Nyankusita: A sacred Baobab tree in Janjangbureh

Feb 8, 2021, 11:52 AM | Article By: Yunus S Saliu

One of the categories of cultural sites in The Gambia that is attracting visitors and international tourists is the Nyankusita tree known as Sacred Baobab Tree, located in the historical island of Janjangbureh in Central River Region (CRR).

Like other cultural sites scattered across Destination Gambia, Nyankusita is an important living Baobab tree of over 200 years old with a strong history attached to the island of Janjangbureh. It is a sacred tree where a child or children for initiation got circumcised inside the inner chamber of the Nyankusita tree without any idea of who circumcised them.

This over 200-year-old Sacred Baobab tree has an opening door-like for entrance, with a cooler interior. The outer body looks fresh and healthy.

According to the history of Nyankusita, as narrated by Musa Foon, one of the National Centre for Arts and Culture museum’s curator, attached at the Kankurang Museum Centre, the initiation of children in the olden days did start from the Nyakusita sacred tree.

Musa, who is also a tour guide explained that then, when it is time for children’s initiation, also known as male circumcision, it is under the Nyankusita where the elders did gather for meeting and plan for the year’s initiation.

According to him, calling for this meeting is done in a special way without any word uttered from a town crier or messenger. According to him, an old man would dress in red attire to walk round the community.

Then “there was no formal system of making announcements, but the only means recognised was that an old man would dress in reds – shoes, clothes and cap to walk around the community. When the elders in the community see him, they would know straight away that there is going to be a community meeting – an emergency one for that matter scheduled for that day at 5 p.m. under the Nyankusita tree,” Musa explained.

 It is under this sacred tree where elders would gather to plan the date, cultural activities, type of Kankurang that would be allowed to come and protect the children of the community during the initiation.

It is worth knowing that during such meetings no woman or women are allowed coming to Nyankusita and “even uncircumcised boys or boys below the age of 20 are forbidden around the tree at that particular time unless they are among children for circumcision.”

At Initiation

The highlight of this Sacred Baobab tree is when the children arrive for initiation. They will form a queue while their fathers stand behind them. A child would enter the Nyankusita Tree one after the other through its door-like entrance (covered with cotton) alone to receive initiation, while his father waited outside for his son’s return. When any of the children is inside the inner chamber of the Nyankusita, nobody knows what goes on inside except when people outside, in a sudden, would hear the screaming from the interior of the tree.

“When such a child comes outside from the tree, he would be found circumcised without anybody knowing who circumcised him inside the Nyankusita tree,” Musa affirmed.

“This is real and it is done out of some supernatural powers because no one knows or can tell how a child that entered inside the Nyankusita is being circumcised or who circumcised them when they were inside it,” he emphasised.

So, “when the child comes out, the father would give him clothes to wear and cut the leaves of Nyankusita, chew it and spit the water on the wound or the cut of the circumcised boy for healing, this would be done to all of them.”

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