Where is Gambia? Gambia Facts
In the reign of King James I in the 17th century some adventurous merchants of London obtained a small island at the mouth of the Gambia River and set up a trading post there. That was Britain’s first foothold in Africa. Near this island is another, called St. Mary’s Island, on which is situated Bathurst, which is the capital and sea port of the British colony and protectorate of Gambia. In the years which followed the merchants made other trading posts up the river till, nearly two centuries ago, 288 miles of the river and strips about ten miles wide on each bank were recognized as being under British control. That is why today Gambia lookes on a map like a long narrow tongue pointing into Senegal.
The simplest way to see the territory is to take a trip on one of the little government steamers which chug their way up and down the river from Bathurst. At its mouth the river is two-and-a-half miles across, but almost immediately it widens, so that for a time the visitor thinks he is on a lake rather than a river. Ocean-going steamers can travel well over half the way from the Atlantic to the point farthest inland. For long stretches there are mangrove swamps where, particularly between July and October when the rain falls in torrents, there are many mosquitoes carrying the disease malaria. In some places farther up the river there are steep banks lined with larger trees. Here there are quite likely to be troops of chattering monkeys, while a few vultures are probably soaring over the villages. Crocodiles and hippopotamuses lurk mostly unseen, yet the traveller will be unlucky if he does not see a few near the steamer.
The journey usually lasts about three days each way and is always full of interest. Every inch of the steamer’s deck is occupied almost ali the time by Gambians, with their bundles and boxes and even with their poultry, sheep and goats. A minstrel may entertain the passengers with a homemade instrument, and yet they seem to need little entertainment. Usually there is an uproar of conversation which reaches a peak at every port of call, with the steamer joining in with its siren and its hooter.
The passengers probably include Wolofs, Mandingos and Fulas, who are the three main tribes. Like many other Moslems, the menfolk will be wearing tasselled hats, flowing robes and baggy trousers. The women will wear billowing gowns and gay headdresses.
On the banks the traveller may notice camels ridden by desert people who have come to the river to trade. Here and there are rice fields, and near the villages the traveller may catch a glimpse of fields covered with plants looking rather like clover. They grow what we often call monkey nuts on their roots, which are harvested at the beginning of the dry season.