh), Sitanunku (Jammeh) Essau Jelenkunda (Sonko), Bunyadu (Manneh), Esau Mansaring-su (Sonko), and Berending (Sonko). (Quinn pp38-39).


Year 1816
After the British defeat of the French at the Battle of Waterloo, British influence in our neck of the woods started to increase from being traders to settlers. And so, the attempt to settle was marked by the purchase of the land we now call Banjul earlier on named Bathurst after the Secretary for Colonies.
It must be stated that the name of the island where Banjul is located is called St Mary’s and the name was chosen by Captain Grant.

Although in 1973, the name was changed from Bathurst to Banjul, it appears we have not changed the name of the Island. It is still St Mary’s island. One interesting thing about Banjul is that most of the main streets were named after Allied Generals at the Battle of Waterloo who were Captain Grant’s superiors.
To be precise, the island was bought on April 23, 1816 from the King of Kombo, Tumani Bojang, who was Mandinka. However, this was not the first time the land we now call Banjul was subject to foreign possession. In 1651, Banjul was leased by the Duke of Courland and Semigallia (German: Herzog von Kurland und Semgallen) from the King of Kombo (Arnold pp15).


Eventually the Duke was captured by Charles X of Sweden and their influence in Gambia was drastically reduced. By 1664, Courland ceded its right to Gambia to England in return for a guarantee of their rights to Tobago in the Caribbean.


While we had long believed that the name Banjul was corrupted from the Mandinka words “bang julo” John Morgan the Wesleyan Missionary we discussed earlier on and who built a church in Mandinaring, in 1821, however reported that the “native name of the island of (Bathurst) was Ben-Joul or Pen-Joul, a word……..meaning the devils head”. (Sarr page 91).


This translation of the name of Banjul is a first for me. He had been here just few years after the island of Bathurst was bought so his version may have some impact. Is this interpretation of another language other than Mandinka? I believe I speak adequate Mandinka but this interpretation runs against my grain of understanding. Could it be Bainunka? Certainly if this interpretation is true, then it opens another can of worms in our understanding of our evolution as a nation state.


Later on in 1870, when the British proposed cession of the Gambia for other French territory, Tumani Bojang, King of Kombo wrote to Queen Victoria that if she no longer wanted the land that was given to her that she should, “return my territory back to me as an act of friendship” (Arnold Huges and Harry A. Gailey pp43).


Year 1805
An important event happened in the Gambia with the arrival of Mr Thomas Joiner, a Mandinka slave who gained freedom in the United States. He was a successful businessman of his time and traded mainly upcountry. It was said that he had over 100 employees in his business and his business extended all the way to Sierra Leone, Cape Verde, Isles de Los and the Maideras. He died in 1842 well before Jammeh’s cutoff date 1864 (Arnold pp103).

21 June 1795
A Scottish explorer in the person of Mungo Park arrived on the shores of River Gambia in his quest to discover the source of River Niger. He travelled about 300 kilometers upcountry to Pisania, formerly Upper Niani but present-day Sami District. Pisania was a trading station under Dr Laidley. Mungo Park stayed in Pisania (Sami Karantaba Tenda) for a period of six months to learn Mandinka which language he needed to master in order to communicate with the locals as he travelled further in the interior. (Park, Mungo 1799; Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa: Performed Under the Direction and Patronage of the African Association, in the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797. London: W. Bulmer and Company & Arnold pp 138).


May be Jammeh would be surprised to know that as a young boy, I made several visits to the epitaph marking the spot where Mungo Park embarked upon his journey from Pisania, while we were young village shepherds. Pisania is where Karantaba Tenda is. My maternal grandfather was the alkalo of the settlement when I was young and he was a very good friend of Jawara who during his veterinary services years, used to visit him. He was also a very good friend of late Momodou Musa Njie of Banjul.


Year 1767
And of course we cannot forget a famous Mandinka personality, Kunta Kinte, who was born in Juffureh and was one of 98 slaves captured in 1767 and sailed on the slave ship Lord Ligonier which took them to Annapolis, Maryland. (Alex Hailey, Roots: The Saga of an American Family).

To be continued…