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The Gambia History


Straddling the Gambia River, the Republic of The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa. Inhabited by numerous ethnic groups and a part of various West African kingdoms before its colonization, Gambia was fused together with present-day Senegal to form Senegambia, the first British colony in Africa. Gambia became a self-governed nation in 1963 and gained full independence in 1965.


The country is known for the beaches along its small Atlantic coastline and for being home to Jufureh (Juffure), the reputed ancestral village of Kunta Kinte, the main character in Alex Haley’s well-known novel Roots. The capital, Banjul (called Bathurst until 1973), is situated where the Gambia River flows into the Atlantic Ocean.


The Gambia is considered a "melting pot" of West African ethnic groups who generally live in harmony with one another. Eighty percent of the population are subsistence farmers, many of whom are women. Gambian law supports gender equality, but it is a patrilineal society, mainly among Muslims. Polygamy is also very prevalent. Major social issues within Gambian society include poverty, disease, and lack of economic development.  There are no government programs in place for the poor or disabled, and they are usually forced to beg. Malaria, blindness, and other illnesses affect the population, and the nation is one of the poorest in the world.


Ninety-six percent of the Gambia population is Muslim while Evangelical Christians make up less than 1% of the population. Leadership training is needed in order to effectively help those living in isolated areas and to meet the need in The Gambia.


Banjul is the capital and fourth largest city of The Gambia. It is the center of the eponymous administrative division which is home to an estimated 400,000 residents, making it The Gambia's largest and most densely populated metropolitan area.


The People

The river basin was a focal point for migrating groups of people escaping the turmoil of western Sudanic wars dating from the 12th century. The Diola (Jola) are the people longest residents in the country; they are now located primarily in Western Gambia. The largest group is the Malinke, comprising about one-third of the population. The Wolof are the dominant group in Senegal, also predominant in Banjul. The Fulani settled the extreme upriver areas, and their kingdom, Fuladu, became a major power in the late 19th century. The Soninke, an admixture of Malinke and Fulani, are also concentrated in the upriver areas.


Interesting Facts

  •  The Gambia is the smallest country in continental Africa. Only the island nations of Cape Verde, Comoros, Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Seychelles are smaller.

  • An unusual shape, the Gambia occupies a long narrow strip of land that surrounds the Gambia River. At its narrowest, the country is just 15 miles (25km) wide and at its widest, it is still only 30 miles (50km) wide. Its territory extends almost 300 miles (480km) from the Atlantic coast into the interior.

  • The Gambia’s flag has red, blue, and green stripes separated by two thinner stripes of white. The blue represents the Gambia River; red represents the sun and the equatorial position of the country; green stripe represents the agricultural produce; white stands for peace and unity. 

  • The Gambia’s capital city, Banjul, is positioned on Saint Mary’s Island at the mouth of the Gambia River. The Mandinka people used to gather fibrous plants on the island for the manufacture of ropes. “Bang julo” is Mandinka for “rope fibre” and mispronunciation over time caused the term to become Banjul.

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