Posted - 25 Apr 2018 : 08:00:26
| MANDINKA IS NOT A TRIBE AND BEFORE 1864, THERE WERE NO MANDINKA SPEAKING PEOPLE IN GAMBIA RETORTED JAMMEH – MY RESPONSE
By Dembo Fatty
Sometimes in life, it is only when we are put to a test that we discover things about ourselves and our abilities that hitherto, we would doubt as pure madness. Necessity is truly the mother of invention. The Mandinka aptly have an equivalent proverb: NING TONGHO MANG DETTEH, NYAA BOOKA YELLEH. (sometimes, it is only when the neck is squeezed hard, that the eyes will open wide).
Seriously, I am now a disciple of the saying that “Every cloud has a silver lining”. You just need to look deeper. Every adversity avails you an opportunity and only when you start to see the glass half full can you begin to take advantage. Truly, success is achieved by those who create an opportunity out of an adversity than those who take advantage of an opportunity. The two are very different. Creators are the thinkers, the critical mass that stay on point whilst those who take advantage of an opportunity are at the mercy of circumstance. Both are better than those who sit on their laurels hoping that the heavens will open up for them and without effort, bask in its bounties.
It is heartening to know that the Mandinka language NKO, is now being taught in Gambia and people are signing up for classes. This modest feat, is a sign of hope that a people are on the move. This KNO script was developed in 1949, and is well advanced in places like Guinea Conakry. It is my hope that it will blossom in Gambia.
I would like Jammeh to know that thanks to him, that this is now happening and I have been able to write my name using the NKO script as thus:
When I started the series, I had mixed feelings. I doubted myself and I have to admit, when I first posted, I was scared to read the comments not knowing how it will go. I was afraid to offend anyone while at the same time, as a Mandinka young lad at the “Jujuwo” (initiation camp); I was taught to defend my family, my reputation and community. Only then could I live up to the ideal of being a man and as a role model to those below in rank. I hope my “KINTANGS” (initiation camp Drill Sergeants) are proud of me, some of whom have long departed this life.
Anything that has a beginning must have an end except in matters of the Divine. And it so follows that this series which started in June 2017, is winding up today with mixed feelings.
I met many new friends on this journey as we all travelled back in time searching for the Mandinka people, who were reported to have not existed. We all donned our detective hats and hearts and treated these statements as crime scenes piecing together all the available clues and leads in trying to establish that my people, the Mandinka have been here.
In the process, I learnt new things and humbled by many great intellectuals that contributed to the debate. No wonder they say that a problem shared is half solved. Sometimes, the discourse controversial, but for the most part civil beyond what I was expecting would be the reaction of readers. An unfriendly reaction was something I was expecting because history can sometimes be unkind to some people and for those people, a natural tendency to fight back or try to refute an irrefutable fact, can slide the discourse to the doldrums of intellectual dishonesty which I have resisted and tried always to bring the series on focus and on point.
While we all are entitled to selective memory as I noticed some tried to, to avoid the issue at hand, I had to make sure that I do not give them the opportunity to be entitled to selective truth. A bird perched on an anthill is still on the ground.
But sometimes, the writer can set the stage for antagonism or a constructive discourse depending on how he or she comports himself. The secret is to deflect anything that may appear to be a discourse tilting towards personalities. I had for the most part made it an intellectual debate on the issue at hand and not a referendum on my person and armed with solid reference both oral and written, it helps to be as focused as a bullet in flight.
The series has helped me in many ways. Here are some of the things I learnt myself and for which I must thank Jammeh for, because had he not taken the stance he took, perhaps this series, my people’s story, would not have been told as it has been these past 11 months. As bad as the sufferings of my people during the 22 years, it has produced an unintended outcome that Jammeh never expected. It galvanized a people and pricked their conscience into unison to carve a way for their existence. It is only when it is darkest, that stars shine better and only when the mountain is rough can we climb it.
On a personal level, the series availed me an opportunity to dig deeper into my own family roots some of which I knew but faintly and the temptation to go further was catapulted by the series.
One aspect of my family history that I could not piece together was in which direction some of my family who lived in Kunting for almost 200 years migrated and to where. During my research, I later leant that some of them moved to Kerewan Dumbokoto from Kunting to join Foday Kaba in the propagation of Islam. Now I can claim a piece of the Soninke Marabout Wars and in fact a great grandson of Foday Kaba is my niece which I never knew before. Fatty kunda is still in Kerewan. I always knew my family had been in the business of Islamic education as late as 1185, when the first branch of my family migrated into our region, 50 years before Sundiata became Emperor of Mali.
This is one reason I believe, that Turamakang Trawally found the Mandinka here by 1240 and that the Mandinka did not come in his wake. The series has taken me on a whirlwind tour of our region in search of knowledge and I was able to trace my family way back to Suntu Foday Fatty, the last known patriarch of the family, a man, who I would later come to know, many other Gambians would also trace their lineage to. Beyond him was a cold case but all was not lost. I was able to discover the name of the first patriarch who migrated from Timbuktu in 1185. It is my wish, that all being well and God sparing my life, to undertake the journey to Timbuktu armed with his name, to the gates of Sankore, where his family were among the tutors at this great seat of learning and science.
Coincidentally, years ago while watching National Geographic, I learnt the last name of the custodians of the manuscripts at Sankore, which is the same name as this ancestor of faint memory. Even if I never find any texts about him, I can firmly and strongly rejoice that yes I am part of a history as great and as wide as our subregion.
And so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Foday Kaba in his campaigns to propagate Islam had some of my family at the forefront of the crusade. I would not have known that had I not taken up this series.
I have also learnt about Fatty Feeng, the man alluded to have crossed the river at Bamba Tenda without using a boat. The folklore is still alive. He was part of my family and buried in Wuli.
I hope to Chronicle his life as I dig into his biography. With his origins in Kusari Jabbi Kunda, these fatty and the fatty at Jamangto, are the same people and would later learn that when death struck the eldest in either settlement, it was customary that a replacement elder was loaned to the grieving family for some time in years gone by. Jamanto is the only known settlement I know of in our region to be named a Mosque a testament to a lonely Islamic settlement at a time when Islam was in its infancy in our region.
I would also learn that my uncles, the Camara, who have been kings in Niani by some accounts an uninterrupted line of 37 kings, actually crossed paths with fatty Feeng when one of my uncles, as a young man in the person of Kemintang Camara would be tasked by the King of Wuli to ascertain the circumstances of Fatty Feeng camping in the forest in his kingdom while apparently on a religious retreat. Kemintang I would learn is a nephew of the Singhateh of Wuli.
I would also learn the story of Jennung Tenda in Wassu to have been named after an uncle, who was the first king of Lower Niani, circumstance of which I have already mentioned in detail in the series or some other postings on my wall. Jenung and his other brother Huwang, who was also the first Camara king of Upper Niani, have ruled both Nianis for centuries not as appointed “Mansa” with certificate from the Colonial Governor, but through war and bravery to carve a kingdom surviving between them 37 kings.
The last of the Camara king was Kemintang junior, whose bravery and mastery of the art of war, would earn him a song by the Wolof in his showdown with Lat Dior Ngonay of great fame. “Niani Bange Na”, a tune which simply means Niani has refused to bulge”, played on Radio Gambia and listened to by many a Gambian, attests to this great history.
I had all along known that an influential member of my family had been with Serigne Touba called Ebrima Fatty. I searched for him and finally was able to get a video by one of the descendants of Serigne Touba alluding to this Ebrima Fatty. My next task is to visit Touba and dig into his life because, I knew before all the fame that is in Touba today, family visits between the Mbacke and the Fatty was frequent. Fame sometimes can change relationships but that is a lead I intend to follow through. It will be an uphill battle given my meagre resources and actually no clout to bring to bear but when armed with truth and social media easily accessible, we intend to chip away this myth of Ibra Faal and Ebrima Fatty.
This year, I intend to take it up with the visiting Bai Faals, why they are still visiting. On my last visit, I missed the opportunity but I guess I am more armed with facts now than before.
I have leant so much about myself and the history of Gambia that I cannot summarize here. Sometimes, I was happy, sometimes sad but above-all, enjoyed the thrills of being a history detective as I uncovered fascinating things not only about me but The Gambia.
I have been able to proof beyond reasonable doubt the existence of the Mandinka way back into history. My families on both sides have been at center of history in that land called Gambia and I refuse to be called a foreigner.
And so when I was trying to make a decision about which signature tune I should use for the last chapter, I toiled between Ala la Ke by lalo Kebba about a prince in Tambasangsang who was cheated out of his kingship by a younger brother but ultimately prevailed in the end much like the events of January 2017 and “ Niani” by Fanta Damba. In the end, I chose Niani for obvious reasons.
Firstly, Niani is the imperial capital of the Mali Empire from where the Mandinka called the shots across the vast expanse of the Empire and therefore symbolic to use that history to reinforce not only the existence of the Mandinka people, but also show case the glories of generations gone by.
Secondly, Niani is the district I was born in. I refuse to call it Sami because Sami is nothing but a carved out region from Upper Niani. Like the Mandinka say, “Jiyo labang dula, jung koto” and I so it will not be out of place to choose Niani. That is the place that made me who I am. That’s where I grew up, learned to walk before any region ever heard of me but also leant our famous saying:
FENG SOTO TEH NIANI, BARI, FANG SOTO BEH NIANI”.
It is a statement said only when one is pushed to the wall in Niani. It means that you may never be rich in Niani, but you sure have your freedoms in Niani giving credence to the fighting spirit of its people in self-determination and not bulging to any pressure.
Niani was never conquered by any of the traditional states. They stood firm against even the colonialists and the British suffered badly at the hands of Kemintang and to their disgrace hurriedly left their canon which Kemintang proudly mounted at his fort at Ndungusine. Diplomacy and not war, was what would let Kemintang return their weapons to them through a local pastor in Banjul.
And so if our history had not been interrupted by colonialism, I probably would have been dining at either the Fortress at Kattaba or Ndungusine or at best, would have been a Sheikh teaching Islamic Studies. Either is not bad at all but like the Mandinka people say:
NI MANG MOH LONG, EE KA KOMANDI HEYE LEH LAA
Does it matter, whether one can trace his lineage hundreds of years to Gambia or whether in ancient times, one could have come from royalty? If you ask me, my answer is no. None of these matter and we should glorify them only in history classes or in our private moments f we needed to improve on your self-esteem.
At the policy level, it would be a dangerous thing to peddle patronage. And so, I tried all along to finish the series today April 24, 2018, on the anniversary of the day we became a Republic in 1970. I was not born by then, but growing up and learning the little history of how we evolved, I realized that this date is probably the most important of all dates. The day we attained full independence and were able to choose our friends and with a Constitution in hand, Gambia joined the rest of the world as equal partners.
On this day, we committed ourselves to the principles and ideals of a free people providing legal instruments that protect the rights of the citizens. A constitution that defines citizenship based on set criteria, devoid of discrimination. That is why I wanted to finish the series to show case, that yes, it is good to establish historical facts, but those do not matter now. Those were for the ages. What matters is a Constitution before which, everyone is subservient and every statute bows down to.
I am not worried when you arrived or in what year you were born or what connections you have or what ethnic group you identify with. All that matters to me is that once you meet the requirements for citizenship, you should be accorded full privileges that it comes along with. It would be dangerous for us to peddle with the idea of second class citizens that the last 22 years was attempting to create. A people living under the radar of guilt and ridicule must never be allowed again.
And so as we celebrate Republican Day, I pray peace continue to prevail and we learn to find common ground and move beyond the hatred we peddled. After all, we all bleed red and all have a stake in a vibrant Gambia.
May the ideals for which we fought for a Republican system of Government never perish. May those ideals blossom in a Gambia where, despite our diversity, we can all see the forest and not the trees. Otherwise, those ideals will be nothing but shadowy dreams.
Long live the Republic of the Gambia.
Fanta Damba - Niani
One of the best vocal performance by the great Fanta Damba N°2.
A clear conscience fears no accusation - proverb from Sierra Leone