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


Year 1738
A freed Mandinka slave in the person of Lahamin Jay arrived in Gambia in 1738 whose freedom was petitioned by Job Ben Solomon or Job Jallow, himself a freed Fulani slave whose father was a respected person in Bundu. When Lahamin Jay arrived in Gambia, he joined Job in Bundu. Job Jallow was educated in Arabic and it was said that because of his proficiency in Arabic, he was presented at the court of King George II. (See Arnold and Gailey pp 112)


Year 1623
Richard Jobson in his travels in our sub-region met a successful Mandinka businessman in the person of Buckor Sano who traded between Gambia and Niger commercial towns and recorded part of his encounter: “I am as you are a Julietto, which signifies a merchant…I seeke abroad as you doe.” Sano further went on saying: “Neither do I, as the kings of our country do which is to eate, and drinke, and lye still at home amongst their women.” (Richard Jobson, The Golden Trade, 1623, London 1923, pp124-125)



Year 1651
Barrakunda, a Mandinka settlement in Wuli was established in 1651 as a trading post by English merchants. (Arnold and Gailey pp39). Duke of Courland leased the land now called Banjul from the King of Kombo and Juffureh and an island from the King of Barra which they called St Andrew’s later renamed James Island when the British through Major Robert Holmes seized the fort in 1661. Both kings were Mandinka kings. (See Arnold and Gailey pp54).


In the diary of Alviso Cadamosto, he signed a treaty of friendship with Batti Mansa whose residence was 60 miles from the mouth of the Gambia river. He was reported to have been very welcoming to the Portuguese who stayed with him for eleven days. Batti Mansa was the ruler of Baddibu. (Arnold pp47).


Year 1335
Serere kingdoms of Sine and Saloum and the Gelewar dynasty. Sine and Saloum are known Serere Kingdoms that do not need much debating about. However, what may surprise you is the origins and eventual composition of these Kingdoms.
We need to give some perspectives to be able to understand the evolution of these states. Kaabu was a province of Manding Empire after it was conquered by Tiramakan Trawally in the 13th century after killing the Bainunka king, called Kikikor.

The Nyancholu (Sanneh and Manneh) descended from Tiramakan Trawally and have held the royal dynasty until its collapse in the 19th century. However, not all was going well in the state of Kaabu.
A Mandinka group called the guelewar, who are believed to be descendants of TiramakanTrawally on the paternal side and the Bainunka on the maternal side. (Fage, J D, Oliver, Roland Anthony, The Cambridge History of Africa, p282, Cambridge University Press, 1975. ISBN 0-521-20413-5 and also Innes, Gordon; Suso, Bamba; Kanute, Banna; Kanute, Dembo, Sunjata: Three Mandinka Versions, p 128, Psychology Press, 1974. ISBN 0-7286-0003-X).

“The Guelewar were probably a Mandingo aristocracy who went to rule over the Sereres of Sine-Saloum: a tradition common to the history of both countries tends to confirm this origin.
We know with certainty that according to tradition, Sundiata Keita, King of the Mandingo, had been helped by his sister to triumph over his enemies; in exchange for this service he instituted a matrilineal succession in the royal branch. The present day guelewars of Sine-Saloum also claim that matrilineal filiation was introduced among them in the same circumstances. This was confirmed for me by a conversation I had with Fodé Diouf, head of the province of Saloum and traditional king of this country, during his visit in Paris in 1956” (Cheikh Anta Diop, Pre-colonial Black Africa, pp 58, 1987).

You cannot but notice the Mandinka name “Fode” which is a title given to a religious scholar for an achievement in the area of Islamic studies. When you become a “fodewo” you are awarded a turban wrapped around your head, more like a graduation gown of the modern era.
In fact you will notice as well as we list the names of some of the guelewar kings, names like Mané are found in their names.

Secondly, you cannot but also notice that most of the kings adopted names of women basically tracing their legitimacy through the mother’s line.
In Kaabu, ascendance to the throne was mainly through the maternal side and this group, who also descended from Bainunka nobility, was also a contender to the throne. For whatever reasons, they left Kaabu to the Serer kingdom of Sine in 1335 (Sarr, Alioune, Histoire du Sine-Saloum (Sénégal) Introduction, bibliographie et notes par Charles Becker. 1986-87, p 19) and were granted refuge by the Lamanes (Serere nobility) and through intermarriages with the Joof and Faye clans, a new dynasty comprising of the Serere paternal dynasty and the guelewar maternal dynasty evolved and the first marking the end of the old Wagagou maternal dynasty ( For paternal serer dynasty see Colvin, Lucie Gallistel, “Historical Dictionary of Senegal”, Scarecrow Press/ Metuchen. NJ – London (1981) ISBN 0-8108-1885-X).

Some historical perspective is needed here. There are oral accounts that the maternal dynasty in Manding was first introduced by Sundiata Conateh (Keita was not his surname name which simply means “heirs to the throne” referring to the Princes that were directly in line for kingship) after the formation of the Mali Empire in recognition of the help and support his sister gave him.

In the words of Ibn Battuta who visited the Mali Empire from 1351 to 1353), maternal influence in Manding was very strong. Battuta visited the Mali Empire during the reign of Mansa Suleyman. (Anta Diop pp 84).
“They (the blacks) are named after their maternal uncles, and not after their fathers; it is not the sons who inherit from their fathers, but the nephews, the sons of the father’s sister. I have never met with this last custom anywhere else, except among the infidels of Malabar in India”. (Cheikh Anta Diop, Precolonial Black Africa, pp8, 1987).

In the Mandinka language, the name for “family” is “Mbaa Ding” which directly translates as “My mother’s child”. So if you are not of the same mother, technically you do not fit the definition of family. “Faa Ding” father’s child” connotes competition, rivalry etc.
So it should not be a surprise to learn that even in the Kaabu Empire, this tradition of maternal lineages rising to prominence was adopted.

The relationship between a Mandinka boy and his sister is very strong and perhaps the only person in his family a boy could trust with his life. The only thing the Mandinka believe a sister will not support his brother for is in matters of Kingship. She prefers that for her husband because she wants to be queen of the land. We saw this same trust between Sumanguru Kanteh and his sister when she was sent to learn from a fetish king to increase his magical powers and became pregnant.

The first guelewar (Mandinka descendant) king of Sine was in the person of Maad a Sinig Maysa Wali Jaxateh Manneh (Sarr, Alioune, “Histoire du Sine-Saloum” (Sénégal), (introduction, bibliographie et notes par Charles Becker), in Bulletin de l’IFAN, tome 46, série B, nos 3-4, 1986–1987. p 19. See also: (in French) Éthiopiques, Volume 2, p 100-101, Grande imprimerie africaine (1984).
He was reported to have ruled the Kingdom of Sine from 1350 to 1370.

This king also went by the various names like (Maissa Wali or Wali Dione) who ascended to the throne in 1350). He was initially co-opted into the Serere high council and after years of assimilation was crowned king of Sine. His descendants married into many Sere noble families who ruled Sine and Saloum. (Gravrand, Henry, “Le Gabou dans les traditions orales du Ngabou”, Éthiopiques 28 special issue No, socialist journal of Black African culture (1981); Ngom, Biram,(Babacar Sédikh Diouf). “La question Gelwaar et l’histoire du Siin”, Dakar, Université de Dakar, 1987, 69 p. & Gravrand, Henry, “Le Gabou dans les traditions orales du Ngabou”, Éthiopiques 28 special issue No, socialist journal of Black African culture (1981).

It was generally a majority vote appointing Maysa Wali as king of the Serere although one notable Lamane by the name of Lamane Pangha Yaya Sarr objected to his appointment since Maysa Wali had no Serer blood in him at the time from both his mother’s and father’s sides despite Maysa Wali having his own “pangool” (cult or shrine with his own spirits that intercedes between the Serer people and “Roog” (the higher god”). Maysa Wali’s “Pangool” was called “Ginaaru “.

We have to remember that Maysa Wali was a recent arrival and within 15 years, became king of the Serer (migration from Kaabu was 1335 and his election was in 1350).
In fact the second name Dione or Jon, in Serer was a derogatory title because of the long period of rule (20 years) and some people wanted him gone (Diouf, Niokhobaye, “Chronique du royaume du Sine”, suivie de Notes sur les traditions orales et les sources écrites concernant le royaume du Sine. p 3-4 (p 703-5).
These Mandinka descendants adopted Serere life and saw themselves as one. It is still not uncommon to find Mandinka names like Wali and Jahateh (Jaxateh) in both Sine and Saloum up to this day.

Saloum, according to some oral traditions was the name of a Mandinka Marabout Saloum Suwareh who prayed for the king Mbegan Ndour and asked that if they win the war, the kingdom be named after him. Mbegan Ndour won the war against a Toucouleur leader Ali Elibana and the rest was history. The name changed from Mbye to Saloum. Perhaps the last name Mbye may be a corruption of Mbey. Saloum was previously called MBEY.
There are countless individuals in my family in Kaabu who are called Saloum up to this day. Just like in Kaabu, Maysa Wali’s paternal descendant never ruled in Sine and Saloum. Only the maternal side of his offspring who married into Serere nobility continued the line. (Ngom, Biram (Babacar Sédikh Diouf; ” La question Gelwaar et l’histoire du Siin, Dakar, Université de Dakar, 1987, p 69″)

In Serere language, a king is called “Maad, Mad or Maat” but with the advent of the geulewar dynasty the title became Maysa or Maisa, a corrupted Mandinka word for Mansa according to some accounts but at times used interchangeably.

To be continued…