By Seedy S. Fofanah
The village called Jarra Kanni-Kunda, which lies a stone’s throw from Soma town in Lower River Region, was founded by a renowned Islamic scholar by the name Mama Yorro Saidykhan (named at birth as Adama). His ancestors came from Futa Toro in Northern Senegal, in a place called Dimack.
It is historically believed that, Mama Yorro’s elder brother was the “Mansa” and Imam in Futa Toro by then. But when his brother died and they wanted to make him “Mansa” or King, in Futa Toro, he ran away and brought along with him all his late brother’s families and his own family and traveled down to The Gambia.
Historical details also stated that, during the reign of Mama Yorro’s late brother as “Mansa” and at the same time as the Imam in Futa Toro, there was a lot of hatred and fighting against him by the people. Some even said that, it was that fighting and hatred that forced Mama Yorro to leave Dimack and travel outside Futa Toro to come to The Gambia. Along in his journey, he converted lots of people and those people later became his Talibes.
My grandpa told me that, Mama Yorro left Futa Toro with three things and these are, prayer beads, hat and a slate which in the Mandinka language is called “Walaa”. He traveled from Niamina Jaffaye, Dankunku, Niamina Sambang, Sanjally Kanni-Kunda, Kombo Gunjur until he reached Soma.
According to my grandpa, when Mama Yorro reached Jarra Soma, he stood facing eastward and lifted his head and said to his followers or “Talibes” “This is the place I have been looking for. This place has all the signs and indications they told me about since I was in Futa Toro”.
Mama Yorro’s youngest brother called “Bubu Nin Yorro”, feared that, if Mama Yorro continued to live in Kanni-Kunda Village, most of his grandchildren would not be able to speak his own language which is Fula. Then, Bubu separated with Mama Yorro and his Talibes in Jarra Soma and he went and settled in a village called “Tankon” in the Southern part of Soma. This is why you have Khan families residing in “Tankon” that adopted the surname “Khan”but shortened it to SaidyKhan.
According to history, when Mama Yorro Saidykhan came to settle in the Kanni-Kunda Village, he was residing in Sankwia where he had a herd of cattle that he reared. Among the herd of cattle, there used to be one cow that would go by itself to drink in a secluded place.
One day, the herdsman, who had always had an eye on this cow, narrated to Mama Yorro the strange behaviour of this particular cow that would branch whenever they came to this spot in the bush. It was later discovered that the place had a pond with a tree overhanging it and covering it as well. The particular tree is called “Sinjagho”.
This herbal tree is highly valued among the traditional people owing to its medicinal significance. Its roots are dug, washed and cut into pieces and then put in a bottle of water. The solution is then sipped as medicine for the treatment of many diseases.
In any case, the well became dubbed “Sinjankolong” as a Mandinka coinage. Mama Yorro told the herdsman, “That is the place I have been looking for” and I will make it a village and settle herein with my family. This was how the village called Jarra Kanni-Kunda was founded by Mama Yorro Saidykhan. The “Sinjankonlong” became a revered historical place within the village and till now, its significance to the people has not dwindled.
The village has a massively rich history and according to my grandfather, the original founder of the village forbade anyone beating a drum in the village. From the historical facts, if anyone beat the drum inside the village, there would be a monstrous fire in the whole village and everything would be burnt down.
According to elders of the village there was a time when someone beat the drum and the whole village was burnt down to ashes and people lost many valuable things including shelter, food stuffs, clothing and many other materials. It was revealed that, there used to be a written history book about Mama Yorro SaidyKhan detailing how he migrated from Dimack in Futa Toro to finally settle down in Jarra Kanni-Kunda Village.
From the historical facts, the book was burnt down to ashes due to that out break of a monstrous fire in the village. Ever since those days to date, the villagers have always equally forbidden any drum beating in the village. All activities of drumming are carried outside the village. The village is well known within the Jarra West region and its vicinities.
One of his children migrated from Jarra Kanni-Kunda Village, went and settled in Jarra East, the village called Sukuta. This is why you have SaidyKhan families in Sanjally Kanni-Kunda, Jarra Kanni-Kunda, and Jarra Sukuta. All these surnames have lineages that are traceable to Mama Yorro SaidyKhan.
Moreover, there were lots of SaidyKhan surnames in Guinea Bissau. For instance, in the village called “Bijen”, the SaidyKhans were the Alikalos and Imams. There is also a place called “Macca Kolibantan” where you have SaidyKhan surnames as well.
According to my grandpa, most of all these people’s surnames weren’t SaidyKhan. What actually happened was that, Mama Yorro had lots of “Talibes” or followers with him. So, anytime he converted people to Islam, those people would abandon their surnames and subsequently adopt the surname SaidyKhan.
Mama Yorro’s descendants are spread across the country mainly in Jarra, Baddibou, Niamina and Kombos. Jarra Kanni-Kunda Village has been historically known for being the seat of Islamic knowledge.
Until in the early 80s, the village was without an English School. The village today boasts of many college and university graduates, although the villagers still value and cherish the importance of preserving their rich Islamic tradition.