Thursday, February 18

Enlightenment Under The Baobab

Soninke-Marabout Wars
Began in the Gambia in the 1850s until 1901. It was essentially a civil war among the Mandinka tribe which erupted on both the north and south banks of the river. The Marabouts were holy Islamic clerics and teachers and the Soninke were Mandinka kings. The word Marabout was later extended to devout Muslims in general. In Senegal they were referred to as the Thiedo by the Wolof. The word Soninke comes from So-ni which is the Mandinka word for libation or sacrifice.

The Marabouts regarded those living outside Muslim towns as infidels or Kafirs. Thus they saw it as their religious duty to extend Islam to these people which eventually resulted in the Soninke-Marabout Wars which raged for decades from the 1850s. The war was similar to many Islamic Jihadist movements that emerged in other parts of West Africa in the nineteenth century. It should be noted that their aims were not just religious but had political and secular goals.

Birth of Ebrima Fode Kombo Silla
Manly Touray was King Silla's father Mbisin Njie, daughter of Burr Sine was his mother. Manly Touray, in the same way as his father, Amatora Touray, was a famous marabout. He traveled from Gunjur to other parts of the country and used to travel to Senegal too. One day during his visits to Senegal, he went to Sine and married the daughter of the king of Sine called Mbisin Njie. It happened that one Ebrima Sillah a famous marabout from Pakau Sillah kunda was on visit in Gunjur when Fode was born. He asked Fode´s parents to name the baby after him and the parents agreed and named the baby Ebrima Sillah.

When Ebrima grew up to the age of learning the Koran, he was sent to Darsilami Sillah kunda at Pakau in Cassamance to learn the Koran. He found many scholars and some of them were called Ebrima Sillah as well. To enable easy identification of those who had the name Ebrima, prefixes were added to their names.Ebrima learned the Koran quickly and within a short period, he made a fantastic progress in his lessons and had flying colours among his fellow scholars. In those days and even today, brilliant Koranic scholars who mastered the Koran well are given the title of "Fode".

Enlightenment Under The Baobab
After winning the title of "Fode" from Darsilami Sillah kunda, Ebrima Fode Kombo Sillah returned to Gunjur and joined his family. He remained with his family for several years and left for the Island of Sangama to worship God. The Sangamar Island is in the Atlantic Ocean. Fode traveled to the Island through the help of the people of Nyombato.For sometime after crossing, Fode stayed and worshipped God in the Island, and one day, the people of Nyombato heard the beating of drums just in the same way as drums are beaten on Friday for prayers. It raised a lot of surprise among the inhabitants, as they have never heard the beating of drums from the Island.

However, after sometime, the people who crossed Fode to the Island explained that a visiting marabout from Gunjur was there worshipping God. Few days later, Fode was seen sailing down to the shore from the Island on a praying skin. The following Friday morning, the people found him sitting down under a baobab tree. He prayed for them and they left. He remained under that baobab tree for a few days and left for Gunjur.

Many ideas were associated to his trip to Sangamar Island but the most reasonable one was that he went to the Island of Sangamarand and sat under the Baobab tree where he was enlightened with the mission to take up the responsibility of ruling and spreading Islam in the Kombos.

Meeting At Gunju
A delegation of Muslim elders was chosen to meet Fode to ask him to lead them in war against the Soninke villages in Brikama, Manduar, Kitte, Siffoe, Busumbala, Yundum, Lamin, Mandinaring, Latrikunda Mampatokoto, Talinding Kunjang, Serekunda, Bakau, Mandinaba, Tuba Kuta , Selety, Pirang, Farabanta, Farabasutu and Kafuta. He listened to them carefully and after they had finished, he replied that it was sad to hear of their troubles which took place in his absence, but at the same time, he was please to accept their offer to make him a leader.

In preparation for Jihad, Emir Fode made jujus monthly and put them into all Muslim village wells for the safety of the villagers against any possible disaster. One afternoon, while sitting down and discussing with the people, the Emir suddenly turned sad and the people asked him why he was so sad. He replied that nothing had happened to him. However after a little while, two horsemen arrived from Pirang and announced the murder of Arfang Tumani Jabang by the Soninke king.
Conquest of the Kombos
In further preparation for the inevitable Muslim and Soninke war, the Emir entered in a private praying period know as "Haluwa" and begged God to punish the Soninkes and make his people victorious in the war. He ordered the blacksmiths Amara Sulu Sawo of Gunjur, Saba Cham of Gunjur and Famara Keita of Tujereng to start making local guns and bullets in secret.When it was fairly dark enough, Fode made his soldiers to leave Sansanding to attack the principal Soninke villages of Brikama, Yundum and Busumbala. These three villages were not only known for their population but had also all the bravest Soninke warriors.

The company that attacked Brikama arrived at midnight, before the afternoon of the following day, the remaining soninkes either left Brikama or surrender to the Muslims. Having defeated Brikama, Fode`s troops advanced towards Yundum and Busumbala. They arrived at night and attacked Yundum at night. The battle here lasted more than a week because it was a very strong Soninke settlement full of brave warriors. According to some soldiers, the Soninkes of Yundum had opted to die rather to surrender to the Sillla's troops,

The Situation at Busumbala was the most critical one as compared to that of Yundum. Here, the battle took the longest time when compared to battles fought in any soninke village. Busumbala had more brave warriors than Yundum and the bees at Yarambamba forest created more problems for the Silla's soldiers. The bees were said to have been sent by the soninke idols and when they bit the Silla's men, they either died or were rendered completely useless and ineffective in the battle. In this way many warriors lost their lives in Busumbala and the whole army wereclose to defeat. As the situation turned more and more drastic on the side of the Muslims, the troop leaders sent for the Emir himself to come and see the situation himself.

On arrival, Fode was astonished and shed tears when he learned about the fall of his bravest soldiers. He immediately gave orders to withdraw the soldiers and report at Sansanding. He himself returned to Darsilami where he entered his hiding and begged God for the Jihad to end in favour of his troops.

Silla and the Ninki Nanka Dragon
His prayers were answered, and one morning when the Soninkes at Yundum and Busumbala got up from bed, they discovered that the whole villages of Yundum and Busumbala were ambushed by a mighty dragon. Nobody went in or out of the two villages for eight days, at the end of the eight day, the Soninke in both villagers sent word across to Emir Fode in Darsilami that they had surrendered and would become Muslims. The following night, the dragon disappeared. The victory for King Silla in Busumbala and Yundum which were the strongest Soninke settlements caused the rest of the Soninkes in Kombo to surrender to the Emir and joined his religion.

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