About The Gambia
Commonly known as Gambia, officially the Republic of The Gambia, refered to as The Gambia, to differentiate it from Zambia.This a country in Western Africa. The smallest country on the African continental mainland, it is surrounded by Senegal, on 3 sides except for its small coast on the Atlantic ocean in the west. The River Gambia flows through the centre of the country and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. On 18th feb 1965 The Gambia became independent from the British Empire. Banjul is its capital.
The Gambia is a predominantly Muslim country [about 85%] and that is one of the reasons why it is disrespectful to dress immodestly away from the beach, swimming pools or tourist centres. Women are encouaged to cover their shoulders, which may help prevent getting sun burn too. Longish skirts, sarongs and trousers are best, if you want local people to give you the most respect. However, you are a tourist and local people are used to seeing some pretty outrageously skimpy attire on tourists, so you can get away with shorts, as long as they are not too short; an inch or two above the knee is good.
Men should never go on the street without a top, a tee shirt, even sleeveless is OK, but you should not expose your chest away from the beach or your home, in this case the guest house. Locals will be much more informal about dress 'at home'. You will encounter local men and women topless 'at home', but never on the street. Men are also encouraged to not wear short shorts, as for women, shorts to the knee are ok, but otherwise people think you are walking about in your underwear. This is OK to do 'at home', but not in the street.
One does not consume food in the street, even 'take away'. Unlike the west, it is unseemly to walk home eating your fish and chips! There are places where you can buy 'street food'. Notice if the locals are eating in the open or not and follow their example.
There are many other customs to become aquainted with and Haruna will advise you about all.
The population of The Gambia presently over 1.5 million people belonging to eight *ethnic groups, as well as fairly large communities from neighbouring West African countries. It is an open and friendly society. Hospitality here is second to none. The various tribes live harmoniously in communities, freely exercising their religious and cultural traditions. There is some inter-marriage between tribes and faiths. Gambians are recognised all over the world for their spontaneous warm smile, their peace-loving nature and their hospitality.
The vast majority of Gambia's population is Muslim, [85%] although many will also retain traditional beliefs. It's quite usual to see Gambians wearing a small leather pouch around their neck, arm or wrist; called ju ju. These amulets are thought to ward off evil or bring good luck, some people have a draw full of them at home. They believe they can 'turn a knife', make one invisible, etc., etc.. Muslim marabout [ 'holy men' ] have adapted the older ju ju system and incorporate a small verse from the Quran inside the amulets they produce.
Every day greetings are of great importance. Wolof and Mandinka people, greeting one another ritualistically easily spend half a minute or more over it. Always starting with the traditional Islamic greetings Asalaamu Aleikum and Aleikum salaam ('Peace be with you,' 'And peace be with you.') it is followed by several questions about each other's family, home life, village, health etc. The answers, which are almost always that things are fine, are often followed with Al hamdul' lillah ('Thanks be to God.').
In the larger cities, traditional greetings sometimes give way to shorter versions in French or English, but they're never forgotten. If you learn a few stock greetings in the local lingo, you're bound to be a big hit with the locals.
To help you understand the people and their culture here is a file of West African proverbs.
*The four main ethnic groups native to The Gambia: Mandinka, Fula, Wolof and Jola. They each have their own language and customs, including musical instrument, songs, rhythms and dances.
Here's a file of Wollof Language
The Gambia has 90% unemployment, and a growing tourist trade. As in any third world country, this can lead to some young men trying to make a living by trying to befriend tourists. This is a bit of a problem in the area where all the hotels are. However, we are miles from there and been here long enough to have sorted the 'wheat from the chaff'. All the layabouts, chancers and general hangers-on have been weeded out and are politely kept at a distance. The people that will be around you on a daily basis are not tourist chasers, they are all good, trustworthy folks; traditional Africans. It is the real people that make The Gambia such a wonderful place. Mind you the climate is excellent too!
Originally from Senegal, Haruna is a mine of information about tribal ways and local languages. Haruna is a Fula and speaks Fula, Wollof, Mandinka, English and French, plus some German and Scandanavian. He's our your host / caretaker, living on site, since we first built on our land here. He is also a wonderful woodcarver.
This photo of him is reproduced much larger in our brochure PDF and is the best one to take with you to the airport to help you recognize him.
Haruna will meet you at the airport. From then on his first duty is to look after you. He can accompany you on trips to other areas and over the border to Senegal, if you wish. He's available for anything you may need and can introduce you to many locals. He is an excellent woodcarver, so see him for any face masks, statues or necklaces etc., that you may want as souvenirs.
A very important lady as she will be making your food. Maybe providing cookery lessons and introducing you to her family at their homes.
She is very friendly, relaxed and experienced at looking after our guests for many years now. Marie is much older now and has a small brother called Pa.
Here is a photo of the two main people together.
Our other main man is Modou Jammeh. He is a highly respected man locally. He is often asked to mediate in neighbour disputes and people trust him to be fair and just. He is a very upright and correct person, but is also very friendly and much more approachable than it may seem. People have asked him to become a councillor, but he will not deal with the 'dirtiness' of politics.
Here is the only photo we have of him so far.
He looks after our building projects and general house maintenance, he is our landowner after all. On the artistic side he makes wonderful batiks. He lives 20 minutes walk away with his wife and children and extended family. He often pops in to see our guests of an evening, might play cards with you and he's the scrabble champion! He is the man you need to talk to about money and what and how to give in charity, because he is highly regarded and trusted by all. He is usually at the guest house to greet you on your arrival. He's looking after the place as Haruna brings you from the airport. However he's usually out at work all day, most days, so you don't get to see much of him.
He's a bit humble and retiring and maybe a bit shy? Possibly why we have only this one photo of him. Many guests hardly notice him, but he is busy looking after them in the background.
Now we have a nice pic of Modou thanks to Ali Pye who took these shots in December 2008.