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Published: February 19th 2018
Pier in Bakau
A ruined pier in Bakau
Kunta Kinte came from the Gambia
Over Christmas and New Year we went to Senegal and the Gambia. You are now reading the first blog entry from that trip and it is about the part of the trip we spent in the Gambia.
The Gambia is in West Africa and if you look at a map you'll notice that it is looking very funny. The country is very thin and elongated and sort of resembles a snake in shape. The Gambia is surrounded by Senegal on all sides except to the west where the country has a short coast. The country's snake-like shape is explained by that the country follows the Gambia River. The rest can be explained by Senegal's past as a French colony and the Gambia's past as a British colony.
We are not historians but one thing is obvious - very many bad things and came out of colonialism and very few good. One of the worst things that colonialism made possible was the slave trade, or as we would call it today - human trafficking, and that is were we are going to start our story.
Sunset in Albreda Village
Boats in evening light in Albreda
We began our trip in the Gambia by visiting the villages Albreda and Jufureh and James Island. These three places are within a few hundred meters away from each other and where all important in the slave trade. The people, let's not call them slaves because they were people, where brought there and loaded onto ships and taken to North America and the Caribbean. Jufureh village became famous in the 1970-ies when Alex Haley released his novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Later there was also made a TV-series based on the same story.
Alex Haley's novel is based on his research into his own family history. He managed to trace his ancestry back to Kunta Kinte, a young man who was kidnapped in the Gambia and brought to America against his will. Alex Haley claimed that Kunta Kinte was born in Jufureh, a claim which brought fame to the village. When Alex Haley died his research was scrutinised and it turned out that he faked bits and pieces. But we are not interested in defaming Alex Haley here. Even if some details were lies the parts that are true are so important that
A crab lives in sand. At low tide the crab clears his/her nest from sand and at the nest tide the next gets filled up again
it is easy to forgive the made up stuff.
Roots taught us the horrors of slavery, we learned of the terror that the human trafficking caused in Africa, it made us aware of the terrible conditions the men and women who were kidnapped in Africa had to endure on the voyage to the Americas and we could read about the inhuman situation slaves lived under before slavery was abolished in mid 19th century.
According to Alex Haley his ancestor Kunta Kinte was born in Jufureh. Historians have concluded that it is unlikely that Kunta Kinte was born there. It is quite likely that he was brought through Jufureh but he probably wasn't born there. For security reasons the slave traders preferred to kidnap people far from where they shipped them out.
James Island and Albreda are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. On James Island it is the old fort, today in ruins, which has made it into the list and in Albreda a former storage house and the ruins of a church were important enough to make UNESCO interested in them.
We visited two more places
in the Gambia. One was Banjul, the capital. We have visited many capital cities in the world but we have never seen one which looks so little like a nation's capital like Banjul does. Many streets were unpaved, there were goats walking around in the streets, it felt very small and it for the most part felt like a small provincial town forgotten by the rest of the world. We can give you two more examples that in some way validate our claim that Banjul does not resemble other capitals
1 Several countries have decided to have their embassies in other towns than in the Gambia's capital
2 there is not a single traffic light in entire Banjul.
We didn't stay in Banjul. We stayed in Bakau instead which is a town along the coast south of Banjul. It is best described as a tourist hub. We normally don't like places where there are too many tourists. But Bakau was pretty good. The majority of the tourists stayed in resorts and the rest of the town was still dominated by the tourist business but was charming enough for us to like it.
We began our trip in the Gambia by visiting the villages Albreda and Jufureh and James Island
Basically the only tourist site in Bakau is the Kachikally Museum and Crocodile Pool
. The museum is an ethnological cum history museum and the crocodile pool is exactly what name says - a pool with crocodiles. In the local tradition these kinds of pools, there are a few more of them in the Gambia, are sacred and people go there to pray because it is believed that the magical powers of the reptiles will enhance the power of the prayers.
Earlier we mentioned that most tourists in Bakau stay in resorts. Unfortunately many of the resorts have all inclusive packages and that makes the tourists hang in the resort and see very little else of the country. If they decide to go on a day tour they have to pay for the tour and they also have to pay for all the food they eat. The stay at the resort they have already paid for, including three meals of food each day, so they end up paying for the food twice when they go for sightseeing. It makes sense that tourists booked on all inclusive packages are reluctant to leave the resort. But it also means that they spend one or
These three places are within a few hundred meters away from each other and where all important in the slave trade.
even two weeks in the Gambia and see nothing of the country. We find that to be sad because even if the Gambia is not any favorite of ours the country deserves more than that.
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