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Sait Matty Bah: Warrior saint

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Sait Matty Bah is the son of Maba Jahou Bah. Maba was born in 1809 and died in July 1867. He was a Muslim leader in West Africa during the 19th century. Born in Rip, Senegal, Maba was a follower of the Tijaniyya Sufi brotherhood and became the almami of Saloum.

A descendant of the Fulani Denianke dynasty from the branch of the Bah family in the region of Baddibu, Maba Jahou Bah combined political and religious goals in an attempt to reform or overthrow previous animist monarchies, and resist French encroachment. He is in a tradition of Fulani jihad leaders who revolutionised the states of West Africa at the time of colonialism.

He founded the city of Nioro in Rip. The village of Keur Maba Diakhou near Kaolack is named for him.

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Resistance and conquest

Maba Jahou Bah mounted a fierce resistance to the French colonial invasions of Senegal. Under governor Louis Faidherbe French forces had carried out a scorched-earth policy against resistance to their expansion in the Senegambia, with villages razed and populations removed after each victory. Throughout the founding of an Islamic state, Maba Jahou Bah tried to unify the area north of The Gambia, while leading a war of conversion against the traditional states.

After meeting El Hadj Umar Tall around 1850, Maba Jahou Bah launched his jihad into Serere territory from his small state of Rip in 1861. While he eventually succeeded in overtaking the dynasty of Saloum, his movement never succeeded in Sine, and much of Serere territory remained animist or Christian into the 20th century. There is much to suggest that Sine resistance was as much nationalist as religious, with Muslims and animists fighting on both sides of these struggles.

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Battle of Rip, Siege of Kaolack

On 30th November 1865, with the help of Lat Dior and his Cayor forces, Maba Jahou Bah began the conquest of the states of Sine, Baol and Jolof.

Later at Kaolack, Maba and Lat Dior were checked by a combined force of French under Pinet-Laprade of 2,000 cavalry and 4,000 colonial infantry, allied with 1,000 infantry and 500 cavalry from the states of Waalo, Ndiambour and Ndiander.

Islamisation and reform

As well as converting traditional states to Islam, Maba Jahou Bah’s forces sought to abolish the traditional caste system of the Wolof and Serere aristocratic states. In unifying with other Muslim forces, West African jihad states aimed to end the reign of small regional kingships who kept the area in a constant state of war, and the farming and artisanal classes in slave conditions. The Toucouleur Empire of El Hadj Umar Tall in Mali, which rose at about the same time had much the same goals, and Umar Tall himself was in contact with and recruited among Maba Jahou Bah’s forces.

Lat Dior

After Lat Dior, the young king of Wolof Cayor was defeated by the French at the Battle of Loro (1864), Maba Jahou Bah offered him asylum, and converted Dior and his soldiers from the traditional cheddo animism to Islam. While his conversion may have been for reasons more political than spiritual, Lat Dior became a powerful ally even in exile, leading his forces alongside those of Sine.

In 1867, Lat Dior and Maba Jahou Bah reconquered Cayor from the king placed there by the French. Governor Pinet-Laprade had little choice but to accede to Lat Dior, confirming him as the French chef de canton.

Death and legacy

In 1867, Maba Jahou Bah was killed leading forces against the animist Serere state of Maat Sine Kumba Ndoffene Famak Joof. By 1871, the Serere had re-instated their traditional monarchy, which was soon to be supplanted by the French.

At the height of his jihad Maba moved through the Senegambia displacing the Wolof and Serere populations, ravaging Jola land, destroying the Mandinka kingdoms and posing a threat to French and British interests in the area.

Maba Jahou Bah is an important link in the tradition of Senegalese marabouts who trace their lineage to Umar Tall. This tradition has continued to the present, with such notables as El Hadj Saidou Nourou Tall (the former grand marabout of French West Africa); the Tivaouane-based Sy family of El Hadj Malik Sy (1855–1922), and the Niass family of Abdoulaye Niass (1840–1922) and his son Ibrahim Niass in Kaolack. Tivaouane in the north among the Wolof and Kaolack among the Serere have become the two centers of Tijaniyyah Sufi teaching in Senegal, and both were founded as a direct result of Maba Jahou Bah’s short-lived state.

He was interred in the village of Fandène (or Mbel Fandane), and his tomb, which has become a place of pilgrimage, is in the Diakhao Arrondissement, département of Fatick in Sine-Saloum, Sénégal.

Sait Matty: The rise of the son

Sait Matty Bah was only 12 years old when his father was killed in 1867 and was too young to succeed his father. Some elders suggested that his father’s brother, Mamour Nderi, should be appointed regent until Sait Matty comes of age. Mamour Nderi was made regent but faced much opposition to his rule. The arrangement never worked with some insisting that the role of imam was not hereditary, and that the imam has to be selected on the basis of knowledge and knowledge alone.

He was challenged by one of his lieutenants, Biran Ceesay, who started a civil war in 1877 in Baddibu and Sine-Saloum which disrupted trade and agriculture on the north bank.

In the mean time, Gedel Mboge, who had lost part of his territory to war and to the traditional Jolof ruler, saw an opportunity, struck and retook his land.

About 1884, when Sait Matty came of age, he began fighting his uncle for control of his father’s forces and railed against Biran Ceesay for his inheritance of the rulership of Baddibu. Three years later a peace treaty was negotiated with collaboration of the French and British whereby Sait Matty was to recognise Biran Ceesay’s lordship over the towns in Sine-Saloum and Niumi and Ceesay was to acknowledge Sait Matty’s over-lordship throughout the entire area.

However, Sait Matty attacked the Burr Saloum in a bloody battle capturing his capital Kahone.

Gedel, seeing the resurgent Bah army, asked the French for help and they agreed. The French warned Sait Matty to withdraw, he refused, and with the co-operation of the king of Sine-Saloum, the French pursued him. Sait Matty fled to The Gambia, took refuge at Niumi Albreda’s ceded mile, and on 11th May 1887 surrendered to the British who offered him asylum and protection against his enemies and the French.

His defeat plunged Baddibu into a new civil war which threatened to spill over into Sine-Saloum. The French therefore decided to take control of Sait Matty’s towns, disposed of two of Biran Ceesay’s chiefs and authorised local chiefs to collect tributes in Baddibu.

Jatta Selling Jammeh became ruler of Baddibu; Sait Kani Touray who built a fort at Kataba became ruler of Sabach; and Gumbo Gaye who also built a fort at Ngayen Sanjal became ruler of Sanjal.

Sait Matty was said to have stayed in the army barracks located in Half-Die, Banjul close to the Old Secretariat by the old Albert Market. Thereafter, he was allowed to move to Bakau, Cape St Mary. He died there in 1897. A rectangular block structure about two metres in height standing in the front garden of the Sun Beach Hotel at Cape Point in Bakau marks his burial site.

His descendants include the late imam ratib of Banjul, Alhaji Modou Lamin Bah and many others who held and continue to hold stellar positions in the spiritual and temporal realms in The Gambia.

Sourced from Wikipedia, Mr Sainey Faye, NCAC.

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