Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Gambia ‘Roots’ and remnants of man’s inhumanity to man

That the  Gambia is fast becoming the most sought after destination in West Africa for various categories of holiday makers is undisputed.
Thousands of international visitors go to the Gambia each year, drawn by its beaches, birdlife, sunshine and its people.
JIMOH BABATUNDE, who was part of journalists  who went to the Gambia recently, reports on what has been pulling tourists to the country.

The Roots Experience

In 1738, the Gambia was said to have been relinquished to the British and, when slavery was abolished in 1807,  James Island became an integral part of the fight against  illegal slave trade.
Some three million slaves are believed to have been taken from the region during the slave trade period. Today, one of the most popular heritage products is the Gambia Roots Tour, inspired by Alex Haley’s book, ‘Roots’.
‘Roots’ sold nearly six  million copies. It won a 1977 Pulitzer Prize and a 1977 National Book Award. The 1977 mini-series was seen by an estimated 130 million people.
Many who have not been to the Gambia, but have seen the best selling novel and the drama of Alex Haley’s  ‘Roots’ will be fascinated about the trip to the village where Haley and other black Americans traced their roots.
In  the Gambia, the impact of ‘Roots’ was huge. It made the country, where hundreds of thousands of slaves were taken, the allegorical home of the estimated 12 million sold into slavery.
An annual ‘Roots’ festival was created and still runs each year. Kunta Kinte’s home town of Juffure turned into a commercial tourist attraction, as did nearby James Island and the village of Albreda.
We ( journalists) looked forward to the trip as we were debriefed that we will be travelling for two hours on a leisure boat cruise down the Gambia River. For those who have phobia for water, it was not the best thing to imagine – two hours on water.
Boarding the Pleasure Sport Boat run by Rachael Joyce, a Briton, and her team of Mai, Aisha and Ebraheem, among others, at the Banjul port, the two hours trip to the Island of Kunta Kinteh was fun all the way.
I spent better part of the trip in the kitchen with Mai and Aisha preparing lunch for the tourists on board. It was opportunity to learn about the local dish of the Gambians. I took time to teach them how to prepare the Nigeria ‘jollof  rice” and to explain why some of us take a lot of spicy foods.
Joyce came  in occasionally to the kitchen to chat with us and she ran down to ask me to catch a glimpse of Dolphins as we were getting close to the villages of Albreda and Juffurah where Kunta Kinteh hailed from.
Cruising The River Gambia, apart from sighting Dolphins, you can see some fishermen and women fishing with boat on the river and as well  tourists.
Getting to the village, we were immediately received by tour guides at the gates who explained to us the historical importance of the island.
One of the tour guides said, “Kunta Kinteh Island forms an exceptional testimony to the different facets and phases of the African-European encounter, from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The River Gambia was particularly important forming the first trade route to the inland of Africa.
“The site was already a contact point with Arabs and Phoenicians before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century. The region forms a cultural landscape, where the historic elements are retained in their cultural and natural context.”
From the gate we moved to the museum where we found out more about the history of the slave trading posts and a replica of an 18th-century slave ship. A children’s center has crafts that tourists can buy, helping the schools — and keeping kids from begging in the streets.
We later met Mariama Fofana, known in Juffure as an eighth-generation descendent of Kunta Kinte, under a covered portico; she sits in a plastic chair next to a cousin. She speaks not at all, just smiles as people shake her hand. She sells on the history of the family which many buy from her.
With kids waving to tourists as we moved about the villages, arriving back at the Cruise boat, a buffet lunch was ready for us to help ourselves while we cruised slowly to Fort James Island also known as the Kunta Kinte Island.
A colleague of ours refused to make the journey in small boat as we made our way to the Kunta Kinteh Island that sits in the middle of the Gambia River. Nobody lives here. Nobody sells anything.
The island reminds one of the notorious scenes of  man’s inhumanity to man, a reminder of history that no man will be proud of. Visitors wander the sad, sinister ruins on the shrinking island covered with naked baobab trees. The island is only one sixth as big as it used to be, as the river had washed away the evidence of major slave trading in West Africa.
After the tour, we began the journey to Banjul as we kept looking out for some pods of Dolphins playing along the boat.

Many will take to their heels seeing a baboon in the jungle or the baboon runs away from man, but that is not the case at the Makasutu culture forest where nature has blended well with environment for the  enjoyment of man.
This afternoon, baboons were seen playing around in the village undisturbed by the movement of tourists around. The most amazing thing was when a baboon sighted a man with a camera; it jumped on a chair posing for a shot. With the click of camera flashes, the baboon changes positions severally for different shots.
That is one of the pulls at Makasutu culture forest, widely regarded as one of the finest eco-parks in the Gambia with an abundance of wildlife including birds, fruit bats, baboons, birds and fish.
One of the tour guides at the village, Omoha Sanya, disclosed that the village, which sits on about a thousand hectares, has three parts- the cultural village; the Madinah lodge and the base camp.

- See more at: