Brufut Ghana Town: A Look Back At The Birth of A Little Slice of Ghana in The Gambia
Tuesday 1st September | Yero S. Bah
The year was 1960 and a group of Ghanaians numbering 36 set sail from ‘Akunfi Imuna’ village in the country’s central region. They sailed 1,676 kilometres northwest to the then British colony of The Gambia.
Among them was a young girl called Essi Achefoe, who left with her uncle to join his father who had moved to The Gambia, months before.
The first batch of arrivals settled in the coastal town of Bakau, before moving to Brufut. Their move from Bakau to Brufut was facilitated by one Mr Lamin Jammeh, a resident of neighbouring Tanji. He left the group under the guardianship of Marrfang Kunda elders. Marrfang Kunda is one of the six sub-kabilos that constitute the Brufut Manneh clan.
Bringing the Ghanaians to Marrfang Kunda was perhaps by design rather than coincidence; for at that time, another two Ghanaians were already settled in Brufut. One was a gentleman everyone called “Mr Coker.” Like the newly arrives, he was hosted by Musaring Manneh, in Marrfang Kunda.
Though he was not from the same area of Ghana as the fisherfolk, they were able to communicate. His ability to serve as a translator between the newcomers and the host community helped in allaying any unease Brufutians might have felt about their new guests, recollects a current Brufut elder; Mr Dodou Manneh. He was a young man at the time.
Now a community elder, Mr Manneh told GunjurOnline that, another Ghanaian, arguably the first known Ghanaian to settle in Brufut was Mr Makuwah. He was an employee of the then GML [Gambia Mineral Mines Ltd]. In the 1950s, Brufut was the headquarters of a British mining company that mined beach sands on the Kombo coast - an area with large deposits of sands with heavy concentrations of ilmenite, zircon, rutile and gangue minerals. These sands were exported to Britain. Mr Makuwah was one of skilled personnel brought to the Gambia by the then British Colonial Authority. He drove the trains that ferried the sands from the mines in Tujereng, Batokunku etc to the mills in Brufut.
Mr Makwah’s contribution to Brufut was quite significant. For in addition to his job with GML, he volunteered in mobilising and offering free tuition to the local children from his base in Marrfang Kunda. His perseverance as a volunteer teacher subsequently culminated in convincing the community elders to build Brufut Primary School in 1960. Years later the Gambia authorities took over responsibility of running the school and made him the first headmaster.
Sitting on a wooden stool and leaning over a low table filled with kneaded balls of flour to be baked into pancakes, 73-year old Essi recounts that journey of a lifetime from Nkrumah’s country to The Gambia.
“I was just a young girl and my concerns were all about our family profession which is fishing. We are maritime nomads if you like…moving from place to place for better catches” she explains.
She tells the GunjurOnline that, 60 years is more than a lifetime and now she cannot ignore an inescapable fact that comes with moving from her native Ghana to The Gambia, a country which was still a British colony.
“Now, I see myself as Gambian; all my children were born here, they don’t know Ghana even though they visit relatives frequently” she adds with a tinge of melancholy in her voice.
“That journey from Ghana was one of no return. And although I have visited many times since, my sense of home is Brufut Ghana Town, and that is true for the rest of my community” she points out.
Essi says while on their journey, they had made a three-month stopover in Dakar, Senegal before sailing into The Gambian, and eventually settling in Brufut.
“The 36 Ghanaian citizens who first settled in Ghana Town came from different families, but all hailed from the same place: Akunfi Imuna village in Ghana where fishing is the main occupation” she further points out.
In echoing Essi, Mr Manneh laments the passing of that original pioneer group. Though that sadness is lessened by the continued presence of their second and third generation descendants who continue to live in the settlement.
The arrival of the group coincided with the Alkaloship of Kutubo Sanno in Brufut. Although the host community elders never objected to the Ghanaians living amongst them, as practicing Muslims the differences in lifestyles, particularly the cultural and religious differences posed a challenge.
Thus, on an agreement reached at a council of community elders, the Alkali was urged to grant permission for the Ghanaian fisherfolks to be allocated a plot of land for settlement. A location that would give the guests both the space and freedom to practice their cultural and religious ways of life.
A small clearing in a wooded area on the outskirts of Brufut and within proximity of the Brufut shorelines was agreed upon. Thus, it was in 1961 the Ghanaians constructed a small cluster of thatched mud huts and moved from Marrfang Kunda to this settlement. They named it Ghana Town, a name it still carries today.
“Sadly, although the permission to move to the settlement was granted by Kutubo Sanno, he did not live to witness the construction of the settlement. It was his successor Kalifa Sanno under whose tenure the settlement materialised” Essi added.
Mr Manneh feels the decision to permit the building of the settlement was expedient and served a dual purpose. “As the Ghanaians’ livelihood depends on fishing, and their cultural and religious practices were different to those of the host community, settling them closer to the sea, and in effect physically separating the two communities was necessary.” Mr Manneh reasoned.
Thirty-something year old Patrick S. Amoah who sees himself as a third generation repository of the town’s history, thanks to his grandfather Samuel Amoah, says the matriarch and his peers settled in Ghana Town in 1961 and wasted no time in blending into host community, participating in Gambia’s pre-independence political activities such as helping the Brufut Alkalo mobilise youths and villagers at the behest of the colonial administration.
However, if the refrains from an anonymous young woman of Ghanaian descent are anything to go by, though residents of Ghana Town feel fully assimilated into Brufut community, and citizens of Brufut likewise treat them as fellow Brufutians, the experience from the Gambian authorities leaves these Gambian-Ghanaians feeling alienated and not fully accepted.
“We are still treated as second class citizens, marginalized when it comes to job acquisition even though we were born here, attended school here, and practically grew up in The Gambia and do not even know anything about Ghana and the origins of our grandparents” she adds, her face unable to mask the sadness she and her community feels.
“I was denied an Immigration Department job because those doing the interview thought I am a foreigner” she lamented. She says it is even worse when even though they know nowhere else but the Gambia, they are always harassed by Gambian Immigration officials.
The alleged unfair treatment of the community by Gambian authorities is in stark contrast to the cordial and almost familial relationship between the Brufut host community and residents of Ghana Town - through all facets of intercommunal interactions as is true of all human societies. Though numerically low, perhaps because the majority of the Ghanaians marry within their community, or marry spouses from their ancestral homes in Ghana, there is intermarriage between the two communities, Mr Manneh said.
As a further illustration of the good intercommunal relationship between the two communities but one people, he narrated his personal association with the Ghanaian community - from the first settlers to the current generation. An association that resulted in him having fishing vessels commissioned, built, and staffed by Ghanaian fishermen. A profitable business partnership that provided relative wealth for him and his family, Mr Manneh added.
Most of the first-generation settlers of Ghana Town are no longer alive, but the settlement they bequeathed their descendants is showing no sign of slowing down in its march to realizing the promise which brought their forebears from Ghana.
Today, this settlement has a population of approximately 1,300. The original mud huts have been replaced by cement block homes and the Ghanaians have been joined by people from other parts of The Gambia, the West African subregion and further afield. It boasts five churches for its mainly Christian community, a mosque and a thriving market dealing in smoked fish among other commodities.
“Religious tolerance exists between Christians and other faiths. We live here side by side in peace and harmony” says Musa Joof, a Gambian Muslim who settled in this little slice of Ghana in the Gambia back in 1986.
The inhabitants still keep many things from their original home country, Ghana including language, mainly Twi, cultural rites, food, fashion, and religion.
Retired Ghanaian leader Jerry John Rawlings visited the town during an official trip to The Gambia in the 1990s.