Tell me about your work in Gunjur, how it benefits the village of Gunjur and what your plans are regarding your proposed new project of starting a museum there.
Thank you David, my work is a birding guide, I have more than 10 years working with bird enthusiasts from all over the world showing them where to find their wish list of species, and I also discuss the importance of the area’s environmental preservation and demonstrate how we contribute to that preservation as part of the day’s activity.
You have in your spare time been working on another project, tell me about that.
I first began my plans for The Gunjur museum building for cultural heritage and environmental preservation, some years before I came to Footsteps as a birding guide. The idea is to create the communities first Cultural Heritage Museum for the benefit of researchers, students, tourists, locals and future generations.
Why is this so important to you Lamin, I remember when we first met and you seemed to me like a man who would have had more pressing things to spend his hard earned cash on?
David, our history is disappearing, our traditional languages are not written languages but spoken only, with no central record of historical events the culture of past generations is being lost, I won’t let that happen, our culture is too important. The history of the area known as Gunjur has been narrated by our forefathers and passed from one generation to the next.
This oral history tells us that the first people known to have settled in this area were Bianunkas surname Sanyang of the Biyaro tribe. They settled near a small lagoon close to the Atlantic Ocean called Bolong Fenyo which is now protected by the community as a wild life reserve. The lagoon was believed to be an object of worship and it said that they used to sacrifice a man to the lagoon every year. The Sanyangs still have extensive land holdings in the area of the original settlement.
The second clan which settled this huge territory, but a different location were the Darboe’s. This clan was believed to be more powerful than the Biyaro neighborhood, and were settled somewhere around what is known today as Senga forest. They used to worship idols at a place close to their dwelling place known as Sebindinto, the practice which is still done by the Darboe’s today. They believe that if you ask the idols for anything your request will be answered and now on special day’s people come from all over Gambia to join them in their worship. As said earlier, because of their power, they hold authority over the extensive land, and called their settlement Amesang, named after the head of their clan who led them to this place.
The third clan to arrive was the Touray’s and Sahos led by a man known as Ma Tora Toray (Sheik Ousman Touray). History tells us that this Islamic saint dreamt of a place of blessings where he would settle, where his progeny and followers would prosper and multiply. He set off from his birthplace in Mali with his family and many followers searching for the place. When he finally arrived near the Darboe’s village of ameseng he saw things he had seen in his visions. Ma Tora Touray met with the Darboe’s who granted him permission to settle. He named his new settlent Gunjur after his native village in Mali.
The Touray’s practiced their Islamic faith and soon the recitation of the Quran began to attract the Darboe’s children who were not believers of Islam. Gradually, even their elders grew interested and later converted to Islam by Ma Tora. Eventually, the Darboe’s joined Ma Tora living in Gunjur because their interest in Islam and inter marriage started, the village became one of the three biggest villages in The Gambia which is why it became the district headquarters of Kombo South. In this way, the new settlement of Gunjur grew and became the dominant settlement in the area. The Darboe’s were made the village heads of Gunjur. They in turn accepted the Touray’s as imams due to their knowledge of the Quran. Later the Jannehs arrived at the invitation of the Sahos. As the Sahos were charged with the apportioning of things belonging to or affecting the village, the Jannehs had to help their hosts with this responsibility. Up to this day, the Jannehs still have this role in the community. The next important clans to arrive were the jattas . All the other clans came much later.
So why Gunjur?
The cultural village of Gunjur is located on the west coast of The Gambia, thirty kilometers away from the capital city, Banjul. The village now holds a varied population of Mandinkia, Fula, Wolof, Jola, Karoninka, Manjago,Balanta, and other tribes. The Mandinka were the first to settle and the largest tribe followed by the Jola. Due to the introduction of Islam in the 17th century, Gunjur is still a predominantly a Muslim community with some Christian and animists . Gunjur is one of the oldest and biggest villages in the Gambia, rich in culture and history. But since the beginning of this significant village, there is no proper historical record keeping of the village, no base line data, or museum so its people can learn of their heritage.
There were many wars waged before and after the Gambia was colonized by the British and yet none of the weapons or artifacts were kept for historical references with regard to Gunjur. Example Ebrima Kombo Sillah was a native of Gunjur and a Jihadist ( holy wars) warrior who waged various battles all around Kombo areas in the 18th century to establish Islam in the region he fought with Brikama, Busumbala but was defeated by the British colonials who asked him to stop the war against non believers., he ran to Senegal where he finally died and his tomb and is visited by the Touray family every year, but none of his materials were kept at in a certain place or museum whereby everyone can have access to them . He was a very significant man in Gambian history, he even has a street named after him (Kombo Sillah Drive) and a local historical syllabus was included in primary school on Ebrima kombo Sillah and others…
The world is modernizing and changing every day, many things are changing especially among the youth. The Gambia is no exception. We feel it necessary to preserve our cultural heritage and history for the benefit of our young ones. A step toward this preservation would be a village museum where historical information and materials could be amassed and preserved in one place. Since Gunjur is located along the coastline, it has a comfortable climate and relatively unspoilt landscape; it attracts people from the interior as well as Europeans. This has resulted in lodges along the coast which attracts tourist. The coming of tourists has led to exposure of local youth to foreign ideas and lifestyles. There needs to be a counter balance, a cultural museum can perform this function.
The cultural heritage of Gunjur did not develop in a vacuum. It arose in close conjunction with the natural environment and our museum will reflect that by featuring exhibits on the ecology found in the area. This will help educate visitors and locals alike about the importance of keeping our biological heritage.
That was detailed and very interesting Lamin, tell me, do you have a project development plan of how much money is needed in order to achieve your dream.
Yes, the cost to see the realization of The Gunjur Museum Building is now left with 150,000 dalasi.
It’s getting close then, let me tell you Lamin that through some very generous donations by Rolf Soerby, Sverre and Aase Marie Leksboe from Norway who recently sent 15,000 Norwegian kroner with Linda Veraasdal from Ethical Travel Portal which at an exchange rate of 6/1 takes you 90,000 dalasi closer to your dream. How does that make you feel?
I cannot put into words how happy I feel at this moment David, thank you so much, thank you and Linda and Sverre, Aase and Rolf, my wonderful friends from Norway, thank you Footsteps.
I can’t think of anyone who deserves to succeed more than you do Lamin, The very best of luck to you my friend…
While speaking with Lamin, I am sure he will succeed. Anyone wishing to help whilst visiting The Gambia please contact us!