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City of Banjul
Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sports and culture in colonial Gambia

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This article does not aim to criticise any individual or institution neither is it trying to promote a system over another but to state a view in the eyes of one individual which may lead to the way forward.

 

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I remember as young as I may have been in the 1950s and early 1960s the monthly entertainment of the Gambia Police Band by the beach directly opposite the Governor’s Residence currently called State House where the governors and their families used to attend and socialise with the people. There was also the monthly police band evening entertainment at the McCarthy Square. We the youths then loved spending all the afternoon every other Sunday at the beach dancing to the police band beats and I could remember Sir Percy Wyn Harris, governor from 1949 to 1958 and Sir Edward Henry Windley, governor from 1958 to 1962, walking around talking to people.?

 

I am sure some of the wrestling fans will remember or must have heard the monthly wrestling matches organised at the then Secretariat which is presently the Government Administration building housing about six ministries including the Ministries of Sport and of Culture. I am told that Sir Hilary Blood, governor from 1942 to 1947 started it and attended every month. The tradition was followed by Sir Andrew Barkworth Wright and Sir Edward Henry Windley.

 

These events were sponsored by government.? It was a pleasure to be in a football team then to play in an FA Cup final. Players looked forward to it because the governors always attended and took the kick-off with the police band offering entertainment at half time. I remember playing in the 1960, 1962 and 1963 FA Cup finals and the prospects of shaking hands with the governors kept me sleepless all night and meeting Governors Windley and John Paul is still fresh in my mind. ?The Government then gave direct subvention to sport associations. Though there were few at the time, if I can remember, these were the Football, Athletics, Tennis Wrestling, Cricket, Table Tennis, Rugby and much later the Round Ball Associations. The annual Regatta was well-funded separately.

 

 

During this period sports and physical education were part of the curriculum of the pupil teachers at the Yundum College, which I went through. Some people can still remember Mr Donald Carter and Mr Peter Carvey. They were the two who encouraged me and many others in athletics. Sport was then considered an important tool in youth development. There was visible encouragement from the highest authority of the land. ?In athletics, the governors attended the annual Athletics Championship and before this it was the annual Inter-Schools Athletics Championship on Empire Day.

 

Great competitive and entertaining with great runners like Fanny Freeman, Vicky Roberts, Toffy Mote, Ralphina Phillot (recently deceased) and Charlie Bruce, Dodou Mbatch, Ebou Gillen, Bai Abie Faal, Charles Turner, Dodou Ndure, Alberta Awadsi, Pierre Jallow, Pierre Coron, Samba Saye, Dodou Joof, Cherno Touray and others. The attendance of the Governors encouraged all the top brass in government and the small business community then in The Gambia to attend to cheer the athletes. This allowed the athletes to give their best to impress. This happened as late as when PS Njie was Chief Minister and in the early days of Sir Dawda Jawara as prime minister and few years as president.

 

The cabinet used to attend as well because wherever the president goes, the cabinet should follow. Who wants to be defeated when the president of the country is present? In cricket I am told one of the governors used to play (was it Wyn Harris? Sports historian Alhagie Sering Secka please help). I know for sure that a Colonial Secretary played for the Gambian side in an inter-colonial cricket tournament against Sierra Leone in the later 1950s .

 

 

During the three days inter-colonial cricket tournaments lasting Thursday to Saturday, schools were given half days on Thursdays and Fridays to attend the matches in their uniforms. The children sat along the boundary lines to cheer the Gambian team most of whom were from the high schools to name a few: Ebou Taal, Dandeh Njie, Abdoulie Conteh, Tim Jagne, Abdoulie Kah, Bola Mahoney.

 

 

A day to remember
I remember during an exciting match against Sierra Leone, the whole of the square rose to its feet with mouths open as excitement turned to anxiety and tension when everyone waited for Bola Mahoney to score the first century in The Gambia for a very long time. It was excitement all the way with cheers from all corners of the square as he hit the ball to 4 and 6 rapidly moving from zero to 90. The excitement died down and tension built in and one could feel it down your bones right across the square. Was he going to make it? This was the question on the mind of every Gambian supporter.

 

The Sierra Leone team added to the pressure by changing their field. They brought in a spin bowler and surrounding the wicket with a short leg fielder, a silly point, a short square leg fielder and a cover. There was deep fine leg, a long one and an extra cover to protect the boundary. Bola Mahoney moved on slowly from 90 to 91, to 96 and as much as the crowd was worried and praying one could sense the tension on poor Bola. He was determined to score his first century on Gambian soil and the crowd were not helping with their complete silence. Two more runs and Bola was 98 needing only two runs for a great achievement.

 

The bowler came in and Bola blocked. Raise his head up and looked at the outfield and settled again for the next ball. Spin Bowler came in, short ball, Bola attacked the ball and connected, the ball went high in the sky and the crowd erupted, jubilation across the square, he has made it with a 6. But extra cover was watching with eyes fixed on the ball; he moved, carefully positioning himself under the ball. There was a sudden end to the celebrations in the square. The ball started to descend.

 

The extra cover fielder moving under it, his cap fell down but his eyes were fixed on the ball and hands wide open waiting to receive the ball. It came like a thunder ball and comfortably landed into his hands. The extra cover fielder could not believe his luck, he jumped high to the sky and every other fielder ran to embrace him and they danced around in joy. One could feel the disappointment in the crowd and Bola slowly walked with tears in his eyes. On his death bed, when I went to pay my last respects at his house in Atlantic Road, Fajara, I thanked him for that exciting moment in Gambian cricket provided by him.?

 

 

In the area of culture, at Christmas every fanal vous was expected to visit the governor general and on the last day of the Christmas season the governor general would organize the Annual Fanal Competition which he attended with his family. The fanal competition was later taken over by the City Council and then the Banjul Demba organisation. (I remember my fanal winning the competition organised by Banjul Demba on two occasions and the prizes given to Gomis Vous by the first Lady Chilel Jawara).

 

The Christmas cultural groups were also given dates to visit Government House as it was known at the time. I remember the Kankurang of Gomis Vous visiting State House and the President talking to the Kankurang… Julubu Conteh and was laughing and enjoying the fun. ?There was the Annual School and Drama Singing Contest with young boys and girls flooding the McCarthy Square to support their schools in the drama and dance competitions. Singing at one time was a subject in the schools.? Some of you will remember the Kankurangs, The Makalos, The Fairies, The Agugus, The Mamaparas, The Babadijigas, The Marigos, The Abanjolas, The Kumbos. There were no huntings at the time. There were no tourists and no organised tourism but it was a pleasure to be in Banjul any time of the year to experience the culture and sports. ?

 

 

Beauty pageants
In the area of beauty pageant, the first organised beauty pageant was in 1963 by the Roxy Vous followed by the Miss Independence Pageant in 1965 and the first Miss Gambia contest also in 1965 by the Metta Youth Club. Regular pageants have been held annually until in 2001 when Mr Yankuba Touray, then Minister of Tourism interfered with the organisation of Gomis Promotions and stopped the oganisation of that pageant only two weeks before the finals.

 

Since then no Miss Gambia has been held in The Gambia. Sixteen years down the line, several efforts have been made to organise one without success. The Gambia is the only country anywhere in the world where the state wanted to organise beauty pageants. In other countries, beauty pageants are private sector matters.? Very interesting, useful and motivational things were happening then. Can we learn from some of them to avoid some of our grounded cultures and sports from dying? This is new Gambia and new ideas and initiatives are needed from the Government, the private sector and individuals.?

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