So much has been made of the Jarra-Niumi joking relationship all these years. Up to this day, the story has not in any way lost its weight or taste even as the powerful forces of modernization continue to pose a major threat to our common heritage as Africans. I can safely say that ours is second to none on the long list of joking relationships that we proudly enjoy on a daily basis in The Gambia and elsewhere we find ourselves.
In fact, I have to admit that my earlier piece on the genesis of the Jarra-Niumi joking relationship has triggered a reaction I never saw coming ,from the very moment it found its way on social media precisely Facebook thanks to the Daily Obsever link that was shared by some of my nephews and sons from Jarra.
What I found even most heart warming was the fact that those that seemed to have been touched and thereafter reconnected with the story were members of the younger generation especially my brothers and sisters in the Diaspora. Owing to their unequivocal show of interest and appreciation, I felt obliged to go further and tell what was left unsaid in the story.That bit of it, I must say, came after Jarra’s Jassey Banna and Niumi’s Sanikeh Jammeh had literally left inedible footprints in the sandy banks of Manding.
This is the second part of the analogy. For those of us who are Jarrankas, how many times have we been teased about the co-habitation of our land with a creature that shares so much manifestations with man himself. This is an important piece of history;one that must never be taken to be mere banter or sentimentality but rather a factual explanation of the sequence of events that took place centuries ago but continue to shape our highly cherished relationship and co-existence.
According to oral narratives, when Jassy Banna and his Niuminka buddy Sanikeh Jammeh were leaving Manding where they came so much close to the jaws of death, they were presented with four baboons: Larisora and Lukanj all male and two females Simbara and Tako. Like most travellers parting company with their hosts, they too were gifted with presents. In this case an animal.
So how comes folks from Niumi keep cajoling those from Jarra about baboons? How many Niuminkas in fact realize that their man himself had his own baboon just like the Jarranka,whose people now had to endure their fair share of jokes in relation to the presence of ‘kongolu’ in their midst?
From what I was able to gather from a certain Jarranka elder who at some point sounded so jovial, Sanikeh Jammeh from Niumi had no option but to surrender his female baboon with his Jarranka mate Banna Jassy, having realized that taking the human-like animal home will mean sharing the spoils of their ‘yamba’ fields with the creature. A simple joke that is but what is no joke is the fact that Sanikeh had left his ‘kongmuso’ in Jarra.
Meanwhile, a more compelling explanation offered by another from Niumi is that the baboon had to be left in Jarra as it was naturally going to be a huge burden traveling with it all the way to Niumi bearing in mind the myriad of inconveniences associated with long distance travelling in those days such as river crossing. Whatever the true reason was, both Sanikeh Jammeh and Banna Jassy had played a massive role in what most Niuminkas see as a powerful tool to silence their very friendly brothers and sisters in Jarra.
Admittedly,when it comes to trading words, the people of Jarra better their Niuminka counterparts by a considerable distance. I know a handful who are blessed with a sugar-coated tongue. To their credit also, Jarrankas are known to be very generous too. I have lived amongst them for two years and it was a fun-filled spell that provided a young high school graduate with too many lessons in life.
Coming back to the baboon subject, my elderly Jarranka confidante also put it to me that one way to ascertain whether someone is indeed from Niumi is when the person asks this question to a Jarranka “Where are your baboons”? That simple question, he says, comes from only a Niuminka to a Jarranka.
The importance of the ‘kongos’ is further mirrored in the local term given to heaps of harvested groundnut ‘Kong-simbaroo’; a reflection of the linear pattern in which the baboons travel in groups. Talking of groups, the movement of baboons, I am further told, is also influenced by seasonal variations; a reason why they are synonymous with one community in Jarra due mainly to the availability of water they rely on at a particular time in the year. Jokes aside, an animal we often ridicule in this game that is ‘sanawyaa’ is ironically of great historical importance. It is high time Niuminkas came to the realization that because they left their female baboon in Jarra, they played a part in the multiplication of the animal in that land. That was the turning point just as their man’s affair with some woman in Manding marked the beginning of all what would later be narrated and scripted by lesser men like me.
As I draw this story to a close, let me say how glad I felt to be entrusted by eminent personalities like Lamin Jassey and Kebba Lang Sanneh, all of The UK .These hardworking brothers et al, despite being away, are bent on having our most beautiful story told in a film/documentary.
As it stands,work in that direction has taken off the ground . Slowly but surely, we shall get there INSHALLAH.
Contributors: Alh. Momodou Joof
Famara Fofana is a News Editor at GRTS TV, Creative Writer and a student of Journalism and Digital Media, University of The Gambia.