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Saturday, October 16, 2021

What is in a name and how it can influence public policy: Enter ‘Babylon’ and the CRR village of ‘Thirty Miles’

The only settlements in Kombo North in 1903

Today, Kombo North may be populous but in 1903, these were the only 13 settlements recorded in the region: Busumbala, Lamin, Mandinari, Babilon, Yundum, Brufut, Sukuta, Bereto, Bijilo, Daranka, Jambour, Tujereng and Tanje under Mr Kebba Cham the district chief based in Sukuta.

As managers, conflict resolution requires that we must listen to both sides in a conflict and not rush to judgement.  We must listen twice as much as we talk and make decisions based on facts however uncomfortable. That’s why God gave us two ears and one mouth.

It is my recommendation that alkaloship should be restored to Babilon. To which family I don’t know but I do know it was a settlement some 118 years ago. It may have been abandoned at some point in history which I have not been able to establish but since evidence points to its existence, this case should be reviewed again by the local government authorities in the light of new evidence.

Destination ‘Thirty Miles’

We will now switch our radar and focus on a small settlement in Central River Division in the neighbourhood of Kudang and specifically to the village of Thirty Miles.

If you frequently use the South bank road past Kudang, you cannot miss noticing the settlement called Thirty Miles. And like the settlement of Babylon in Kombo North, this Fulani settlement is similar to Babylon in Kombo North with regard to how it got its strange name.

A name is a pointer to one’s origin and affiliation. It is a social DNA that can help solve many questions about a place. Why it was given that name, who gave it that name, and where they came from and so forth? The name of a settlement can be used to track its humble beginnings and is very helpful in building a thesis regarding same.

The question is why is a Fulani settlement called Thirty Miles especially when the possible founder was not lettered in the English language? That is an important question we must find answers to because it is my fervent believe that a name should not be imposed on the people nor be left to guesswork especially when that name is to become an official record to be consumed by policymakers.

Was it a lost in translation or a deliberate attempt by the local government authorities in assigning a name without proper research? Or was it just down right laziness in not digging deeper into the history of the settlement?

My take is that it is the latter. The unwillingness to dig deeper and make informed decisions based on evidence supported by history. Overtime, this too will become an issue perhaps not in our lifetime but we are morally obligated to solve it now while the history is much fresher than leave it to our grandchildren to deal with it later. Babylon was not a very strategic settlement 118 years ago but today, its land value has gone up hence the fight.

If indeed the settlement was actually Thirty Miles, it therefore connotes a distance and it will be interesting to know the reference point. Thirty miles from where? I have not been able to locate a very important settlement that is thirty miles from this village. Soma is much further away and Jangjangbureh is certainly not a spitting distance from this small settlement. Perhaps it may be thirty miles from a location with an important historical antecedent but even in that case, why is the distance of thirty miles from such a location important?

Many many years ago according to some oral accounts, a wedding party at this village unfortunately lost three of its residents and died but the twist of the story will surprise you.

Growing up, I developed a keen interest in wedding arrangements not only because of the long period of time they take from start to finish but also the elaborate activities laced with drumming and colourful attires and above all, the attention that the bride gets from her kindred.

A standard Mandinka wedding celebration is seven days and on each day there is some symbolic ritual to observe. From Bunyarro (when the husband and family entertains the wife); Bulu neno (when the bride cooks and it was supposed to be a test of her culinary skills); Kuroh (when bride and bridesmaids officially wash clothes); Laling ndiro (when the bride stays awake the whole night and elders would give quick but important marriage lessons); Deberoh (when the bride’s hair will be plaited); and so on. The village during this week long event was always full of excitement.  Well of course the drumming and dancing meant that kids could be kids and no bedtime curfews.

In those days, before modern houses with master bathrooms, managing bowel movement was not a simple affair. Some dug pit latrines outside of the compound fence; some don’t have it all and use the nearby thickets but one thing common was that for the most part, it took place outside of the village boundary. In fact, in Mandinka societies it was called Banta loh emphasising its external characteristics.

It therefore makes sense that the bride’s bowel movement is also managed well during this seven day event. The African is very shy to talk about it or even to raise any attention to himself to suggest that he was using the toilet.  In fact, one was not supposed to talk when taking a bath or using the restroom.

And because of the constant attention given to the bride during this period,  she loses her privacy and even eating is done in some secluded part of the house where she eats alone but under the watchful eye of a trusted bridesmaid (Siling bato) and supervised by her aunt (or Mbinki, who is her father’s sister).

Our people had solutions to many of our challenges.  How they control the bride’s bowel movement escapes me but very few times would the bride answer to the call of nature perhaps through some potions administered or perhaps under the cover of darkness, she may slip through without drawing attention to herself.

A bride was not expected to fart because if she did, some bad omen was to befall the wedding party. In this particular wedding ceremony at this small location according to oral accounts, the bride was said to have lost control and it happened.  In consequence, three people died and hence Tati maayi in Fulani meaning “three died”. It was a bad Fulani translation or understanding that gave us Thirty Miles instead of Tati Maayi.

In another version, a fight broke out and three people died. Either way, the common theme of both accounts is that three people died in the area. The difference is how.

My question is, if either incident led to the name Tati Maayi, then the settlement ought to have had a prior name. That name is very important to establish which will be the genetic marker for the village. It may point to the founder and once more, help us rewrite the story of this village.

What name did the residents call it before the incident? That is an important research to undertake and officially remove Thirty Miles from our books.

Are birth certificates issued with the name Thirty Miles? How about voter’s cards, death certificates, census data and so forth? This is how we lose track of our history and a century down the line, the residents of Thirty Miles May be classified as foreigners and their alkaloship taken way including their lands as we saw in Babylon.

As managers, one lesson we can learn from this is that because we occupy unique positions in filtering information, our mantra should be to trust what we are fed by supervisors but we must also try to verify.

What information or advice are you giving to your CEO, your board and even the executive? Those who set up office along the corridors of power in any organisation must ensure that the information and advice they give are based on ironclad evidence otherwise, lives may be lost or a people will suffer for no fault of theirs.

We all saw how documents were doctored to change or influence policy in our not too distant past chronicled by witnesses during many TRRC sessions. Policy effectiveness starts from accurate data collection and information processing. Revisiting our past can help in that direction and I believe we have a unique opportunity to do just that.

I am also reminded of a village just next to mine today called Karantaba Dutokoto but which settlement was called Kerewan by its founder Lang Kularr Ceesay. How did we end up with the name Karantaba Dutokoto in our official records today when previously it was Kerewan?

Such change of names must be documented and approved by the Ministry of Local Government so that we keep a tab on the changes but also make research much easier. It will also not be out of place for the ministry to undertake a project to collate the history of all settlements in this country supervised by the history department of our university. It will help in solving many land disputes and inaccurate historical accounts currently being consumed by unsuspecting policy makers who take these accounts hook, line and sinker.

Until then, you are all wished a productive workweek in advance and please wash your hands, wear a mask and keep social distancing where possible.

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