By Baboucarr Camara
In the tick of darkness, Karang Sambou Lamin (name redacted) used a bushy path of the village, so that no one could trace him, and met me in a secret location. It was my second night in the village and I almost lost hope in my attempt to unravel the mystery behind Musa Molloh’s invasion of Jaali, which up until today remains a taboo and a topic few is willing to discuss.
The village is still fondly remembered for the day its ex-Alkalo, Nyakudi Drammeh, drove former Gambia President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara away against holding a political rally there, but few is aware of the tales of Musa Molloh’s brutal invasion of the village. This event took place more than a century ago but such is the delicacy of the topic that until 45 years ago, no Jalinka dared to name his son Musa. “This is the reason I took the back way to meet you in this secret location because no one is willing to discuss the story since Jaali said this was a big embarrassment to them,” Karang Sambou Lamin told me with a wry smile.
“But I also do not believe the widely held notion that if anyone narrates it the person would die. I believe that every story needs to be told for the benefit of the younger generation and unfortunately today we have no elderly person in this village who can narrate this to you, they have all died. Even me, I took the history from my uncle and decided to write it down for a day like today.”
Jaali is more than eight centuries old and sources said the village Imam who died last month having served in that capacity since 1995 was the 336th and once someone is given the mantle, he keeps it until his death with one in particular, Basana Kumba Samateh serving for a full three decades. The community has a strong Islamic background. One of the strongest and yet unbreakable traditions of Jaali is that since inception, Drammeh has always been the Alkalo and the Imamship remains with Samateh, and no other surname gets it apart from them.
The reasons given for Musa Molloh’s invasion of Jaali defers but sources said it happened as a result of his decision to extinguish all forces opposed to the prophecy of his kingship. He was said to have attacked Jaali, a village with a 100% Muslim population, when Mandinka jihadist Foday Kabba Dumbuya had the other side of the region under his control, specifically based in Genieri. When Musa was attacking Jaali, Foday Kabba was said to be in what is present day Kiang East for four months and couldn’t move to Jaali’s side of the region and that was the moment Musa Molloh and his troops passed him off guard.
Musa Molloh was bent on attacking Jaali but because the village was densely populated those days, he was said to have lacked the military myth to lunch a successful rebellion. So he decided to seek guidance from his marabout who advised him to ensure that he collected and carry along sand particles belonging to Fulladu by making sure he spread over any village they were to spend the night. That way, they were assured that Jaali would be in the dark over their whereabouts. The village was said to be aware of Musa Molloh’s intentions but anytime they too consulted their marabouts, they would be told that they were on the journey but were still in Fulladu, even though they had almost already reached the targeted destination.
Even then, Musa Molloh had to rely on valuable information about Jaali from Batelling and Jamarr, two Soninke villages bent on ensuring the total obliteration of Jaali and, both were said to be complicit in the plan. It was the two villages that informed Musa that Jaali had a specific day once in a year when they would clear a particular portion of its bush situated between the village and the North Bank Region of the country, called Ndarambu, in preparation for the coming farming season. That day, every able-bodied man would participate in the event but aside from that, there was no warrior that could lunch a successful attack on them because they had more than 500 youth ready to take up weapons in self-defense.
“When they came, they did not meet a single youth in the village aside from one warrior hunter called Lang Nyuku Drammeh because he had a serious eye infection. When he was informed of the attack, at the time he could barely open his eyes but he asked the women to pound pepper for him and put a dose in either eye and moved to confront them,” Karang Sambou Lamin added. “He fought them bitterly but also there was a Fula man sitting atop a baobab tree in the old Jaaliba settlement, one of the wards in the village, who was also shooting at them using a spear and all of a sudden they decided to kidnap a lot of women and flew with them and by the time the message reached the men in Ndarambu, Musa and his henchmen had already fled.”
Ndarambu is more than 10 kilometres from Jaali village and is closer to Badibu and Jarra but it is still separated by a small stretch of the River Gambia, but even that would not deter Jaalinkas from rescuing their people. They decided to swim to the other side of the river to Jarra and even though some of the women were rescued, Musa left with the majority because according to sources, the moment he crossed the Pakaliba Bridge, it collapsed and the rescue team was left with no option than to return home.
Several years went by but Jaalikans didn’t relent though and there was another warrior called Lang Mbandeh Drammeh, the brother of the Alkalo of the time, Keng Mbandeh Drammeh, who vowed to use supernatural means to rescue them. He paraded himself as a seller of beads and once he reached Fulladu, he would call names that are synonymous to Jaali and that way he would secretly arrange their rescue mission and was successful in returning a lot of captivities.
When Jaali was later informed by its own allies that both Jamarr and Batelling connived with Musa Molloh in the attack, they too decided to seek revenge. Jamarr is the eldest village in the region and because it was also one of the biggest, they decided to launch their own attack, but at night and burnt down the entire village to ashes. Even those who attempted to escape the inferno were gunned down and as a result, the village has been forever reduced to only three compounds.
The current Jaali was not even the second settlement but rather just some few meters away was where they were settled until a disaster ravaged the village and were advised by their marabouts to relocate. “Jaali has moved twice, one after the Musa Mulloh debacle and later because a serious inferno engulfed the village which was caused by a lady called Luwang Sanneh who came from Jattaba and married in Jaali and as a result, they called it Luwang Dimba, (Luwang’s Fire),” Karang Sambou Lamin added.
Musa Molloh, though dead and his brutal invasion of Jaali may have taken place more than a hundred years ago, its loss to the village is still fresh in the memory. Sources said this led to the Samatehs and Drammehs in Sankulay Kunda, Yerro Beri Kunda, Keseri Kunda, (the birth place of Musa Mulloh) and Salikeni and Camara in Fulladu. On the positive side, though, most of these people are beginning to trace their roots and a large number of them now visit Jaali especially during its annual Gamoo held every first Saturday of April.