The danger of a single story Gambia was named after River Gambia


By Dembo Fatty Either way, the Bainunka story of Kambi is not supported by common sense, language and historical antecedents and should be retired for good. And so, on a recording by Samuel Charters (Folkway Records FE4178A) from Fabala Kanuteh that the encounter happened on the side of Niumi and that the person who spoke to the Europeans was one Kambi Manneh appears to hold more water than any others out there. Last time I checked, Niumi was not a Bainunka state. (See A general Bibliography of Gambia up to 31 December 1977 by DP Gamble and Louise Sperling page xiii). Fabala further stated: “When the Portuguese came, they brought their ships to St Domingo Island and left their ships, and went ashore and raised their flag on the island. The king, Seneke Jammeh, sent messengers to go to the island to see what was happening. They found Europeans there… The man they first saw, his name was Kambi, Kambi Manneh. They asked him ‘What is the name of this place?’ He replied, ‘My name is Kambi.’ They wrote that down”. Could Seneke Jammeh be the same as Samake Jammeh of Bakindiki? A typo perhaps? If so, then Fabala Kanuteh may have the correct timeline because Mansa Siranka Wali Jammeh of Bakindiki ruled between July 1736 to 1750 ( See Gambia Castle Charge Book, 1736 Public Records Office, London T70/1452, pp 190-216; or Memoire sur la cote d’Afrique, 1750, Archives Nationales de France, C629; or Detailes sur l’establissement rois de ce pays ANF C017 or Oral Traditions from Gambia Volume II; Family Elders pp209). Siranka Wali was the seventh king from Bakindiki, the first being Samake Jammeh and if we establish forty years between each king, that will be 280 years. 280 years from 1736 will be around 1456 just almost one year shy of the first travels of Alviso Cadamostco. In fact it will coincide with his second visit because he first visited in 1455. This story was also confirmed by another Gambia jali in the person of Foday Musa Suso but he mentioned Kambi Sonko which still places the scene of encounter in Niumi and not Foni. Either way, both stories point to Niumi and not Kombo which is the object of this piece. European activity in Kombo/old Foni is very scanty and it should be a challenge to all our historians to dig it up if any indeed exists. If the “Kambi Yaa” story is associated with Santo Domingo, then it is almost safe to conclude that the name came about during the first visit of Cadamostco in 1455; because English contact with our country was known to have started in 1587. (see “The Gambia: Earliest British Settlement in West Africa”; Journal of the Royal Society of Arts; Vol. 91, No. 4647, September 3, 1943, page 532). The earlier Portuguese contact in 1446 could not have been the beginning of the name “Kambi Yaa” because Tristao and his men were repulsed and out of a crew of 28 men, 21 died of poisoned arrow wounds. They did not establish contact with the natives. (see The Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea by Gomes Eanes de Azurara edited by C.R. Beazley and Prestage, 2 vols , London: Hakluyt Society, 1896-99, 2: 252-57) Although Cadamostco further sailed to Vintang [Bintang], (which would have been Foni, if we believe the Bainunka state to have extended from Kalagi to the current location of Banjul), it would not make sense for the Portuguese to not have asked the Niuminkas the name of the land when they first established contact and then decide to go further inland to ask for the name of the land. Besides, even if Bintang was part of old Foni, that is a far cry from Sanyang or Karting [Kartong]. If we cannot find a first contact between Kombo and the Europeans, then the Bainunka story falls flat and so Kambi was not a Bainunka. I would love to discuss the name Kombo and its origins but that is not the object of this write-up and does not advance the thesis I am laying here for scrutiny.   There once was and still is a Kambi Kunda: Destination Busumbala Busumbala in Kombo (ancient Foni if we believe that Foni extended to present day Banjul) holds the key to many of the historical evolution of Kombo. At some point, it was dubbed the capital of Kombo. It’s an old settlement by the Jatta clan. Old Busumbala had three kabilolu namely: Mansa Kunda, Kambi Kunda and Mampata Kunda but the interesting thing is all of these kundalu are of the Jatta clan perhaps due to the size of the households, it had to be broken to three kabilo units. These Jatta family are not Bainunka or Jola by ethnicity but Mandinka most probably from the Jenne. Jola Jatta are called Jatta Sambou. These Jatta in Busumbala are not Sambou. Why am I bringing this up? The reason is at the heart of a Bainunka story, is linked to the settlement of Busumbala. Oral accounts, which most historians have now accepted as the course of events holds that Karafa Yali Jatta of Busumbala (old Busumbala which is way off the main road towards Latriya) was a hunter who one day, chanced on a civilisation called Sanyang, which was the residence of Queen Wulending Jassey. When the people of Sanyang saw Karafa, the Queen and her children ran and entered a cave. This means then that Sanyang settlement or at least the residence of the royal family was inside a cave. The next day, Karafa told the people of Busumbala about the new settlement which was barely 15 kilometres away. They visited the Bainunka queen and long story short, Karafa married one of the princesses and that’s how power transferred from Sanyang to Busumbala Jatta Kunda. This was way before the Bojangs entered Kombo history. There is a joking relationship between Busumbala people and Sanyang. The former teases the latter that they took them from the Stone Age into civilization as they lived in caves. Ask around, you will hear the same jokes. As a matter of fact well before Brufut existed as oral history has it that Brufut people settled on the lands of Busumbala. Now here lies the question. If at all we believe that Foni, a Bainunka state stretched from Kalagi to present day Banjul, and having its capital at Sanyang, was incapable of knowing that a settlement as big as Busumbala existed just a stone’s throw from the seat of power, how did the Bainunka state managed to sustain a functioning bureaucracy to exert its powers and influence over a vast area as big as described above? Over which settlements did the Bainunka ruled over if they cannot even know that Busumbala existed right in front of their seat of power? This, in my opinion makes the story of Kambi Jassey meeting the Europeans a fable. Yes, granted, they may have lived in Kombo a long time ago, but they may have also been living alongside other ethnic groups at the same time and it becomes quite a feat for anyone to claim they were the first settlers in Kombo if in fact at the height of their rule, a settlement as big as Busumbala and as close as 15 kilometers was unknown to them. Furthermore, in the absence of a well-defined border, it is all a wild guess as to how far and wide the Bainunka state of Foni stretched]]>