Kombo - Land of Bainunkas Part I
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Today’s edition is as a result of popular demand. Many of you readers have been bombarding us with series of emails asking the history of the land of Kombo itself. The long delay in responding to this question is as a result of the complexity of the history of Kombo and providing and comprehensive analysis requires we gather diverse sources and painstakingly compile our findings.
During our exploration, we uncovered that the land of Kombo had been dominated by different groups each creating a mark on its history. In order to provide readers with an objective history of Kombo, oral narrations’ are blended with academic literature herein. Please read on…….
Geographical Setting and the People
The earliest map indicates that the South Bank of The Gambia constitutes the kingdom of Kantora, Tomana, Jimara, Eropina, Niamina, Jarra, Kiang, Foni, and Kombo. Accordingly, these were places of diverse socio-cultural elements. Kombo as a regional entity is located in the South West Senegambia.
The ecology in this region was characterized by mangrove swamps behind which lie palm groves. These are part of a dense network of the creeks which accounted for southern reach of Senegambia that came to be known as the southern river. The south west part of the Kombo also had an ecology which was believed to have possessed numerous bamboo trees and other different species of trees.
This beautiful forest attracted the Manding speaking people of Mali who wanted to obtain these bamboo sticks to be used as bows and arrows. The ecology of Kombo thus served as a pull factor that brought many immigrants to settle. Furthermore, political factors in Mali also contributed to their migration into Kombo.
It is believed that they came looking for new territories as they lost several of their controlled areas to Sundiata Keita at the (battle of Kirina in 1235). This is one of the definitively divergent forms of non-royal Manding migration. Each Mandinka clan has its own tradition of migration from Tilibo (Mali).
Most of the Manding speaking people came through conquest with Tiramakan, Sundiata’s general who subdued the Bur of Jollof. Another prominent conqueror who came with many Manding families was Sori Musa whose expeditionary roundabout took him to Baddibu where he died. (Sora Musa is often referred to as Amori Sonko). Most of them came through trade and as Muslim clerics.In Kombo the earliest inhabitants were said to be Bainunkas. The Gambia, Casamance and Guinea Bissau were part of the vast Bainu? Empire called Cassa Bainu? with its capital in Brikama, 53km from present day Ziguinchor. Cassa Bainu? was ransacked and invaded by Manding migrants under the leadership of Tiramghan Trawally.
As Donald Wright contends the wave of Manding migration has altered political geography and ethnicities in Senegambia. Many Bainunkas have changed ethnicity due to Mandinka dominance of both social and political structure. Clearly, certain surnames today: Bondi, Bajinka, Kolly, Sambou and Kombo are said to be originally Bainunkas.It is established that natives of this region had established civilizations most of which were acephalous before the Mading conquest.
In this region, the Bainunkas established territorial polity in the south coastal settlements of Sanyang, Tujereng and Kartong (Karounke) under the matriarchal administrative jurisdiction of Queen Wulending Jessey. Though, the Bainunkas are believed to be extinct in Kombo, some of their linguistic terms and traces can be found.
For example, Rete Nera-what is your name? Sera Monera- What is your surname? Basumo- where are those at home? Basubara-They are there. Ultimately, Bainunka traces could also be identified in terms of the locative term “kang”. These villages are found in Foni believed to be the final destination of Bainunka when they were subdued by Manding conquerors.
Therefore, the nomenclature for settlements like Kanmamudu, Kangkuntu, Kanwali, Kanjibati, Kanbung and Kampant were all believed to be earliest settlements of Bainunkas. However, in Kombo, most of the earliest settlements were named after the persons who established them. Accordingly, Sanyang was named after a Bainunka man called “Sanyamba Jassey”. And again the capital of Cassa Bainun Empire is called Brikama, there are speculations that Brikama the present day hub of public administration and commerce in Kombo is named after that great capital.
This is often refuted by Mandin versions, despite several divergent versions on the origin of the name of this place. Lot of evidence about the establishment of Kombo seems to point at the fact that the Bainunkas were the earliest settlers here. Even though the Manding speaking migrants came and overwhelmed them, some aspects of Bainunka culture still remain indelible.
Pattern of Migration of Bojang and Jatta clans
Migrations are said to be motivated either by pull or push factor. It is generally understood that one of the factors that served as a push factor for Manding speaking migrants was ecological. Accordingly, their original home in Mali was affected by famine and draught. Secondly, the establishment of an empire as a greater geo-polity caused many generals and vassal kings to lose their political influences.
Consequently, the Kontehs and Jarras fled towards the west via Kaabu. In Kaabu, they felt it prudent to establish a political alignment with the then reigning king, Mamba Koto Sanneh. The purpose of this alignment with the king of Kaabu was to get military support in case of any eventuality in the Senegambia region.The migration of these Manding speaking people took two patterns. Those who came passing through the sea in the North Bank of The Gambia River were referred to as the Kasinkas whilst those who passed through the South Bank through Foni were referred to as the Karoninkas. The former were referred to as the Kasinkas because they lived with them for some times.
The latter were called the Karoninkas because they had intermarried with the people of Karouni in the Cassamance region of southern Senegal. In the entire Kombo, the Bainunkas established their tentacle. However, the migration of the Bojangs and Jattas threatened their existence and hegemony over the region. Consequently, the Bainunkas continued to attack the intruding Bojang and the Jatta clans.
Many of them were killed, and this caused them to become hopeless and defenseless and theycould no longer resist. They invoked the treaty of protection they signed with the king of Kaabu for protection.
The Bainunka-Kaabunka hostilities
It should be understood that the Manding speaking people wanted to establish their dominance in the whole Kombo; however, the presence of the native Bainunkas posed a threat to their aspirations. Alternatively, they had to seek an external support. They went back to Kaabu and pleaded to the reigning king, Mamba Koto Sanneh who sent a military reinforcement.
Consequently, Bainunkas were forced to retreat, surrender and finally fled to other areas. This was what paved the way for the total control of the Manding migrants especially the Bojang and the Jatta clans over Kombo.
The Bainunkas deserted their cultural home to establish themselves in the south-eastern part of the Gambia and other parts of Kombo. Consequently, it was these wars that led to their extinction. Therefore, the nomenclature “Kombo” became the name of this region, referring to in Mandinka as those who are ‘extricated from hostility’.
The political will of the Manding speaking people to uproot the Bainunkas and the refusal of the latter led to a bloody confrontation that engulfed the entire region. This skirmish in Kombo can be compared to the Soninke-Marabout upheavals which led to the overthrow of the Soninke aristocracy and the establishment of Islam as a dominant religion in The Gambia.
Author: Gibairu Janneh