Take, for example, Titina Ernestina Silla (1943 – 30 January 1973). She was a heroine and a martyr in the Guinea Bissau war of independence against Portugal waged by the PAIGC. At quite a very young age Titina joined the guerrilla war led by Amilcar Cabral. She displayed remarkable organisational and leadership skills and became one of the war’s most popular figures. By the age of 18, in the early 1960s, she became famous as guerrilla leader on the north front. She was killed in an encounter with the Portuguese military while crossing the river Farim with a group of other guerrillas on her way to the funeral of Amilcar Cabral, who was assassinated earlier in Conakry on 20 January 1973. A monument was erected in her honour near river Farim and the date is marked as National Women’s Day in Guinea Bissau.
She was a lactating mother while living in camps in the forest during the war, taking care of both her military warfare duties as a leader as well as a duty to her baby as a mother. Legend has it that she used to tie her baby to the trunk of a tree in the forest while engaged in a fight. A picture of her and the baby were taken, a photograph commonly associated with her history. Amilcar Cabral was also pictured with this baby in his arms during his visits to the guerrilla camps at the time, those familiar with the history of the PAIGC liberation war can see this image in most of the records (books) about the Guinea Bissau colonial liberation struggle.
Jainaba Bah blamed Mai for her and Alpha Robinson’s arrest and detention, then what about Modou Mbaye Jabang and Pa Ousman Marong of whom she wrote: “[they] had confessed to our torturers and told them exactly how they were involved in the clandestine work of the ORS (Organ of the Revolutionary Students). They have both explained in written details the depth of their involvement. They have explained about cell formation and Jabang has given them a blueprint of some of our distribution network. Both have specified Sarjo Jallow’s role in our grooming for the ORS founding and his leadership position in Moja – G. Pa Ousman was the typist of the newsletter and Jabang was co–editor and distributor…” These guys must have been far older and far more experienced than Mai Fatty, then a sixteen-year-old student. Yet the guys revealed all they knew including the particular roles they played and they even gave further information about Sarjo Jallow, the big fish. It was Pa Ousman and Jabang who gave the police all they wanted to know about the ORS, MOJA – G and Sarjo Jallow. Therefore, Jainaba’s insistence on putting the blame of her arrest and that of Alpha Robinson on Mai Fatty’ suggests a personal anger bordering on selfishness. Somebody else may have been responsible for the leak leading to her and Alpha’s arrest, if Mai’s story in his response to her is true. It was surely Jabang and Marong whose cooperation with the police, either out of torture or other forms of coercion, led to Sarjo Jallow’s arrest and detention and eventually “resulted to his sacking from his Action Aid job as team leader “were Robin Poulton, then Action Aid country director instructed him to hand over the company car (Lada) keys and cash – flow box and go sort out his problem with the police”.
Jainaba noted of Jabang and Pa Ousman after their arrest: “Jabang used to be this very energetic young man, smart, full with exuberance, confident to the point of arrogance. All of that simply deflated. He never became himself again from that moment onwards regarding the work we were doing. Pa Ousman was one of the most dedicated cadres we ever had. He was working at Elder Dempster and would help type both ORS articles and MOJA – G New Year messages whole nights”.
Appropriately, the Mandingka proverb: Ning boro mang mae, koma tu laa bukalong fits here well. Jabang and Pa Ousman were not prepared well for the price they had to pay for trying to change the status quo.
Steve Biko of South African’s trade union movement, the Black Consciousness Movement in apartheid South Africa met his untimely death at the hands of the apartheid police in South Africa. He was tortured to death. Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years on Robin Island as a leading ANC member. In fact, it was during this long imprisonment he developed the recurring chest infection which was responsible for his eventual death. The price to pay for trying to change the status quo in certain cases, particularly with repressive systems either by peaceful or violent means, is inevitably to endure torture, incarceration and death sometimes.
In her case, and as opposed to that of Pa Ousman and Jabang, Jainaba was determined to give all it took to defend and protect what she believed in, that is, the Moja– G led national liberation agenda. With all the frustration and the humiliating treatments of torture, both physical and psychological, she was always determined to forge ahead. She wrote of how she insisted that her torturers, Daba, Secka and Njie must not witness her consultation with Dr Sallah probably because she did not want them to interfere with how she would narrate her case to the doctor.
The Special Branch boss, Sidney Riley ordered Daba and his group to take her to hospital “right away”, when he walked in and found a female police officer urging her to eat, and after taking a look at her and noticed she needed medical attention. “In a Land Rover I was driven to RVH. Dr Sallah had just returned from Sweden as a pediatrician. He was on duty at the out – patient clinic. When it was my turn to meet him all three (Daba, Abou, and Secka) followed right behind me. We entered the doctor’s room and Dr Sallah inquired my ailment. I told him I need my privacy and would not say a word if my guards are present. Dr Sallah agreed that according to medical praxis I had a right to a moment with him in private. He asked them if they could excuse us and wait outside”.
Between sobs, she told the doctor her story, Sallah whom she said was horrified of her burnt thumbs, looked into her nose and ears and did some checking for other bodily harm. The resultant medical examination certificate had the doctor’s observations of:
(1) Torture marks of severe burnt skin,
(2) Clotted blood in her right ear.
The medical certificate verified that that she was subjected to electric sock torture with her having reported that she bled from the nose during the torture.
Courageously, she folded the certificate and placed it in her bra, “took the prescription paper and walked out as the doctor stood by shocked by the revelation made by his last patient”. But still with arrogance, as soon as she closed the door to the doctor’s office, “Daba Marena jumped on the prescription paper. He read it and understood we are to collect some paracetamol and antibiotics (penicillin) at the out – patient pharmacy”.
With all the frustration and the pain inflicted on her, she was never defeated and was determined to continue with the struggle and she bravely kept the medical certificate under her bra probably to:
(1) Show it to her comrades as proof of her torture,
(2) show it to any person or persons who care.
(3) give it out to the press for publication,
(4) present it in a court of law as an exhibit, or
(5) probably just out of fear that her guards might seize the medical certificate.
Interesting enough, she was more alert than her guards and was well ahead of them in thoughts. Her guards had no idea of the implicative document against them, or else they were confident enough that noting would come out of their act of torture, or they were sure of the protection of the state which provided the torture machine from tax-payers money for use by the police on suspects under their custody to obtain information.
By the time I joined the ranks of the movement, the cadres, that is, the high ranking members were not many in number. Those at the homefront I knew were: Nakulang Ceesay, Dawda Jones, Buba Senghore, Salieu Puye, Modou Gaye, Mam Babou Sowe, Alagie Kanteh, Pa Taal, Saikouba Samateh, Ndey Jorbateh, Saikouba Ceesay, the late Ousainou Kora, Amara Marega, Morro Ceesay, Ablie Mbye, Alagie Foday Jatta, Jewru Kurubally, Garba Cham, Garba Noho and Omar Jabang.
In the diaspora were: Tijan Koro Sallah, Ousman Manjang, Dumo Sarho, Sarjo Jallow, and Jainaba Bah. I had unconfirmed information that the late Baba Jobe too, then in Libya, was an active leading member. As well as one Sulayman Kassama, Andaraman Drammeh, Yoro Sabally and Alpha Robinson.
The anti-Apartheid movement activists were Sheriff Ceesay, coordinator, Nyima Ceesay, Lamin Singhateh, Ndey Jallow, Veronic Secka, Malamin Drammeh alias Mals, Bana Sabally (Kaw Mamut Sabally’s daughter), Ida Jallow (Nakulang Ceesay’s wife) and Ablie Bojang alias Bully. Bully was a member of the anti-Apartheid movement and was also at the time groomed for Moja–G membership. He was the one in charge of the Brikama cell organisation house. Veronic Secka, Malamin Drammeh, Sheriff Ceesay and Lamin Singhateh were also increasingly involved in the Moja–G activities too.
Every morning I rushed for a copy of The Standard from a vendor and have all the publications with the story from part 1, and never wanted to stop counting. I sometimes felt the short stories should not have come with those large beautifully embedded matching photographs which I felt occupied space in which much text could have fitted in, but it was great they kept coming along as they really made the short parts of story more attractive and likeable.
As your letter writer, Amadou Bojang stated, Jainaba Bah’s story is “inspiring generations”. I only wonder as there was still much more need for greater resistance and sacrifice ahead whether she was prepared to go as far as Titina Silla or Nelson Mandela?
She said her story is not an attempt to write an autobiography, but I suggest she thinks about compiling her very interesting story into a book.