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

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Some years ago, the settlement called Babylon in Kombo North made headlines in what appeared to be land dispute between the people of this town and their neighbours with some arguing that the settlement of Babylon was new and therefore lacks legitimacy.

Perhaps the name Babylon may be the reason as it sounds foreign and because many of us Gambians came to associate Babylon with the Rastafarian movement, it tended to connote a symbol of defiance and therefore not indigenous.  Who would name his settlement after a foreign land (Babylon is in Iraq)? Certainly, a Nyancho experimenting with hemp, who was really ahead of his time, may easily name his settlement after Babylon (as a Fatty I have the latitude to state so!).

Traditional settlements tended to have indigenous names and so it was hastily concluded that Babylon must be encroaching on lands belonging to older settlements.

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Here is the problem.

Firstly, a name should not mean anything when making policy decisions especially in a case of this nature. Those who provided wrong information to policy-makers should apologise to the alkalo and his people.

It will surprise many reading this piece that the settlement called Babylon in Kombo north predates the country called The Gambia as currently defined. If Babylon is older than The Gambia as defined, how come the people of Babylon are considered recent settlers? Makumbaya was not in existence in 1903.

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In the trial, Lamin Jarju claimed that Babylon had always belonged to the Jarju family but in 1903, evidence shows that it had an alkalo who was Manneh and not Jarju.  Despite, evidence shows that Babilon existed as a settlement even if we may not agree on who the founder is.

See: https://foroyaa.net/babylon-alkalo-2-others-convicted…/

In 1903, when the British and French finally negotiated our boundary and a census was undertaken, we find on the list of settlements the town called Babilon with its alkalo by the name Saou Mani (Manneh).

This means that the settlement was recognised with its own local governance structures under a district chief and tribunal. These people had been paying their local taxes and it is sad that they were labelled as new settlers.

In the link above, four alkalolu of Lamin or ‘Lamoye Dula’; Kerewan, Makumbaya and Mandinari  gave a historical account of the area. The sad reality is that both Kerewan and Makumbaya are very recent settlements after the founding of Babylon. How can these two settlements be more legitimate than Babylon?

Secondly, Mandinari was founded by a religious leader named Moriba Ceesay who migrated from Pakau (modern day Casamance) and asked for a place from the King of Kombo who by then was a Bojang in Yundum. He was granted permission to settle subject to payment of royalty. It happened that the daughter of the Kombo King, Madiba Bojang, got sick and was taken to Moriba Ceesay for treatment and after a successful diagnosis, the king gave him his daughter in marriage and Moriba was no longer required to pay royalty on the land he lived on. (Assan Sarr Islam, Power, and Dependency in the Gambia River Basin, pp67).

After the king’s death, and precisely on 5 May 1821 (John Morgan Reminiscences of the Founding of a Christian Mission on the Gambia), a meeting was called by the king in Mandinari to find a solution to the problem of the missionaries in their town. The people of Mandinari argued that since they first settled on the land even though they were allocated the land by a previous king, and now that they were no longer required to pay royalty to the crown, then the new king of Kombo had no right to allocate their land to another person without being consulted and compensated. And of course they healed the previous king’s daughter.

Eventually, the king ruled that the missionaries would stay and threatened to behead anyone who went against his ruling and the rest was history.

Lamin or Lamoye Dula is on land that belonged to Busumbala if we believe the story that the Jattas who are nephews of the Bojangs, lit a fire and all the land from Brikama to Bakau which burnt down as a result, belonged to them and the Bojangs concentrated on the area from Brikama to Gunjur.

Lamoye Dula was a listening outpost for news from Bathurst and later developed into a settlement according to accounts from the people of Busumbala particularly the Jatta and not that a nephew of Tumani Bojang was asked to station there in anticipation of attacks from the marabouts during the Soninke-Marabout Wars giving the name: Ngang Laa Minto (Where I spent the night). Laa Minto according to the claim by the Bojang clan gave rise to the name Lamin. This account by some Bojang family historians throws more spanners in the works for many reasons:

1.         It assumed that the place had no name and in fact it was not a settlement. “Laa” means “to spend the night” and because the nephew of the king spent the night there, it had to be a settlement.

2.         Why would Tumani Bojang ask his nephew to spend the night there as a lookout scout for the marabouts of Gunjur because Lamin was not in the path to Yundum from Gunjur. That decision would militarily not achieve the objective of a lookout post. Therefore, the version of the Jatta appears to me to be more plausible although both versions gave the humble beginnings of the town of Lamin as a lookout or listening post.

Tumani Bojang eventually would surrender to the marabouts in 1875 in Lamin, 300 yards from the boundary between Kombo and Kombo Tubab Banko which today is the area by the bridge near the Abuko Nature Reserve marking the beginning of the end of the Soninke-Marabout War with Kombo Sillah as the de facto king or ruler of Kombo.

And so the claim that there is no record of Babylon as a settlement at the Local Government Ministry is not adequate. I have evidence that Babylon existed at least 118 years ago and is listed among the only 13 settlements in Kombo North when our border with Senegal was finalised. Unfortunately, Kerewan and Makumbaya were not listed.

Babylon not recognized because it is not on the gazette?


The claim that Babylon was not recognised because it was not on the gazette is untenable. The settlement was on the 1903 Gazette.  Perhaps Babilon or Babylon may mean something locally or that there was an event in the area which may be responsible for the name.

However, the generally accepted account as to how the settlement became simply Babylon, can be found to be related to an elderly Fulbé man named Bilo Bah who lived there and who was a shepherd. And so when the people went visiting, they would say in Mandinka “Mbitaa Baa Bilo ya” meaning: “I am going to visit Baa Bilo”. Out of respect for the old man, he was not to be called his first name Bilo but Baa Bilo; the latter meaning “Father Bilo”. This word Baa combined with his real name Bilo easily developed to Babilo and a spiral slide occurred adding the letter “n” at the end of Babilo to become Babilon a name that even the colonial government recognised.

If the recent argument is that Babylon was never a settlement, I would be happy if those advancing that thesis can help me understand why in 1903 the settlement had an alkalo named Saou Mani or Manneh? Where were the Bah family? Why was Babilon listed in the census published in 1903? Just because the governor’s office does not have a record of the settlement called Babylon, should not make the allegation that Babylon did not exist as a settlement legitimate. We know how terrible record keeping had been prior to the formation of the National Records Services and many closed files ended up with vendors in the streets for wrapping food.

The lesson for us as policy-makers is that we must base our judgments on ironclad evidence through research especially in matters dealing with history.

Those who think history is not important, think again.  A good understanding of history is a starting point to good local governance and stability. Perhaps all governors should have an intermediate competence in Gambian history and some grasp of the law.

With many land disputes between settlements, some historical accounts advanced by opposing sides are not supported by history but they are very clever in packaging their positions so well that one could easily fall for their tricks. In the end, they confuse policy-makers in arriving at decisions that further add flames to an already volatile situation. Certainly, Makumbaya and Kerewan cannot explain the history of Babylon as not being a settlement when these settlements did not even exist when Babylon was.

Babilon or Babylon is a legitimate settlement granted so, 118 years ago. It was among the only 13 settlements in Kombo North at the time our border was drawn. Long before many today we think have been around for centuries.

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