Friday, July 27, 2012


Drama and theatre from the basis of the performing arts.  The two are inter-related, self supporting and sustaining.  Drama refers to the use of acts, stage, movement, actors and actresses and dialogue or monologue to pass on ideas and concepts to the public.  Theatre is a bit more complex, it involves more such as lighting, choreography, and dance.  They share a lot in common: drama and theatre can have tragedy or comedy.  Both depend on stage, sets, costumes, movements etc.  The power of drama and theatre is enormous.  They could be used to inform, educate and elucidate the masses, especially in societies like ours which have high illiteracy rates.


In Bathurst during the colonial period, many youth groups existed and each of these groups had drama as part of their annual or weekly activities.  Suring the heady days of the nationalist politics, some of the political parties had drama group to aid them in their political campaigns, and some youth drama groups also used the stage to preach peace and family unity during the heat of elections.


As one of the expressed inclination of colonial rule was to discourage African Culture expressions, which were termed as heathen and uncivilized.  This attitude helped to destroy or dilute many aspects of indigenous culture, especially dress and languages.

Through the Ladies Guild of Grace, Banjul women promoted Gambian culture, arts and trading.  Formed in 1924, it remained active through the 1940s, and regularly staged drama and cultural shows in Banjul, which enlivened the town; their plays were based on issues affecting women, such as forced marriages and other forms of gender violence, expensive dowries and girls’ education.  Many young women developed their artistic talents in the activities of the guild.  Elizabeth George, an actress, Irnen George, the sorpranist, and Augusta Mahoney (Mrs. Jawara) who became The Gambia’s leading dramatist, writing her plays under the pen name, Ramatulie Kinteh, were women who honed their arts in arms of the guild.

The guild also raised funds for philanthropy.  In 1938, it raised enough money for the refurbishment and extension of the Anglican School in Banjul, and also sponsored girls in School.

At a time when colonialist frowned on indigenous culture, the guild staged its play in Krio (Aku) and Wolof to revitalize local languages.  However, when it staged Shakesperian plays, actors like Irene George and Rosamond Fowlis were at hand to render them in impeccable English.

It brought together Banjul society women such as Rasamond Fowlis, Regina Sawyer, Rachel Carrol. Cecilia Faye, Elsie Riley, Comfort Oldfield, Mrs Richards and Cecilia Rendall (Mrs Cole)

The guild proved wrong colonial pessimists who believed that Gambians were incapable of high and appreciable cultural and artistic achievements.

In the 1930s, men like Commie Owens were involved in drama activities in Bathurst.  They acted in plays to sensitize the public on burning issue.  In the 1950s The Foyer Francaise which taught the French language in their Club house in Bathurst, formed a drama group followed by Banjul Dramatic Society which continue to stage drame pieces such as Junior Clerk in Office, Bukari the Farmer, karrit Chi Jamanji, Downfall of King Dusumu, Masaneh Ceesay etc.  Among the founder members were, Adama Jagne, badou Mbenga, Late Ebou Cham (Former Manager of the National Troupe), Dodou Taal of …..

For Banjul Dramatic, Omar C Jallow, Dodou K Njie, Momar Drammeh, late ARM Secka, Ebou Jobe, Badou Sowe, Tapha Joof, Abdoulie Jobe, Amadou Araba Bah, Sainey Cham, Sisters: Polo Cham,  Elisabeth Mam Owens, Amie Njie, Abie Nyang etc Serign Mass Sarr, myself and others.

From 1958 – 64 many drama groups such as group Neex, Baah Yai, Judu Baah, Ballet African Society, Nyodema Kaffo, Group Dimbalanteh were formed to promote drama and theatre.

The Reform Youth Club of Banjul under the supervision of Gabriel Roberts staged plays periodically in Bathurst. Junaidu Jallow was the first president of National Drama Association and Dabba Jagne was first  Secretary General and  Alhaji Sering Secka was Director of Arts/producer.

In 1964, these groups formed the nucleus of the National Drama Association as the umbrella association for all drama groups in the country.  The National Drama Association was affiliated with the Hague based International Amateur Theatre Association.  In 1966, it was the National Drama Association which was responsible for the Gambia’s strong performance in drama at the first Africa Negro Black Festival held in Dakar, Senegal when it staged MASTER BRAIN by Lady Jawara.  Directed by Gabriel Roberts, I was stage Manager, Charles Tomas, Mbye Chow, Tafa Joof, Zahra Bensouda Njie, Mary Leese Janneh and Choro Jobe were some of the actors and actresses.

The Association continues to gain fame throughout the country and internationally with plays such as Dom Rew, Masaneh Ceesay etc. dramatize Radio broadcast keep them alive to date.  After their dormancy, groups I O G T such as Yeateh Drama group, Fansung Jamano, Kuteh Jombulu etc. came and just continue the good work and now you have GAMAT.

National Centre for Arts and Culture and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture have always been keen to work with theatre and drama practitioners towards more activity and efficiency.

In 1977, drama and theatre were still the mainstay for the Gambia’s strong participation at the FESTAC in Lagos, Nigeria.  A strong cast from the National Drama Association presented CHEDDO written by late Keketo Mane, I was producer, Gabriel Robers was Director.  Mbye Chow, Oumie Samba, Tafa Joof, Binta Nyang and late Awa Njie were among the actors/actresses.  Kora musician was Jali Dembo Conteh. The  Play was spoken in Wollof narrated in English by Marcel Thomasi.  Very well followed and understood by the international audience.


School drama and theatre were  also common during the colonial period.  Shakespearian play like Shylock, the Jew, Macbeth and Kng Lear, Trial of Busumbala by Gabriel Roberts were commonly acted in schools by senior students.  Many accomplished drama actors/actresses like late Momodou Musa Secka, Denis Njai, Dodou Saine, Late Saffie Coker and last but not the least Janet Badjan-Young cut their teeth in theses school activities. In the past decade, Janet has assiduously worked to revive and strengthen theatre by her new purpose built superb and imposing building located at Kanifing called Ebunjan theatre, which opened in December 2011. Gambians such as Femi Jeng (died 1981) and Charles Thomas  continued to write plays and drama pieces for public and radio performances.

Mention must also be made of writers/critics like Suwaibu Conateh, then editor of The Gambia News Bulletin, poet and playwright of the drama ‘Certificate of Burial’; Jay Saidy, who used to review drama pieces in local newspapers, and Hassan Jagne, critic and writer who also watched plays and wrote helpful comments.


Finally, allow me to mention Gambian actors who are well known outside the country i.e. in UK such as Louise Mahoney, Alaba Peters who acted in plays at BBC and other major British venues.

Author: ALHAJI AM SERING SECKA & Hassoum Ceesay
Source: Picture: A.M. Sering Seck