Basse (Santo Su): Citadel of Mat Weaving

01/18/2012 04:35

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Today we will be taking a closer look at the tales behind the economic hub of the hinterland -Basse. Approximately 375 kilometers from Banjul and doubling as the administrative seat of the Upper River Region, the community is also  a final destination stop for most river cruises that come this far and the scenery is ideal for bird watching with its lush tree canopy along the river bank.

Basse (geographical coordinates at 13°18'35"N, 14°13'47"W) Village is the major trading centre for the upper reaches of the Gambia River and liveliest of the upriver towns.  It is a vibrant mix of linguistic diversity with languages such as Mandinka, English, Arabic, French, Wolof and Sere being spoken. There is a high degree of immigration from Casamance, Liberia and other West African countries.

Some of these people often enter The Gambia with very limited financial resources and engaging in subsistence activity such as domestic work, street trading and prostitution. Thursday is the community’s weekly market day when the streets are lined with shops and stalls. Several of the surrounding villages also hold a weekly 'lumo' (market), with traders and shoppers coming from all over The Gambia to take part. The most interesting sections of town are the water-front and the market. Outside these, there is also more, read on……

The foundation
We do no know when the community of Basse was born. However, corroborative narration from our sources suggests that the community came into being after the fall of the Kaabu kingdom. According to oral tradition Kabu was founded by Tira Makang a general of Sunjata, he moved West after Sunjatas victory over Sumanguru in the 13th. Century.

Kaabu was a confederation stretching from River Gambia to Rio Corubal in Guinea Bissau. It was under its last king Janke Waali based in Kansala that the rebellion led by Molo Egge supported by the Almamy of Timbo gathered momentum and ended Kaabus period of influence. This became the birth of Fuladu with its first king in Alpha Molo Egge around 1867-80s Thus far, it can be advanced that the community was established in the height of the reign of the Fulladu Empire.

Our exploration of the history of Basse attracted great attention to the meaning of the name of the community, which by extension has a significant bearing on its foundation. No doubt, the name Basse could uncover a lot about the foundation of the town. The question is what language is Basse, is it Fula, Mandingka or Serehulle. The Fula name Bassal means Basso in Mandingka and suspicions are that it is the same in Serrahulle.

What we can understand from that similarity is the existence of a long relationship between these languages. In addition, if different languages exist together a long time they do not only influence each other’s sentence -construction but also each other’s words and meanings. It is not uncommon that all three languages have the same name for the same thing. 

Secondly, if Basse is Bassal or Basso then it is unique in the naming system of towns and villages, for no other town or village name is constructed thus or with the same principle in the whole of Fuladu, both East and West. Some also use the suffix ‘Santu Su’ when referring to the community, which is a mandinga phrase meaning ‘The High Home’ or Home in the upland.

Sources however say the name of the community-Basse is derived from the Fula word ‘Bassal’ meaning mat or carpet (plural Basse-Mats). The community is said to acquire this name because during pre settlement, the land that today hosts the community used to be a site where indigenous craft men do gather to weave local mats and during the early contact with European invaders, the curious Whiteman asked the indigenous people what thir product, and the responded ‘Basse’ with in their local parlance means mat.

This name was then used by the Europeans to refer to the community. A slightly different narration say when the founder began clearing for the establishment of the settlement, he meet a mat weaver who doubles as a seer, who advised to move further inland to establish a settlement and name it after his mat.

Others also assume the name came into being because the founder had the culture of moving around with his mat. What ever account holds true, Basse in the Fula parlance means mats and it is the relationship between these mats or mat weavers and the community which generated the name.

The founding of the community of Basse, according to sources owes it credit to one Samba Sowe. He is said to have migrated from Futa in present day Senegal after the ruin of Kaabu in search of the treasures of life and farming was his trade. Sources however could not ascertain under whose authority was the land that today is known as Basse and how he (Samba Sowe) acquired this land he transformed   into human habitation. Not much is also known about his pre and post settlement engagements aside his farming activities. And by the time he (Sowe) passed onto the land of the silent fathers, Basse was already flourishing in commerce and agriculture.

Aborigines and expansion
As we earlier stated, the community of Basse was founded by Samba Sowe and family, who migrated from Futa in Senegal. Sources went on to assert that the Jobe had been part of the aborigines as they join the founders in the company of the new home during the early days of settlement. 

When the settlement began to take shape, people began moving from left right and center to keep the aborigines in the company of the new settlement. As years passed by, migration intensified and today constitutes four large ‘kabilos’ notable, Mansajang Kunda, Kabakama, Koba Kunda and Manneh Kunda, thus making the community one f the biggest in the region. 

The alkaloship
Unlike many traditional African communal settings, the community of Basse did not put emphasis on the traditional philosophy of lineage. Succession to the thrown of alikalo therefore is given to an elder who is deemed fit based on community consensus. Sources noted that during the last days of the founder, he handed over the alkaloship of the community to Jobe Kunda. Since then, the alkaloship of the community moves from one family to the other based on consensus of the council of elders of the community.

African traditional
It is obvious that no traditional African society exists with out a traditional ideology which revolves around believe in sprits, deities and the like. The community of Basse was also premised on such traditional African practices. Our sources pointed out places that were once major centers of rituals.

Singings, drumming and dances characterized the collective conduct of the people as they approach these rituals sites to pray to overcome their plight or in demand of a common good. These places were also said to be safe havens for both men and women and society collectively restore to them when in times of need. The community also operationalised the traditional philosophy of age grades; and wrestling was also a common art in the community.
Author: Gibairu Janneh;Observer


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