And then they were two. Jasseh Banna from Jaara and Sanikeh Jammeh from the other side of the river Niumi are two names in our folklore that shall forever be remembered as architects of the much revered ‘dankutoo’ (joking relationship) between the people of Jaara and their frends or should I say their fathers in Niumi.
As I would find out from the little research I did on what is also known as ‘sanankuya’ in Mali, a joking relationship is a term applied by anthropologists to the institutionalised form of interaction between certain pairs of people in some societies. Analysed by British social anthropologist Alfred Radcliffe-Brown (July 1940), it describes a kind of ritualised banter that takes place, for example, between a man and his maternal mother-in-law in some South African tribal societies.
So, for a Niuminka boy like me (even though I would insist being from Jokadu when two or more Jaarankas turned the screw on me), I have had my own share of the banter that lies at the very heart of our relationship during my two-year Community Development Studies in Mansakonko; a land without a ‘mansa’ these days save for a governor.
Come to think of it. How on earth can a young man like me refer to someone else in Jarra old enough to be my father or even grandfather as boy as if he and I were bedfellows? How daring can a twenty-five year-old Jaaranka teacher in my village be in calling a sixty-year-old Niuminka woman as his ‘cheppeh’? These things happen. Don’t they? Ordinarily, those kind of situations I just cited above would equate to the highest degree of impudence; a serious contravention of society’s moral code. But nay.’ Sanawyaa’ or ‘kal’ as they say in Wolof is a thing of beauty, for no one takes offence or to put it better supposed to take any offence in the frequently exchanged verbals traded between both parties.
With fond memories, I still reminisce about those jovial encounters I have had with the usually bespectaled Pa Sitafa, a one-time caretaker at the Rural Development Institute. The old, frail-looking, yet very industrious Jaaranka dude was in the habit of telling me ‘you basita’ or sometimes ‘blaady fool’ anytime I call him ‘ndongo kebba’. But amid all the healthy jokes, how many of us ever paused for a moment to ask how this all came about between our two friendly peoples?
A certain version of oral history has it that the earlier mentioned men, Jassey Banna and Sanikeh Jammeh from Jaara and Niumi respectively had set out on an expedition in Manding as highly ambitious men of yesteryear loved to do.
The story goes further to say that while on their sojourn in Manding, Sanikeh Jammeh, the man from Niumi (perhaps out of some irresistible qualities he must have possessed) got entangled in a love affair involving some woman in their host comumuity. That relationship, it emerged, would ruffle feathers in the ranks of the powers that be in Manding. And by law, the Niuminka man was handed down the death penalty commensurating with the severity of his ‘crime’.
But before his head could be taken to the gallows, Sanikeh, with the sword of Damocles hanging over his head, pleaded with those he had offended to allow him return to Niumi so he could say adieu to his kit and kin. His request was granted but not without a cost. It required someone else to step in as surety; one who shall have his head chopped off in case he Sanikeh reneges on his word by failing to show up. Jaara’s Jassey Banna became his go-to man in those most trying of times. Without any misgivings and like brothers in arms, he put his neck on the line by agreeing to face death should the Niumi man chicken out and instead stay put in the land of the fisherfolk. End of Part 1.
If anything, this narrative serves to show us the heights by which some people (in this case two dependable people) can go in bailing out each other at a time when help and perhaps the now very scarce commodity called trust was most in demand. At the core of this aged-old story is almighty sacrifice not for the self only but the other person who had adversity staring him in the face or a matter of life and death as it were.
So in part two we are told, Because Sanikeh Jammeh took a while before he could return from Niumi where he had gone to say his good byes, the impatient men of law in Manding thought he was gone for good, setting the stage for Jarra’s Banna Jassey to face the music as agreed. But lo and behold, such men of yesteryear were hardly cowed by death especially when the end of their life would mean honour to everything they represent.
According to oral tradition, Sanikeh Jammeh was sighted on a horse’s back with a flag in one hand signalling the attention of his supposed slayers to his arrival. In the nick of time, he appeared when the very brave Jaaranka man was being readied to meet his end. Overwhelmed by the show of unconditional sacrifice and the loyalty demonstrated by two trvallers/hustlers with royal connections, the custodians of law in Manding were left with no choice but to temper justice with mercy. Clemency came their way.
From that very epoch-making moment, history tells us that Banna Jassey from Jarra and Sanikeh Jammeh from Niumi entered into a pact vowing to be there for each other come what may. The terms of the deal also made it crystal clear that as from that very point in history, no one from either Jarra or Niumi must transgress against the other. There still exist the widely held belief that any Jarranka who offends a Niuminka or vice versa shall have serious consequences to contend with; as entered into by their two very gallant forebears.
Jassey Banna and Sanikeh Jammeh might have long since been reunited with their silent fathers but their role in forging and cementing what can fittingly be described as an impenetrable bond between the people of Jaara and Niumi cannot be ignored. Just like other regions or ethnic groups enjoying a similar relationship, ours too epitomizes friendliness, mutual respect as well as tolerance; virtues that continue to glue our social fabric together especially in the realm of conflict resolution.
This is not to say that the Niumi-Jaara relationship is all about honey and milk. It can have the occasional embarrassing moments in instances where some people go over the top, launching foul-mouthed salvos against another in the name of ‘Sanawyaa’. In the grand scheme of things however, the Niumi-Jaara relationship just like the one enviably shared by Badibou-Kiang, Serer-Jola/Pular is one to savour.
I wish to make it clear that this narrative, just like any other oral historical version, is subject to debate given the fact that such stories depending on the source or the passage of time are bound to taste distortion. However, the intent here is to share with the readership the core values of bravery, trust, loyalty and sacrifice that continue to bind Niuminkas and their friends in Jaara.
by Famara Fofana