History students of the University of The Gambia (UTG) in the Department of Arts and Sciences recently returned from the Republic of Guinea Bissau following a research mission in that country on the history of the Manjago ethnic group.
Essa Touray, history lecturer at the University of The Gambia described the mission as successful and inspiring, saying it enabled the team to discover the rich history of the Manjago ethnic group, whose history is not captured in most literature books of the country, especially at the basic and senior secondary levels. The objective, he added, is to publish a comprehensive history about Manjago speaking people of The Gambia.
The trip according to him, took them to the northern region of Guinea Bissau but that the research team was based in the capital Bissau.
During their stay, Touray went on, they travelled to major original Manjago settlements such as Pleundu, Canchungo, Cacheu and Baserel and spoke to scholars whose works focus on ethnography of the sub-region, identified cultural unity among the diverse people in the Senegambia region. Such scholars he went on, included Boubacarr Barry, a scholar in greater Senegambia history, who revealed that the underlying unity among the ethnic groups within the region emanated from centuries spent living together. “This scholar’s work focuses mostly on the major centralised communities,” he said.
Touray affirmed that ethnic groups such as Manjagos have not been studied in most literatures, which to a great extent accounted for lack of materials in the study of Manjago history and tradition and the absence of their history in the upper basic and senior secondary schools exams; hence, the objective of his research team is to fill such an important material gap.
The UTG lecturer said the Manjago ethnic group predominantly occupied the north-west of Cacheu and Bula in the region of Guinea Bissau and that oral history amongst Manjago speaking people confirmed that Manjagos migrated from the eastern direction known in their language as ‘Oumayunou’ meaning rising of the sun.
According to him, an oral history narrated by one Bakary Dolly, revealed that prior to Manjagos’ migration they co-inhabited with an ethnic group called ‘Koroboro’ in Timbucktu. Whereas oral sources in the region of Baserel said that ‘Doyoga’ led the final massive migration of Manjagos into Baserel.
According to him, Doyoga as a warrior conquered the earlier Feloupes, Bainunkas, Manganyi of Bula and Papel region of Biyoumbu district and this conquest led to the establishment of Manjago dominated kingdom ruled by Babusing royal dynasty until the final Portuguese colonial conquest in the latter parts of nineteenth century.
“The Babusing kingdom was a confederation in its administrative outlook. It was governed through matrilineal system in which royal power rotated amongst the major Manjago province of Babuk, Qalikiss, Pleundu and Caoi under the royal lineage of Babusing,” he added.
According to Luis Nalam Mendy of Baserel, Nancyn or Munti (King), chosen to head the confederation, was usually constitutionally mandated by Babusing ruling tradition to leave his original home to rule in the capital, Baserel.
“It is also confirmed that Manjago political system was patriarchal,” the history lecturer stated.
He indicated that the settlements of Bilikiss and Agigia under the administrative territory of Baserel were governed through the system of matriarchy, headed by the first wife of munti-Baserel.
He maintained that in the dependent Papel province of Biyoumbu under Manjago Kingdom, Manjago political hegemony was re-affirmed initially through placing of Babusing aristocracy.
Further on the historical narrations, Touray revealed that ‘Dayoga’, the founding political patriarch of Babusing appointed his first son to rule the Papel region of ‘Biyoumbu’ and that another significant structure in the study of Manjago state organisation was the military aristocracy called ‘Banjafu’ whose role was to provide territorial defense and security.
He cited another scholar called Luis Nalam Mendy of Baserel, who said some pre-colonial Banjafus were very instrumental in punitive expeditions and defence against the rebellion of dependent Papel territory of ‘Biyoumbu’ and that popular amongst the ‘Banjafus’ military aristocracy were ‘Junbulo’, ‘Ntimat’, ‘Upadamit’, and ‘Tuami’.
“The middle of 15th century marked the beginning of African contact with western European nations. This form of global contact exposed West African coastal regions to Atlantic slave trading system and European colonialism. This period marked the beginning of territorial dismemberment of ancient Manjago Kingdom. With the introduction of colonial system, the Portuguese colonial masters patronised Babusing traditional ruling houses to gain upper hand in the administrative region of Cacheu,” he added.
The research team also embarked on site visit to the town of Cacheu to study various colonial monuments.
Touray revealed that in the latter part of 20th century, Manjagos of Pleundu were introduced to Islam through Alhagie Omar Busenti Njai. According to the elders of Pleundu, Omar Busenti was converted to Islam by sheriff Yunus of Binako in Casamance.
“However, it is also important to note that Guinea Bissau was a former Portuguese colony that experienced continual political violence in the 21st century, “he stated.
With the restoration of peace and stability in this former Portuguese Colony, the UTG students were amazed with the rapid development taking shape in Bissau in all areas of human endeavours.
by Sanna Jawara