A brief overview of The Gambia
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
On this week edition ofTourisphere, I have chosen to go back memory lane and give a brief history of the Smiling Coast of Africa relating with tourism as presented in the Gambia Hotel Association Guide.
The Gambia has built a reputation as an economical and culturally diverse alternative to Caribbean and Mediterranean beach-style holidays. Beyond this, however, the country has a great deal more to offer. In many ways it is an ideal tourist destination because it has something for everyone.
To start with since the start of the sector in The Gambia some forty years ago it is clearly known that the main tourist season is in the winter month generally the driest time of the year, with day after day of uninterrupted sunshine. Not that only, The Gambia is also a great place to visit in the summer. Although short and heavy showers occur regularly, this makes the benefits of the green season far outweigh any minor inconvenience as the forests are transformed into a green oasis with an abundance of tropical flowers.
The Gambia is often seen as purely a beach resort and winter sun destination but this fascinating country, with its culture, its people and its natural diversity, can offer much more to the traveler who wants to explore; that is from luxury hotels to rustic huts, from relaxing on the beach to exploring tropical jungles and from top-quality dining to traditional arts and crafts, The Gambia offers a wealth of opportunities and possibilities.
Reference to history these possible opportunities started long ago because one of the earliest visitors to what is now the Gambia was Hanno the Carthaginian this was as far back as 470 BC. In accordance with the history, in the 9th and 10th centuries, there are written accounts of the region by Arab traders who had found their way to West Africa to exploit the enormous wealth of the Mali Empire. In the course of this trade, ivory, gold and eventually slaves were shipped back to the Middle East.
The Mali Empire had a strong influence over many countries in West Africa. This was an educated and cultured society as well as a powerful empire with enormous riches. Nevertheless, trade routes were laid down and the area began to receive foreign settles in a pattern of influence that is still evident today.
The Songhai Empire assumed control in the 16th century but later faced invasion and continual looting from the forces of Portugal and Morocco. By the end of the 16th century, the region was under Portuguese control. In the years that followed there was a colonial scramble for the riches of the African continent.
St Andrews Island, on the Gambia River, was colonized by the Latvian Duke of Courland. The British gained a foothold in 1661 when they captured the island and renamed it James Island. Meanwhile, the French had colonized Senegal. Up to the 18th century the region was plagued by wars between the two nations and local tribes. In 1738 The Gambia was ceded to Great Britain under the Treaty of Paris and in subsequent years was administered from several places including Senegal and Sierra Leone.
The administrative centre of the new country was Bathurst – later renamed Banjul-which was built in 1816 on an island at the mouth of the Gambia River as a military post to combat the slave trade. It is thought the slave trade to the Americas may have deprived the region of over 3 million people in addition to the untold numbers taken by Arab traders.
The administrative centre, Banjul, became the nation’s capital in 1892. Although slavery had been abolished throughout the British Empire in 1807, it continued in The Gambia for many years. Fort James played a key role in combating this illicit trade by checking the river traffic. The present borders were laid down in 1889 and The Gambia became a British Crown Colony. Full independence was achieved in 1965 and The Gambia became a Republic in 1970.
Groundnuts, introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century, are now the Gambia’s main export commodity as well as being used in many popular Gambian dishes. The land and climate are ideally suited to this crop. The countryside, which is mostly flat, is dry and arid in winter and green and lush in summer. Early visitors to The Gambia ventured far up the Gambia River in search of legendary goldmines and ivory. Later, explorers such as Mungo Park traversed the river looking for Timbuktu and the sources of the Niger and the Nile.
Travelers today have a much easier journey, although a great deal has changed in The Gambia since the early pre-colonial days. By the end of the 19th century, overzealous game hunting and ivory trading had robbed its forests and savannahs of much of the big game found in other parts of Africa. However, the country’s history has by no means diminished the cheerfulness of its people, who dress as brightly as tropical birds and sing their welcome to all.
Author: Yunus Saliu