Gambia-History

Focus: The tiny bit of Ghana inside Gambia

APA-Banjul (The Gambia)

The year was 1957 and a group of Ghanaians numbering 36 set sail from Akunfi Imuna village in the country’s central region and travelled 1,676 kilometers west by sea to the then British colony of The Gambia.

Among them was a little girl, Essi Achefoe, who left with her uncle to join his father who had settled in a fishing area near Brufut, some 25km south of Banjul, the Gambian capital months before.

A small band of Ghana fishermen had also settled in the coastal town of Bakau, 11km southwest of Banjul. 

Sitting on a wooden stool and leaning over a low table filled with kneaded balls of flour to be baked into pancakes, 73-year old Achefoe recounts that journey of a lifetime from Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana to a place in Gambia which would eventually be christened Ghana Town. 

“I was just a little girl and my concerns were all about our family profession which is fishing. We are maritime nomads if you like…moving from place to place for better catches” she explains.

She tells the African Press Agency that 62 years is more than a lifetime and now she cannot ignore an inescapable fact that comes with moving from her native Ghana to The Gambia, a country which was still under British colonial bondage. 

1957 was a watershed period for Ghana, being the year that country attained independence from Britain.

“Now, I see myself as Gambian, all my children were born here, they don’t know Ghana even though they frequently visit relatives there” she adds with a tinge of resignation in her voice. 

“That 1957 was a journey of no return, although I have visited Ghana many times over since then, my real home and that of all the people living in Ghana Town is The Gambia” she points out matter-of-factly.

Essi says while sailing on their boats, they had made a three-month stopover in Dakar, Senegal before proceeding by sea to Gambian territory, eventually settling in an area near the shore around Brufut.

At the time of their arrival, Kutubo Sanno was the village head called Alkalo in The Gambia.

Sanno had allowed them space to settle down and engage in fishing activities unhindered. 

“However, it was Kutubo Sanno’s younger brother and successor, Kalifa Sanno who gave us land on which to build our settlement now called Ghana Town” she explains.

Although the elders of Brufut were not opposed to the sight of Ghanaians living nearby, as practicing Muslims they were bound to be concerned about the drunkards in their midst and how they were going to impact their local community with such a tendency. 

Thus the idea of relocating them somewhere suitable for their cultural and religious way of life was bandied about and Ghana Town was born in 1958.

This was considered expedient by the villagers given that the Ghanaians were a fishing community constantly on the move in search of better fishing opportunities around the West African coastline.

The area which was a small clearing in the forested outskirts of Brufut village was chosen thanks to its proximity to the sea and it quickly turned into a fishing site for the Ghanaian settlers who were mainly a fishing community.

“All the 36 Ghanaian citizens who first settled in Ghana Town came from different families but hailed from the same place Akunfi Imuna village in Ghana where fishing is the main preoccupation” she explains. 

It was a small cluster of thatched mud huts, typical of the basic life in any African village. 

Today, the coastal settlement of Ghana Town with a population of approximately 4,000 inhabitants, can boast of cement block homes, eight churches for its mainly Christian community (70 percent), a mosque and a thriving market dealing in smoked fish among other commodities. 

The inhabitants still retain many things from their original home country, Ghana including language, mainly Twi, cultural rites, food, fashion and religion.

Retired Ghanaian leader Jerry John Rawlings visited Ghana Town during an official trip to The Gambia in the 1990s.

“Religious tolerance exists between Christians and other faiths. We live here side by side in peace and harmony” says Musa Joof, a Gambian Muslim who settled in this little slice of Ghana in The Gambia back in 1986. 

Although Ghana Town exists for fishing, some members of the community also engage in trading activities such as the making and selling of pounded cassava (gari) and petty trading in the form of corner shops and vending. 

Thirty-something year old Patrick S. Amoah who sees himself as a second generation repository of the town’s history thanks to his grandfather Samuel Amoah says the matriarch and his peers settled in Ghana Town in 1961 and wasted no time in blooding into host communities, participating in Gambia’s pre-independence political activities such as helping the Brufut Alkalo mobilize youths and villagers at the behest of the colonial administration.

 

However, if the refrains from an anonymous young woman of Ghanaian descent are anything to go by, Ghana Town residents are not fully accepted nationally. 

“We are still treated as second class citizens, marginalized when it comes to job acquisition even though we were born here, attended school here, and practically grew up in The Gambia and do not even know anything about Ghana and the origins of our grandparents” she adds, sadness playing on her face. 

“I was denied an Immigration Department job because those doing the interview think am a foreigner” she laments. 

She says it is even worse when even though they know nowhere else but The Gambia, they are always harassed by Gambian Immigration officers.

Most of the first generation settlers of Ghana Town are no longer alive, but the town they bequeathed their offspring is showing no sign of slowing down in its march to realizing the promise which brought their forebears from Ghana.


DB/as/APA

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