Appreciation/Dawda Faal, Gambian Historian

05/11/2011 19:10



Intellectual Giant

By Pa Samba Johm

Dawda Faal/Photo Credit - GamWriters

The news of Mr. Dawda Faal’s passing took me by surprise because I visited him at Muslim High School during my last Gambian visit in February of this year. I am greatly saddened by his passing and extend my condolences to his wife, children, family, friends and Muslim Senior Secondary School.

My relationship with Mr. Faal began in the 1991/92 academic year when he started teaching at Muslim High School. I was in Form Four and he was our class and History teacher. As the years progressed, I began to learn more about him and his intellectualism. Mr. Faal could be described as a silent, insatiable intellectual, master teacher and a man with a gentle soul who never liked the limelight. He was a history guru and his knowledge about the subject was immense beyond belief. To his students, he was many things: teacher, father, counselor, and friend.

Twenty years ago, our fates interlocked at Muslim High School when he transferred there as a History teacher. However, Mr. Faal’s intellectualism went beyond history because he was a widely-read individual and in the process, amassed an infinite amount of knowledge. His personal library was a collection of various subjects ranging from history, of course, economics, literature, geography, politics, sociology, psychology, developmental studies and the list goes on. He was an avid reader, well conversant with world affairs and, as a teacher, he brought this incredible amount of knowledge and experience to the classroom, and his students became better for it.

At Muslim High School: the author, standing, and his History teacher, D. Faal, sitting right behind him

Having gone through Ghana to obtain his Higher Teacher’s Certificate at the Advanced Teacher Training College and southern Africa for his Bachelor’s Degree (History and Sociology), at the National University of Lesotho, Mr. Faal also lived some of his experiences, making his knowledge all the more potent. As a teacher, he was very different in that he was not the notes-writing and I-know- it-all kind of a teacher. Instead, he engaged his students to the fullest - prodding and arousing the curiosity of their intellectual faculties and, those who followed him gained profitably. His teaching methods met some resistance from some of us simply because we were not used to it. Over time, he became our favorite teacher for many reasons, none of which was academic leniency and compromise. D. Faal (as he was commonly called) had a unique teaching style in High School, in that, his class sessions were filled with discussions and debates between himself and the students and among the students themselves. Such sessions gave us not only classroom confidence but helped us tremendously outside the classroom. Some of us became public speakers and youth community leaders. Personally, my relationship with him spanned beyond the classroom and Muslim High School. We became very good friends: mentor-apprentice sort of.

Calm and gentle as he was, D. Faal was a radical of unparallel magnitude: an ironic radical for that matter. Ironic, in the sense that his gentility would efface any grain of radicalism in him. Having dealt with him outside the realm of institutionalized academia, I had the unique privilege of knowing the various sides of his vast knowledge and experience as we engaged in countless discourses over the years. D. Faal was unwavering in his principles and was a very just and fair individual. He treated all his students with the same degree of respect. At times, he gave them more respect than they gave him back; yet he never rebuked anyone. At his angriest, his utmost reaction would be a chuckle, yes a chuckle! This is how peaceful a radical he was. He graded the work of his students according to the quality of their answers and he stood by the grades he awarded. At one point, I asked him why I kept having a low score on the Barra War (Anglo-Nuimi War as he titled it in his book). His response was, 'you have not given me enough points to have a high grade.' D. Faal was also an excellent WAEC examiner and he always loved a well-written paper.

The author, standing with book, and his fellow Muslim High School students

As an intellectual, he had a vast library with hundreds of books on various subject matters. His library was his sanctuary and rarely loaned the books away. The same library would become my sanctuary as well when he began allowing me to read them; at first in his home but would later allow me to take them home. He is perhaps singularly more responsible for my academic insatiability and curiosity. I personally owe him a great debt of gratitude for guiding me through and encouraging me to become an avid reader and history fanatic. He introduced me to prominent writers such as Karl Marx, Basil Davidson, Walter Rodney, Ralph Milliband, Adu Boahen, and Martin Klein. The two books he wrote in the 1990s: Peoples and Empires of Senegambia: Senegambia in History - AD 1000 - 1900 and A History of the Gambia, AD 1000 to 1965 were meant to help Gambian students and those interested in African history in general. Both books are masterpieces; and when he began writing “A History of the Gambia AD 1000 to 1965," I had asked him why, and he responded that he wanted to include the struggle for independence for the country and the Gambian nationalist Edward Francis Small’s role in molding the modern Gambia republic. He always lamented that Mr. Small had not been given his rightful place in Gambian history and he was going to change that. Beside his book, he gave us an assignment to research the 1929 General Strike organized by Mr. Small. This led me to do my own research on Mr. Small and out of which a paper emerged.

A cover of one of Mr. Faal's books. Photo Credit/GamWriters

Often, D. Faal would register his dismay about the lack of constant intellectual discourse in the country by calling The Gambia “an intellectual desert” and to address the issue in his own way, he would organize symposia, conferences and debates and invite other scholars. Most of the time, he would be one of the speakers and he also encouraged us to write in the newspapers to polish our writing skills - something an English language teacher would say and he was a remarkable poetry lover. Although a fierce critic of governments, he always gave due where necessary and he invited ministries to come and talk to us about their functional areas.

The Gambia in particular and Africa as a whole, have lost a great son and scholar in Mr. Dawda Faal. And those of us who knew him, have lost a superb teacher, adviser, friend, father and elder intellectual statesman, the likes of whom are rare. A beloved son and a great patriot, Mr. Faal’s main focus was the advancement of all Africans regardless of ethnicity, creed and socio-economic standing. He was a very successful teacher and always proud of his students, especially those who went to university and that, he has a lot of. Mr Faal’s Class of 1993 at Muslim High School has many undergraduate and post-graduate students among them. And I am certain that he had had many students before and after our class who graduated from university as well.

Rest in peace my friend,

Rest in peace, it is not the end,

Rest in peace, our prayers we send.


Pa Samba Johm is the Public Relations Officer of the Basse Association, Inc. He lives in Southfield, Michigan, USA.


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