On my Interactions with the late Baa Trawally: Snippets from the Last Lecture (Part 1)

Mar 4, 2021, 1:36 PM | Article By: Momodou Sabally, Author, Economist, former Presidential Affairs Minister.

Author, teacher, journalist, politician, and cultural connoisseur, the late Baa Trawally is one of the most intelligent and profound human beings I have ever met anywhere in the world.

Oft touted as an icon of journalism, Baa was certainly more than a journalist; we shall excuse The Gambian media for their one-dimensional portrayal of the man; for who would not want to claim total ownership of such a towering giant (both literarily and metaphorically) like Baa Trawally?

Certainly the late old man has earned a special place in the history of journalism in this country. But that should not take away anything from his trailblazing work as a teacher who started the first school in Ballangharr (CRR) and played a fundamental role in The Gambia’s struggle for independence. The late old man was a founding member of the PPP as well as the social club, Protectorate Peoples Society (PPS) that preceded, and eventually, birthed Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara’s legendary erstwhile ruling party. Baa is an important part o the history of this  country, alongside such unsung heroes like Mamady Sanyang and Bakary Sidibeh.

To the credit of our media fraternity, the late Baa spent most of his time practicing journalism and earned many accolades in the process. To wit, a most auspicious ceremony held in New York, many decades ago, as narrated to me by the late doyen himself:

“I was the first African to study journalism in Israel. And I got a huge reception from the Jewish community in the United States when I subsequently visited Manhattan. A State Department official told me that the Jewish community in Manhattan had been alerted that an Israel-trained journalist was in town and they put up a reception befitting a head of state attended by more than 200 people. When I entered the hall, the ovation was overwhelming; I felt like a head of state. Israel had trained so many African scholars but for journalism, I was the first.”

Certainly The Gambia Press Union and the University of The Gambia’s School of Journalism have lost a fountain of knowledge and a virtual reference library in their specialty. Second only to the family of the departed soul, I extend my condolences to these men and women who are now saddled with the responsibility of moving on (and up) with the legacy of Baa Trawally, Suwaibou Conateh, Dixon Colley, and many other doyens of journalism who have passed on. 

During the many chat sessions I had with him over the past year, Baa Trawally’s emphasis was always on newspapers and communication. He taught me many things but he was insistent on drumming into my head effective communication skills, both written and oral.

As he would fondly tell me “young man, come and sit down here near me. I will put something into your head. Everything that you need to know is right here in my house!”

We had several sessions where the old man would just sit me down and teach me so many things. On average, I would visit him every fortnight; and whenever I entered his house, he would be bustling with excitement as he downloaded his vast knowledge into my mind. He did this with such a sense of urgency that I treated our regular meetings as a sacred duty. 

What started as a single encounter for the old sage to formally task me with being part of the team that would organise the launch of his Mandingka dictionary, became a series of lectures spanning a whole year; where I became the lucky beneficiary of rare wisdom and uncommon knowledge.

May Allah forgive the departed old sage and grant him blissful repose in Jannatul Firdaus.