Image: Musa Sanoba Dumbuya – Son of Foday Kabba Dumbuya
Foday Kaba Dumbuya was “a man destined to have a long and troublesome career” with the British colonizers. Much of his biography had been rendered and immortalized in oral tradition by our ever present Jali and their tradition. The tune that accompanies the narrative of his biography became the signature tune of the Gambia’s national anthem. A fact contrary to the wishes of the British colonial administrators who would rather he be remembered for the villain they saw him to be. They wrote; “…he was in life nothing more nor less than a very powerful bandit, who for close to half a century had brought untold misery upon many of the people of the Gambia. The verdict of history must be that the world was well rid of him.”
What the oral renditions fail to do is offer a descriptive of the man, the colonial records on the contrary made attempts at that. The picture above is believed to be that of his son. In a dispatch from Colonel O’Connor (Governor) to Sir George Grey, dated 14 June 1855, Foday Kaba’s name was first recorded. Lt. Commander I. H.Fraser who was one of the few Europeans to have seen him face to face, described Foday Kaba as “being a man of remarkably fine appearance and, even in his old age, of powerful physique, standing six feet high and in broad proportion.”
In another account, it states; “He was not devoid of intelligence and had in the course of his career picked up a smattering of French.”
His general outlook on life was captured in the following statement that was attributed to him in 1887 in a document entitled Correspondence respecting the affairs of the Gambia pp. 19-20
“I beg to say I have nothing to do with groundnuts, as, where I am, I am only a stranger. Ever since I knew myself to be a man, my occupation has been a warrior; and I make it my duty to fight the Soninkis, who profess no religion whatever. If the Soninkis on the north bank of the river had accepted the Mahommedan [sic] religion, we could have lived in unity. … I will be very glad if the traders and groundnut planters can come to an agreement because I will be benefited by it, as our guns, shot and powder are brought from the traders.”
According to this, he believed his calling in life to be that of a warrior as opposed to a farmer. An incident that, to the colonial administrators spoke to the character of Foday Kaba occurred in the early days of his fighting career against Musa Molloh. Musa Molloh’s fighters apparently carried off Foday Kaba’s wives and children during a raid. When that information reached the colonial authorities, they persuaded Musa Molloh to return the family back to Foday Kaba; for which gesture Foday Kabba never reached out to show any appreciation. One may assume this to be in disdain of the colonial authorities, but to them he was an ungrateful man because in their contrast, they cited an engagement with Maba “who never forgot that Colonel D’Arcy had once spared his village.”
In the annual report of 1888, the colonial administrators made the following assessment; “his existence is a curse to the neighborhood. He lives by slave hunting and robbery. None of his neighbors, unfortunately, are strong enough to drive him out, and he naturally attracts to himself all the idle and worthless ruffians who prefer living on the industry of others to doing any honest work for themselves.”
Despite their unflattering views of the character of the man, they recognized his capacity as having “a gift of leadership and considerable powers of organization.” This was evidenced in his encounters with Musa Molloh who seemed unstoppable in his campaigns. Although Foday Kaba did not defeat him, he stopped his advances. In the cooling off period, he consolidated his positions by forming a “large confederacy of marabouts, which exercised a paramount influence in Niamina, Jarra, Kiang and Foni and in regions as far south as the Casamance” [river]. It must be noted that this confederacy was in numerous cases detached from one another with Soninke strongholds in between certain districts.
According to the records of Colonel D’Arcy, Foday Kaba started his career as a marabout leader whilst still in his twenties during the early fighting in Kombo.
In 1862, he took a party of marabouts and came by sea to Jinnack to help in the campaign of Maba in Niumi. After peace was attained in Niumi, he threw his lot behind Maba, who would later be defeated in Kaolack when the French came to the aid of the “King of Sine Saloum.”
In 1891, after the separation from Sierra Leone, the British set about to define the boundaries of The Gambia. A joint Anglo-French boundary commission was set up, they arrived that year to draw the boundaries of what would later become Senegal and The Gambia. Inadvertently, the demarcation would go through territory claimed by the marabouts. Since the British and the French have different administrative strategies, these territories will undergo significant changes. Foday Kaba and Foday Sillah became obstacles to the work of the boundary commissioners. One of Foday Kaba’s lieutenants, a man named “Franzwoi” especially proved troublesome for the commissioners. After much confrontation, Franzwoi declared his “friendliness” with the commissioners. Foday Kaba during this time was in the Casamance but returned after the boundary commissioners left Bintang creek. When the British learnt of his return, they sent a message that his authority was no longer recognized in that region by the British government and that he should relocate to the French side of the boundary, Foday Kaba would of course defy this verdict.
It was decided therefore, to “take stronger measures against him.” Troops were sent from Sierra Leone, and on 2 January 1892, a joint navy and military force attacked Foday Kaba’s base. Even though the town was destroyed, he escaped that assault and retreated to the Casamance once again. The territory he claimed was divided up and placed under various chiefs who recognized British authority.
He would re-engage the British again almost a decade later after the incidents of Sankandi in which Travelling Commissioner Sitwell was killed. Sankandi was a Marabout town and loyal to Foday Kaba. From the British point of view therefore, Foday Kaba was the root cause of the problems and he needed dealing with. What the events of Sankandi point to more than anything else, was that Foday Kaba and those allied with him were very averse to British colonialism.
After having effectively rooted Foday Kaba out of these perceived strongholds during the Battle of Sankandi and the subsequent raids in Badibou, the second phase was launched in March 1901. This time the French were to attack his base at Medina (in French territory) while the British amassed at the newly marked international border to cut off any retreats. “Musa Molloh was once more to cooperate by advancing from the east.”
It was this march on Medina, faced with unmatched fire power that Foday Kaba was killed in his fortified stronghold; “his body was found just inside with a bullet through the brain. Fodi Kabba was close on seventy when he fell. He died; no doubt, as he would have wished to die and his last stand cannot but call forth a feeling of admiration.”
So ascended Foday Kaba Dumbuya to the realm of the ancestors; defiant to the bitter end. Whatever the motivations, there was much bloodshed and misery in his nearly half century campaign. But from the various episodes recorded by the colonial administrators themselves, his rebellion, it seems was a campaign as much (if not more so) about resistance against subjugation by a non-native, non-Muslim authority as it was about a so-called Jihad.
“Foday Kabba ou katt”, which denotes the barbarity he inflicted on those he conquered has so far not been highlighted in these records accessed.
Gray, J. (1940). History of The Gambia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.