In 2008 I spent a month in The Gambia, from volunteering in a school teaching English to teaching sport lessons at a comunnity centre and along with helping on a construction project building a new classroom, this was an unbelievable experience Although I spent more time being involved, building, talking, living and eating with the locals rather than putting my camera between us, here is a visual diary of my trip shot on film on my fathers wedding present, a 1979 Nikon.
The Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, surrounded by Senegal on every side with a small 50 mile coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. The narrow country whose borders mirror the meandering Gambia River more than makes up for its tiny size with an abundance of wildlife. Its namesake river is teeming with wildlife, including nearly 600 bird species, plus manatees, hippos, crocodiles and troops of wily colobus monkeys. The country is rich in culture and traditions, home to more than 7 languages plus many other indigenous vernaculars, English is the official language but full of many other tribes of people including the Wolof.
Along with diverse ecosystems, The Gambia has a varied and long history stretching back as far as Arab traders in the 9th and 10th centuries, during the tenth century, Muslim merchants and scholars established communities in several West African commercial centres. Both groups established trans-Saharan trade routes, leading to a large export trade in both slaves, gold and ivory, as well as imports of manufactured goods.
Europeans also figure prominently in Gambian history because the River Gambia is navigable deep into the continent, a geographic feature that made this area one of the most profitable sites for the slave trade from the 15th through the 17th centuries. (It also made it strategic to the halt of this trade once it was outlawed in the 19th century.) Some of this history was popularised in the Alex Haley book and TV series ‘Roots’ which was set in the Gambia.
As many as three million slaves may have been taken from this general region during the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is not known how many slaves were taken by intertribal wars or Muslim traders before the transatlantic slave trade began. Most of those taken were sold by other Africans to Europeans: some were prisoners of intertribal wars; some were victims sold because of unpaid debts; and many others were simply victims of kidnapping.
Despite its dark past The Gambia is known as ‘the smiling coast of Africa’ - and quite rightly, the greatest treasure of The Gambia are the warm-hearted Gambian people who more than live up to their homeland's moniker of the ‘the smiling coast of Africa’, some of the most welcoming and genuine people I have ever met, within minutes of meeting them we were always welcomed in for drinks and even dinner. The countries people along with it’s golden beaches backed by swaying palms, sprinkled with scenic lagoons, sleepy fishing villages and biologically rich coastal reserves made it hard to leave after spending a month living and working with the locals.