10/11/2009 13:56

The Past Explained

Sometimes, in the silence of your own solitude, you find yourself lost in picturesque thoughts, in wonderland. Your mind is talking to itself. Imaginations are running aplenty. If you have a fondness for nostalgia, then you cruise down memory lane, reflecting on, say, childhood, its wonderful memories, its garden of variety and its sweet innocence. Or if history appeals to you, then you take a flight into the past and imagine what was really like living in the past, say, 100 or so years ago. Or more precisely, what was early life really like for the Gambian settlements when the first reported European explorer, the Venetian Alvise Ca' damasto, arrived in 1455? Or better yet, what effort and thinking went into erecting the Stones in Wassu? Who was Abou Khan, the famous hunter?

Curiosity is a great enabler of historical understanding. Much of our familiarity with history has come about, thanks greatly, to the inquisitiveness of historians and chroniclers, who dug deep into the recesses of time and memory to unlock the mysteries of the past so that we would be able to establish some relevance to or connection with, the lives and events preceding ours. This curiosity is an important element in the historian's information-gathering process. But come to think of it, we are all curiosity-driven even if it doesn't turn some of us into professional scribblers of society. Oftentimes, we are pondering about our immediate environments, and to a larger extent, the communities we call home. Questions linger all too often: How come I was born and raised in this community? Who founded this community? When was it founded? What attracted settlers to this place? Why is it heavily populated and the others, nearby, thinly inhabited?

Growing up in Basse, it was obvious, particularly to the historically-inclined, that the streams of history ran deep in the town and the entire Fulladu East region. When you walked into the Commissioner's (now Governor's) area in Mansajang, you felt a scent of the colonial past. The trappings of colonial rule were/are unavoidable: the bungalows, the rows of flowers, the picturesqueness of the trees and the conveniently-spaced offices and government quarters, the eerie silence of the area. You felt a certain touch of history, an urge for a sobering visualization of the times and events that took place there; what was it like for the residents visiting the colonial office, paying up their taxes and attending to other matters of community import; the interactions between the colonial officers and the natives in the office and in town.

During childhood in Basse, you had to wonder about certain things. Why the tall buildings along the Basse river? Or the ones behind the radio station, close to the GPMB? Or the numerous apartments dotted along the cross-section by the former Public Works Department on the way to Giroba Kunda? Buildings, that they were/are, but important by-products of history, nonetheless. Some of us had no idea what they represented or why they came into being in the first place. Documentary information was limited, if available at all; or it simply wasn't provided after all. Basse, and indeed Gambian, history has been undercut by the scarcity of information and the failure of the educational system to provide this very limited information to the general population.

Thus, if it will warrant some of us becoming amateur historians, explaining our past, reducing the broad strokes of history into frissons of information, and providing some context, even if limited, then it is worth the effort. The articles on Basse history as you may have already read here, should be seen in that light. They show some genuine passion for the enlightening capacities of history; and are geared towards informing us, with an eye towards accuracy, about the realities of our community's past. It is fitting to note that the three authors, Momodou Baldeh, Ebrima Kamara and Cherno Baba Jallow, are all descendants of Basse. They have provided us with a waterfront plenitude of perspectives and understandings on some important aspects of the Basse past. It is to be hoped that, after reading them all, you would have come away more informed and knowledgeable about your society.

From the Editors



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