Who Founded Basse?
Since this is a website for and about Basse, we thought it fitting to publish the debate on Basse history first carried by the Gainako newspaper in 2007. The edited versions have been reprinted here with the expressed permission of Gainako and the participants.
By Cherno Baba Jallow
Momodou Baldeh's response to my claim that Samba Sowe, a great grand-parent of mine, was (one) of the original founders of Basse, is a good read. Some of his revelations have given me a fresh perspective on the history of Basse and her early inhabitants.
Baldeh, gathering from his write-up, has probably never heard of Samba Sowe. It is regrettable that I can't remember the titles of the publications I gleaned Sowe's story from. I read these sources in the mid 1980s. And possibly around the same time, I attended a presentation on Basse's history organized at the Basse Community Center by the Gambia Public Library. Those were the days when the national library had its mobile services, spreading around the entire country. Sowe's story and his connection with the founding of Basse were narrated at this presentation.
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It's not my wish personalizing this debate, but in the interest of relevant disclosure, it is necessary to point out that my father, by virtue of his ancestral background, is a rightful claimant to the Basse Alkaloship. He has always declined the leadership role even after constant urgings of the Basse elders.
I agree with Baldeh that in the days of yore, our people didn't/couldn't record their history; word was simply passed down from one generation to another. Oral history, supplemented by a wafer-thin colonial compilation, has largely come to be relied upon to help us decipher the realities of the past. But because of the inherent fallibility of oral history, we risk being cheated on the accuracy and veracity of past happenings. Further, oral history has the tendency to deflect us into a multiplicity of claims. Is it any wonder why Baldeh's and my readings differ on the origins of the coinage of the Basse name?
Questions multiply. In our quest for the believable and the actual, where do we draw the line between oral and factual history? In talking about the founding of Basse, are we talking about the town or in a larger view, its satelitte areas of Mansajang Kunda, Manneh Kunda, Koba Kunda and Kabakama? Since history largely revolves around dates and events, when did these people arrive in these locations? Better yet, when did Hoggo Mansajang Baldeh arrive in Basse?
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My understanding of Basse history is that Mansajang Baldeh like the rest who crossed over from the north bank areas of Wuli and even from distant Senegal, was part of a wave of migratory individuals who chanced upon the current location of Basse. Some people arrive at the same time; others came later. It is also my understanding that Mansajang came later. But even if Mansajang were to be given the rights of the sole contender for the founding of Basse, the question becomes, did he discover the town of Basse or did he found it? Let's allow that he discovered it. But then discovery doesn't equate founding. Christopher Columbus "discovered" America but he didn't found it; founding in the sense of buidling a settlement, homes, domesticating the environment and attracting new settlers. Mansajang Kunda was founded by Hoggo Mansajang Baldeh because he settled there.
Baldeh writes: "Reportedly, Mansajang had started clearing a settlement around the same location, but the mat weaver (who incidentally was a soothsayer) advised him to go further south, 'away from the river, otherwise foreign people will one day come to settle down and eventually drown your family'. Whether he took the soothsayer's words seriously or he was prompted by other factors, Mansajang did build his village at its present location, about two miles from the river." Is Baldeh talking about the present location of Mansajang Kunda which is more than two miles away from the Basse river or is he talking about the "land located around the store of the late Ba Faal" which is approximately two miles from the river?
Even if Mansajang Baldeh owned some lands around the Basse Health Center or around the store of the late businessman Ba Faal, does that suffice his claims to the founding of Basse? Do the Baldehs of Mansajang Kunda have any right of claim to the Basse Alkaloship? I may be wrong, but I have never heard of it.
The founding of the town of Basse like many other Gambian villages and towns, is the subject of competing claims from a multitude of sources.The Jobe Kunda compound around the health center is said to be the first in Basse. And the late Edrissa Cham, and Kaw Yero Cham, the father and brother respectively, of the former minister M.C. Cham, were both Alkalos of Basse.
I was initially very reluctant to reply to Baldeh principally because in relying heavily on oral history, we run the risk of talking ourselves into inexactitude or even irrelevancy. Claims and counterclaims run rampant in our occasional discourse on the histories of towns and villages across The Gambia. Still, we must try with the scant information available, to undertand our respective histories, separating fact from fib, myth from reality.