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Farafenni .... A Soninke Holy Land

In today's edition of towns and villages, we bring to the limelight the tales of a community that is famous in the country for being a commercial epicenter.

Situated close to The Gambian border with Senegal in the north, this community plays dual role. It serves as commercial headquarters of North Bank Region and also a source of revenue generation for both Gambians and non Gambians. The community is also a hub of political activities in the region, which has given impetus to state technocrats to recognise its untapped potentials to provide suitable accommodate administrative seats. This community is no other than the famous town of Farafenni, fondly named Chaku Bantang by its youthful inhabitants.

Before we proceed with the narration of the tales of the community, we wish to inform our esteem readers that this piece would be our last publication for the month as the column is set to take a short Tobaski break. We therefore wish to take this singular honour and privilege to congratulate and wish all those who have been constantly monitoring us, a happy and prosperous Tobaski feast. We pray that the Almighty Allah continues to shower his blessings  on Africa, and on all Africans who dedicate lives to the service of their people. Please relax and read our interesting narrative of the findings of our exploration in the search for untold stories about the founding of this community.

The Foundation

During our chat with the elders of Farafenni, we met the custodian of the town, Lamg Suruwaa Dibba, but could not ascertain the actual date of the establishment of the settlement. What is true is that the community has gone through an evolution. It is believed to have been in existence since the time of the prophet of the Islamic religion, Muhammed (SAW), which was also the period of empires in Western Sudan.

Our sources, however, unveiled that the name of the community, Farafenni is a Mandinka phrase (Farofenyito), which laterally can be translated as the end of a swampy zone. Sources say the community got this name because it is situated in a swamp and lies in the middle of two valleys, namely, Jorol and Sauyang. These two valleys continue to play a symbolic role in the tradition of the community.

According to our sources, during the early days of the founding of Farafenni, it served as a symbolic holy land for the Soninke in the sub-region. The community had a big tree known by the local people as Jalang Bantang where the Soninke in West Africa annually converge for pilgrimage. Sources say the service often took three days, with wards of the Soninke kings and warlords converging at a dignified sanctum ,called Mansa Bin, where they had a sumptious meal.

The route to the founding of the settlement of Farafenni began from the ancient land of Manding, where one Walimang Dibba, a hunter who would later be associated with the founding of the settlement migrated from in search of the treasures of life. Another school of thought says that  Walimang Dibba was a controversial  clansman whose  authoritarian behaviour made her at loggerhead with the king of Manding at the time.

In order to protect himself and his family from a plot by the king to assassinate him, he fled for his life. The unplanned journey brought him to The Gambia valley, where  Walimang, migrated to with his marabou who was identified as Kerenfenyi Dukureh. They entered The Gambia valley through Wuli region in present day Upperr River Region of The Gambia. From Wuli, they moved further inland and settled temporarily at Kutitenda, a settlement that lies on the outskirts of Bansang.  His marabout ventured into a spiritual search of a settlement that would be consudive to live, though he was told later that their newfound home lies in a swamp.

After two years, they began to make an adventure to search for the spiritually prophesised settlement-a journey that brought them to settle in a community that today is known as Dibba Kunda . They decided to move upwards to erect the founding pillars of a community that later came to be known as Farafenni. After establishing the community of Farafenni, Walimang moved further inland to establish a settlement called Jobanjahet, this community is now in Senegal.

These two settlements, however, fall short of the land prophesised to Walimang by his marabou to be a suitable home to live. According to our sources, the marabout of Walimang Dibba told him that his settlement lies in the east near a river bank. He further told him that he would find a 'bumbaun' tree surrounding a 'keno' tree at the site, where they would find from under a tree, three eggs from a bird. Our sources added that the marabou told Walimang Dibba that any time he saw those signs, he should know that he has found where his bantaba (village centre) should be erected. 

It took Walimang over twenty years to find his prophesised settlement of Farafennit.-a search which made him establish the sister community of Salikenni. After laying the foundation for the settlement of Salikenni, Walimang left his son at the new settlement and returned to Farafenni, but on  his way,, he laid the foundation of a settlement called Buranyaa. He returned to Salikenni but did not stay there for long. Soon, he left his son and crossed through Basum to Foni, where he established Bukting Gibbakunda, Swelbaa and Swel Mulump before passing the land of the ancestors.

Aborigines and expansion

In the genesis of the settlement, Walimang Dibba was believed to have been accompanied by his marabou to carve the settlement. As time passed, the family of the founding Dibba was also fragmentalised into four different wards, because the founder had different wives whose children decided to independently erect ‘kabilos’ after his death. When the settlement advanced, more people, from many distant places migrated to the new home. Our sources could not state the specificnumber of wards that surround Farafenni ,but confirmed quickly confirm that the community is one of the biggest in the North Bank Region.

The Alkaloship.

Like many traditional African communal settings, the community of Farafenni still puts emphasis on traditional philosophy of lineage. Succession to the throne of alikalo remains entirely the domain of the founders and they passed the traditional regalia to each other based on age. Suffice it to say, the alkaloship of the community of Farafenni is in the hands of the Dibba. This is because as tradition demands, they are the founders who deserve the right to physically and spiritually supervise the affairs of the community. 

African traditional

It is obvious that no traditional African society exists without a traditional ideology which revolves around beliefs in sprits, deities and the like. The community of Farafenni was also  founded on traditional African practices. This shows that the community served as a pilgrimage center for the Soninke in the sub- region during the early days of settlement.

Sources, however noted that the community quickly embraced Islam because marabout movements which were determined to spread the Islamic faith among people, did not isolate the community.  The community had since been entrenching itself deeper in the Islamic Ocean.

 

Gibairo Janneh


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