There are always different sides to any story,. A lot of narratives have been made on The Gambia and her politics. When Berkeley Rice wrote his novel Enter Gambia Birth Of An Improbable Nation, it was a critique from an outside perspectives. In Sir Dawda’s Kairaba we get an insight into our political evolution from a man who would lead us to independence and remain at the helm for many more years after that, he was an insider through and through. In fact one could be so bold as to claim he shaped much of that narrative as his story is intricately tied to the story of the country.
The Memoir of Mamadi Jankoba is a political narrative from the perspective of a man who was witness to the events leading to our independence and an active participant in those events. He offers the perspective of the common man and woman, people like himself he refers to as “Us little people.” Mamadi Jankoba, the narrator is your typical Gambian of provincial stock; the kind we erroneously refer to as illiterate. Far from being an illiterate (which in Gambia parlance means daft), he is a classic representation of a very keen observer adept at analyzing and deducing events around him; a master of people’s disposition and character through observation. To cap it off, he has a very enhanced memory, again not unlike your typical native. It has been proven that when one of our senses is impaired, a corresponding sense gets heightened sensitivity; like a blind man has a heightened sense of hearing. Since our ability to read and write has been impaired due to lack of training and historical events; our memories became heightened and a store of retentive knowledge acquired through other means.
Now this is where Saul’s mastery of the pen comes in; his writing skills captures the narrative so vividly he is able to pull you into the world of Mamadi Jankoba. All of his oral narrative is brilliantly relayed; Saul captures every word in its essence when he put pen to paper. The written version is complete with nuances, analogies, a vivid description of events as they unfold in the world of Mamadi Jankoba.
This is the first written account of how things unfolded in Gambian politics as relayed by what Mamadi Jankoba refers to as “Little People”. One may have listened to the elders relay their stories, but how often do we actually take ourselves into their time; into their reality and understand things from their perspective. Saul does that for you in this book with his mastery of the pen.
Although Mamadi Jankoba may look detached, uninvolved and seemingly unbothered by his surroundings; he is actually absorbing all the happenings around him like a sponge and will only get involved when absolutely necessary or invited; again a trait of his native “Suu” upbringing.
Although he has modest means and takes pride in his ability to provide for his family with his modest income, his dignity meant everything to him. His strength to labor hard was his most relied upon skill and through it he set his children on a better path in life than circumstances accorded him and it turned out well for them.
From that perspective and that mindset of maintaining and upholding dignity in the face of hardship, Mamadi Jankoba opens a window into his world and how he looked at things in “Nying Jamano” – the first chapter of the book. To say he is stunned at the total disregard for such highly regarded values is an understatement. Looking at the sycophancy, the deceit, the lies, the corruption and the insincerity that so many people were displaying just to acquire material wealth and favor from the powers that be, sums up the bane of our problems as a society.
In this opening chapter too, we are introduced to most of the characters and their flowery traits. If you are familiar with Gambian politics, the names, although fictional point you to the actual person based on the traits of the character. That’s another feature of the book. It is a fact/fiction novel, which means the characters are given fictional names but the events are all true. The main character being Aewaaja and Jelela Kayba. There is also Aja Yatu Malbal; Mata Jamm; Suntukung Nyaamo; Keresi Bang; Dua Kaliyaama, Mamudu Hadumeh; Tolayba Demba, and Avocar Chep. Turning the pages of this phenomenal piece, you will laugh, you will cry, and you will get angry.
He offers us a perspective into the mindset and struggles of provincial natives around the dawn of our independence and the subsequent years of the first and second republic. Again employing his observational skills with seeming disconnect, he, like most men of his stock were hardly ever noticed; that coupled with their trustworthy status which made people open up to them makes them a reservoir of information as to events and their implications, knowledge that he is now sharing to enlighten us the younger generation as does his compatriots; only this time it is captured in masterful writing.
Not only is The Memoir Of Mamadi Jankoba a political narrative, it is a historical as well as a cultural expose. traditions like the male initiation ritual and the traditional ‘handing’ over of a bride to her husband are captured in great detail with their underlying rationale, this book is absolutely brilliant.
The book is out now and is available on amazon. Read snippets from the book here and grab a copy. It will offer you greater understanding of our political evolution and how our current political environment has been shaped, especially in the face of such intense false narratives aimed at distorting history.
Have a great read.