Sports and Culture in Colonial Gambia

Friday, July 07, 2017

This article does not aim to criticize any individual or institution neither is it trying to promote a system over another but to state a view in the eyes of one individual which may lead to the way forward.

 I remember as young as I may have been in the 1950s and early 1960s the monthly entertainment of the Gambia police band by the beach directly opposite the Governor’s residence currently called State House where the Governors and their families used to attend and socialize with the people.

There was also the monthly police band evening entertainment at the McCarthy Square. We the youths then loved spending all the afternoon on every other Sunday at the beach dancing to the Police Bank beats and I could remember Sir Percy Wyn Harris Governor from 1949 to 1958 and Sir Edward Henry Windley Governor from 1958 to 1962 walking around talking to people.

 I am sure  some of the wrestling fans will remember or must have heard the monthly wrestling watches organized and attended at the then Secretariat  which is presently the Government Administration building housing about 6 Ministries including the Ministries of Sport and of Culture.

I am told that Sir Hilary Blood Governor from 1942 to 1947started it and attended every month. The tradition was followed by Sir Andrew Barkworth Wright and Sir Edward Henry Windley. These events were sponsored by government.

It was a pleasure to be in a football team then to play in an FA cup final. Players looked forward to it because the Governors always attended and took the kick off with the police band offering entertainment at half time.

I remember playing in the 1960, 1962 and 1963 FA cup finals and the prospects of shaking hands with the Governors kept me sleepless all night and meeting Governors Windley and John Paul is still fresh in my mind.

The Government then gave direct subvention to Sport Associations, though there were few at the time if I can remember these were the Football, Athletics, Tennis Wrestling, Cricket, Table Tennis, Rugby and much later the Round ball Associations.

The annual Regatta was well funded separately. During this period Sports and Physical Exercise were part of the curriculum at the teachers training at the Yundum College, which I went through.

Some people can still remember Mr. Richard Carter and Mr. Peter Carvey. They were the two that encouraged me and many others in Athletics. Sports was then considered an important tool in youth development.

There was visible encouragement from the highest authority of the land. In Athletics   the Governors attended the annual Athletics championship and before this it was the annual Inter-schools Athletics championship on Empire Day.

Great competitive and entertaining with great runners like Fanny Freeman, Vicky Roberts, Toffy mote, The Phillots, male and female,  Charlie Bruce, Dodou Mbatch, Ebou Gillen, Bai Abie Faal, Charles Turner, Dodou Ndure, Alberta Awadsi,  Pierre Jallow, Pierre Coron, Samba Saye, Dodou Joof, Cherno Touray….I can go on and on.

The attendance of the Governors encouraged all the top brass in government and the small business community then in The Gambia to attend to cheer the Athletes.

This allowed the Athletes to give their best to impress. This happened as late as when Hon. PS Njie was Chief Minister and in the early days of Sir Dawda Jawara as Prime Minister and few years as President.

The cabinet used to attend as well because wherever the President goes, the cabinet should follow. Who wants to be defeated when the President of the country is present and watching.

 In cricket I am told one of the Governors used to play.  (was it Wyn Harris. Can the Sports historians like Alhagie Sering Secka please help) I know for sure that a Colonial Secretary played for the Gambian side in an intercolonial cricket tournament against Sierra Leone in the later 1950s .

During the 3-day inter-colonial cricket tournaments lasting Thursday to Saturday schools were given half days on Thursdays and Fridays to attend to the matches in their uniforms.

The Children are sat along the boundary lines to cheer the Gambian team most of whom were from the High Schools to name a few Ebou Taal, Dandeh Njie, Abdoulie Conteh, Tim Jagne, Abdoulie Kah, Bola Mahoney.

I remember the exciting match against Sierre Leone the whole of the Square were brought to their feet with mouth open, excitement turned to Anxiety and Tension as we waited for Bola Mahoney to score the first Century in Gambia for a very long time.

It was excitement all the way with cheers from all corners of the Square as he hit the ball to 4 and 6 rapidly moving from zero to 90. The excitement died down and tension built in and one can feel it down your bones right across the square. Is he going to make it?

This was the question on the mind of every Gambian Supporter. The Sierre Leone team added to the pressure by changing their field. They brought in a spin bowler and surrounding the wicket with a Short Leg fielder, a Silly point, a short square leg fielder and a cover.

There was deep fine leg, a long on and an extra cover to protect the boundary. Bola Mahoney moved on slowly from 90 to 91, to 96 and as much as the crowd was worried and praying one can sense the tension on poor Bola.

He was determined to score his first century on Gambian soil and the crowd were not helping with their complete silence. Two more runs and Bola was 98 needing only two runs for a great achievement.

 The bowler came in and Bola blocked. Raise his head up and looked at the out field and settled again for the next ball. Spin Bowler came in, short ball, Bola attacked the ball and connected, the ball went high in the sky and the crowd erupted, jubilation across the square, he has made it with a 6. BUT Ex Cover was watching with eyes fixed on the ball he moved careful positioning myself under the ball.

There was a sudden end to the celebrations in the square. The ball started to descend.  The Ex Cover fielder moving under it, his cap fell down but his eyes were fixed on the ball and hands wide open waiting to receive the ball.

 It came like a thunder ball and comfortably landed into his hands. The Ex Cover fielder could not believe his luck, he jumped high to the shy and every other fielder ran to embrace him and they danced around in joy.

One could feel the disappointment in the crowd and Bola Slowing walked with tears in his eyes. On his death bed, when I went to pay my last respects at his house in Atlantic Road, Fajara. I thanked him for that exciting moment in Gambian Cricket provided by him.

In the area of culture, at Christmas every final vous was expected to visit the Governor General and on the last day of the Christmas season the Governor General would organize the annual final competition which he attended with his family.

The final competition was later taken over by the City Council and then the Banjul Damba organization. (I remember my final winning the competition organized by Banjul Damba on two occasions and the prizes given to Gomis Vous by the first Lady Chilel Jawara). 

The Christmas cultural groups also were given dates to visit Government House as it was known at the time. I remember the Kankurang of Gomis Vous wishing State House and the President talking to the Kankurang… Julubu. Conteh etc and was laughing and enjoying the fun.

There was the annual school and drama singing contests and young boys going to school would flood the Mc’Carthy Square to support their schools in the drama/dance competitions. Singing at one time was a subject in the schools.

Some of you will remember the Kankurangs, The Makalos, The Fairies, The Agugus, The Mamaparas, The Babadijigas, The Marigos, The Abanjolas, The Kumbos. There were no Huntings at the time.

There were no tourists and no organized tourism but it was a pleasure to be in Banjul any time of the year to experience the culture and sports.

Very interesting, useful and motivational things were happening then. Can we learn from some of them to avoid some of our grounded cultures and sports from dying. This is new Gambia and new ideas and initiatives are needed from the Government, The Private sector and the Individuals.

 

Author: George F. Gomez
Source: Picture: George F. Gomez