One of Gambia’s leading historians, Dembo Fatty, has done an amazing research on the ancestry of country’s former president Yahya Jammeh that strongly suggested he may have descended from the rulers of Baddibou Illiasa.
Jammeh himself made these claims some years ago but it was denied by many Gambians who called it a ploy to attract support from one of the areas he was most unpopular.
But now a Gambian historian Fatty said based on the information he has, he rates Jammeh’s claims from “PROBABLE to POSSIBLE and would score his claim 70 out of 100”.
Below is the entire thesis:
PRESIDENT JAMMEH’S ANCESTRY CLAIM TO ILLIASA, BADDIBU MAY BE TRUE IF…..
You probably have watched years ago on TV Jammeh claiming his ancestry to be from Illiasa in Baddibu or at least heard from someone regarding same. Either way, a President did announce to a nation that historically, he had his roots in Illiasa at Jammeh Kunda. It generated both euphoria and apprehension from some quarters depending on how one interpreted the move. I will get to that later. Those who saw the claim as a potential of gaining something, welcomed the claim and facilitated this to a level where Jammeh decided to travel to Illiasa for what was dubbed a homecoming event and “ding kuliyo”.
Jammeh announced to the country that years ago, one of his ancestors who was in line for the kingship was denied the reign and in response, decided to go on self-exile in Foni. According to Jammeh, when his ancestor was supposed to be crowned, the people did not show up in the morning for the coronation rites; a betrayal of trust and adherence to traditional norms.
Unfortunately, Jammeh never gave us the name of this ancestor nor did I hear (unless you have heard), where in Foni this ancestor went to. Jammeh simply said that his ancestor decided to go into self-exile to Foni leaving it open to further investigation the circumstances of this palace coup, something he would perfect later in life, perhaps in revenge.
WHY A EUPHORIA
As stated above, there were people who welcomed the claim and saw an opportunity to tilt power in the area. Some saw it as perhaps an opportunity to once more bring back the chieftaincy to Illiasa. Certainly, a president who appointed Chiefs, and whose Illiasa fore bearers held chieftaincy positions in the past, would most likely restore this old glory back to the family. It may also open up further opportunities beyond the chieftaincy. Certainly, being identified with president Jammeh came with a political capital that was underwritten and held its value in every corner of Gambia and in any establishment.
And so, a President decided to visit his people and indulge in the pageantry and pomp of kingly past that Jammeh was dying to have. To be identified as having blue blood, and accepted into the fold was something Jammeh had long been looking for. He knew what such an approval could give. It would cement his claim and legitimacy to those who opposed his birth and his citizenship. Being identified with the Jammeh of Illiasa, is a seal of approval of citizenship of a noble family.
Another force was also brewing which perhaps was more powerful than those who looked forward to a family reunion. This group saw every threat to their privileges if power shifted to Illiasa and so they got to work to thwart this from happening. Am sure many of you reading this article knew that an advanced party had already been sent ahead of Jammeh’s visit and quite a number of cattle bought for the big celebration of a Prince and President. It was certainly not going to be a “pura bengo” like they say in Mandinka.
The ferry was packed with vehicles and a large entourage heading to Illiasa. I happen to be in Banjul that day and I saw the crowd at the terminal myself. You could not miss the tainted glass SUVs around. A few hours later, the trip to Illiasa was aborted suddenly. The forces of apprehension had an upper hand and managed to thwart the trip and the rest is history. I am sure you will excuse my not explaining what happened. I was lucky to have ears of a confidant who was in the thick of the organizing committee.
Although the celebration did not happen as intended and the forces of apprehension won in the end, I have not heard anywhere that Jammeh abandoned his claim to Illiasa. He did eventually tell a nation that he was not a Mandinka and that Mandinka does not even exist. Those utterances in my opinion do not cancel out his claim to Illiasa.
I have always been curious to get to the bottom of Jammeh’s claim since he mentioned it not because of the impossibility, but because I have always been interested how our surnames developed and why for the most part many of these surnames are found across ethnic lines. The claim to originality was of interest to me. In other words, are there certain surnames which are unique to only one ethnic group and if so why are those surnames found in other groups.
The surname Jammeh is found both among the Jola, Mandinka and Serer as some believe that Jammeh is a Serer surname which evolved during the Guelowar dynasty, a line of kings in both Sine and Saloum of Mandinka heritage through their mothers. That is a different matter outside of this thesis.
And so, when I happened to ask a few members of the Jammeh family about President Jammeh’s claim, the general theme through all the discussions is that they have not heard of a prince in the family who was denied the throne and who went into self-exile to Foni. And so, I concluded that it was not because the people did not disproof Jammeh but they were hesitant for the fact that they could not relate Jammeh’s claims to a historical antecedent.
These two are very different. Not being able to establish an occurrence in the past is not evidence of disproof. It is simply evidence of not being exposed to historical past. With research, this can be overcome and if research showed that it never occurred, then that becomes a proof but merely dismissing it on the basis that one has never heard of an incident is simply not enough to deny a claim as false. There are people born in Gambia, who don’t know which year we gained independence but that is no proof that we never gained independence.
And so I took it upon myself, whenever a possibility rears its head to search for materials on the history of Baddibu with the hope that I may one day chance on a self-exile of a prince from Illiasa to Foni particularly in the Jammeh family. But I was also intrigue by the story of Sankalang Marong, a ruler of the area motivated by my discussions with Jai Marong and Ba Jabbi. Both incidents have sustained me through all this time to dig deeper. I have an aunt who is also Marong and hailed from Baddibu. It would be a great find to share with her if I find anything in addition to a promise i gave to both Ba and Jai that if I ever found anything, I would share with them.
LUCK OF AN IRISH
It happened that a month or so ago, I was reading a book on Gambian histoy and in the bibliographic section, was referenced a source titled: Oral traditions From Gambia Vol II Family Elders by Donald R. Wright, Papers in International Studies, Africa Series, Ohio University Center for International Studies, Africa Program, 1980.
This intrigue me because I realized that if I ever have to make a dent in this quest, it would have to come from oral accounts captured years ago before they were lost. I therefore ordered the book and as I perused, I was looking for anything on Baddibu especially the Jammeh and bam, there it was. A section dedicated to the Jammeh family and migration. This was all I have been looking for all these years since Jammeh’s claim.
BIO OF THE INTERVIEWEE: LANDING JAMMEH OR MBAMBA JAMMEH
The interview was was transcribed into a section of the book, took place on December 3, 1974 in Brikama, Kombo. Mr Jammeh confirmed that he was 70 years old when the interview was recorded which makes his year of birth as 1904 at Bakindiki Koto in Nuimi. Years later Mr. Jammeh relocated from Nuimi to Brikama to be close to more of his extended family.
INTEGRITY OF LANDING JAMMEH: HOW TRUSTWORTHY WAS HE?
I thought it necessary to discuss this aspect of my thesis because credibility of witneses is key to establishing this historical feat of our time. President Jammeh was a figure that affected every family in Gambia and naturally any claim of Jammeh must be laser dissected to avoid commotions that almost always follows anything to do with him. And of course, I need to lay a foundation for my thesis hoping to make a dent and eventually lay in the open the claim of ancestry to Illiasa, Jammeh Kunda. The following words were those of the author of the book and how he saw Landing Jammeh. There is no need to rush to conclusion. “Petit a petit l’oiseau fait son nid” (slowly, slowly, a bird makes its nest).
“Prior to my interview with Jammeh I had been seeking an informant with knowledge of the oral traditions and history of the Nuimi Bato area. From previous interviews I had gotten the sense that early Nuimi history centered on the more northerly coastal region. In late November (1974), I traveled in the Gambian side of Nuimi Bato, hoping to find such an informant, but I was not successful. Nearly everyone living in the area seemed to have arrived there fairly recently. I found no one who knew oral traditions about the early history of the area. However, while I was speaking with residents of the village of Duniajoe, a village about seven miles from the Atlantic and no more than a mile or two from the Senegal border, I received the kind of valuable reference I needed. Among a fairly large crowd of people in the compound of the Alkali of Duniajoe an old man told me of Landing( he called him “mbamba”) Jammeh. “He used to live near here,” the man said, “but he went to kombo Brikama. He knew more about “old things” than anybody”. When the rest of the people nodded their agreement I realized I might be onto something.
“The interview took place in due time, on the verandah. About half way through the interview it became time for Jammeh to say one of the five daily Muslim prayers. He politely stopped the proceedings, unrolled his prayer rug, and said his prayers; then he continued the interview as before. He turned out to be the only informant who prayed in the midst of an interview; the rest waited until it was completed”. Donald R. Wright pages 75 to 76.
The above testimonies of the interviewee show character and decency of Mr. Jammeh. He was identified by people miles away who in agreement concluded that he was the one with authority to give accounts of that part of Nuimi. He certainly must have made a name for himself as trustworthy and knowledgeable which is what every researcher looks for in an interviewee. By the above, I am sold out and convinced that what will follow next, is based on accounts Landing Jammeh must have received or heard from his elders. Being born in 1904, it is very likely that Jammeh saw family members at least of 70 years of age who probably would have been born by around 1834, 18 years after the founding of Bathurst and long before effective colonial rule descended on the Protectorate.
THE INTERVIEW: December 3, 1974
I am only interested in the history that leads me to Jammeh’s claim and so I will be very precise and selective inorder not to bore you down with unnecessary and unrelated information.
Landing Jammeh explained to Donald Wright how and why the Jammeh family migrated from Illiasa to Bakindiki in Nuimi. According to Jammeh, when the leader of the Jammeh clan at Illiasa died, he left behind four sons. Unfortunately, Jammeh did not name the name of this clan head but did place some meat on the bone for further digest.
When it was time to decide who among the four sons to succeed their father as ruler, natural and traditional law then dictated that the first son should normally be crowned as king. But in living with tradition, the gods must be consulted to peek into the reign of a future king and so, the eldest son called Sambula was sat before the JALANG (god) and was told that if he were to be king, his reign will be prosperous but in the end the state will be beset by war. The elders then decided that they would not crown him king. In anger, Sambula left Illiasa and founded the settlement of Sambula in Nuimi which was later renamed as Bakindiki by the first king of the settlement called Samake Jammeh.
The second eldest son we will skip for now. He is the center of this thesis.
The third eldest son was also sat before the JALANG and was told that while there was not going to be war during his reign, he lacked the command to have a large following. Naturally, it is said that a leader who no one is following, is only taking a walk. And so the third eldest son left Illiasa and settled Pakau Bunyadu but as predicted, that settlement is still not able to grow in size. The Jammeh are still the Alkali of this settlement.
The fourth eldest (and the youngest) was also sat before the JALANG and was told that his reign will bring prosperity and there will be peace in the land and also that the kingship will remain in Jammeh Kunda. And so, the elders crowned him as king, perhaps the reason why there have been successive kings in the Jammeh clan if you believe the JALANG.
Now let’s turn our attention to our most coveted prince; the second oldest. This Prince was also told by the JALANG that if he became king and succeeded his father, there would be peace during his reign and there would be prosperity but he was not going hold on to the throne for long. So he was denied and he too left Illiasa and settled Bajana in Foni.
Could this second son be the ancestor Jammeh claimed to have been bypassed by the council of elders of Illiasa and in response went into to self-exile to Foni? Jammeh never told us where in Foni his ancestor settled (unless I missed that part) but President Jammeh’s story matches with the story of the second oldest Prince, the only difference being that Landing Jammeh, the interviewee established the very settlement.
As foretold, this second oldest son became ruler in Bajana but lost power quickly unlike the youngest brother whose line maintained a steady hold on to power in Baddibu for many years. I guess the JALANG predicted the future for all four sons and each came to pass. Bakindiki was ravaged by war, Pakau Bunayadu could not grow in size, the throne at Bajana was lost quickly and only the youngest son and his lineage maintained a larger following and a hold on to power for long.
Attached is a flow chart I prepared based on the interview for ease of reference.
CONNECTION BETWEEN BAJANA JAMMEH KUNDA AND KANILAI JAMMEH KUNDA
Previously, I asked if these two Jammeh families are related and the response I got was yes they are. This therefore makes the Jammeh of Kanilai blood relations with the Jammeh of Bajana. If the theory that the second oldest Prince founded Bajana when he left Illiasa, then that makes every Jammeh family member in both Bajana and Kanilai members of the same Jammeh family of Illiasa and by extension , President Jammeh.
I am sure some of you reading have built up your own opinions about this thesis but I have to admit that I have changed my position with regard to Jammeh’s claim to ancestry to Illiasa.
Now, the following ifs will help you come to a conclusion.
- If you believe the story narrated by Landing Jammeh
- If you believe that President Jammeh was indeed born in Kanilai or even if he was not born in Kanilai but his family are the same relation with the Jammeh of Kanilai
Then Jammeh’s claim to ancestry to Illiasa Jammeh Kunda is plausible. I have now changed by position with regard to Jammeh’s claim from PROBABLE to POSSIBLE and would score his claim 70 out of 100. When faced with alternate facts ( because I trust Landing Jammeh and i am unable to disproof that Jammeh was not born in Kanilai or that his family are not related to the Jammeh of kanilai), then i should be able to yield in and that’s exactly what I have done. The coronation should have taken place because there is a high degree of possibility that Jammeh has roots and a genuine claim to Illiasa.
This story was recorded when Jammeh was 9 years old and Landing Jammeh would have had no motivation (other than saying what he was told as a child) to connect the Jammeh of Illiasa to the Jammeh of Bajana Foni given that Jammeh was not president then neither was there any motivation or gains to be expected. This recording was perhaps unknow to President Jammeh but as a history student, it is possible President Jammeh may have heard of it.
Now we have to disproof his birth in Kanilai and also disproof that he has no relationship with the Jammeh of Kanilai for this thesis to collapse. Because the Jammeh of Kanilai are said to be the same family as the Jammeh of Bajana, who migrated there from Illiasa if you are to believe Landing Jammeh.
How about you? Are you still a Doubting Thomas?
By Gambian historian Dembo Fatty.