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Battle of Sankandi

If we are to draw up a regional index for defiance and steadfastness of people holding on to their values, Kiang will rank very highly, if not at the very top, Just ask Yaya Jammeh. They seem to be the very embodiment of the mantra “kay yaa nee balang ta meng na, e bang wuleng keh.” In essence, that phrase means do not compromise your principles. Depending on what the principle is, this could be a good thing or a bad thing, but what remains a fact is the steely resolve and iron clad will of one who’d rather face any adversity than compromise his values. The people of Kiang Sankandi did just that. If any part of Kiang is to beat the rest of Kiang, it will be Sankandi, they made it into history books thanks to their defiance. Badibou would not be outdone either.

It appears from the records that Sankandi and Jataba had a long running land dispute over rice fields that the Travelling Commissioner sought to address. First they gave the Travelling Commissioner a run around, then defied him after he met their demands. In the ensuing confrontation, the Travelling Commissioner was killed. This was in 1900. At the time, Sankandi was what the colonial administrators dubbed “marabout territory”, meaning they embraced Islam and were allied with Foday Kaba, unlike Jataba which at the time was still a Soninke town.

Sitwell gave some recommendations the prior year on how to resolve the land dispute; recommendations to which the people of Sankandi refused to abide by. This was what prompted his travel to Battelling  in 1900 accompanied by one Mr. Silva to “investigate”. But when he “summoned the leading men of Sankandi to appear before him in Battelling, they refused to show. Thereupon Messrs. Sitwell and Silva proceeded personally to Sankandi accompanied by a small police escort and a small band of retainers under Mansa Koto, the Chief [Alkalo] of Battelling.”

Commissioner then asked the elders to meet him on the outskirts of the village for a meeting; they refused and sent a message that any meeting they hold will be at the bantaba as tradition demands. The commissioner and his company had no choice but to oblige and so proceeded into the Sankandi and on to the bantaba. The Alkalo of Sankandi, Dari Bana Darbo and his followers refused to grant them audience. Obviously the Commissioner was infuriated, it was at that point that Sitwell attempted to arrest the Alkalo Dari Bana Dabo. That attempt did not go down well. It appeared the people were prepared for a confrontation as they “immediately [opened fire] on the Europeans and their escort.”

When the dust settled, Messrs Sitwell and Silva lay dead, “Mansa Koto was mortally wounded. Six of the constables were also killed. Sergeant Joseph Cox, the commander of the escort was last seen standing beside Sitwell’s dead body and emptying his few remaining rounds of ammunition at close range into the enemy. At least four of them fell before he fell.”

The news of this encounter spread fast and the story line had it that the news making the rounds was that “The people of Sankandi have killed two white men and the chief (Mansa Koto of Battelling) and the English had done nothing, now every man could do as he like.” Foday Kaba caught wind of this and started preparations for another showdown with the British. The British at the time were not in a position to respond to this “outrage” due to other military engagements in the “South African war” and the “Ashanti campaign”. The effects resonated across the river to Badibou. It seems the cousins on the opposite bank refused to be outdone in this kay-yaa contest and for a while the Travelling Commissioners were confined to Bathurst owing to the dangers posed.

When the British finally had troops available, they prepared a response and “it was decided not only to punish the people of Sankandi, but also to deal with Fodi Kabba who was the real instigator of the whole trouble.” Since Foday kaba was based in French territory with influence in British territory, French help was sought to deal with him once and for all. “Musa Molloh, who had consistently shown himself well disposed towards the British, was also invited to assist.” A coalition was effectively formed.

The military buildup was huge and made up of “half a battalion of the 3rd West India Regiment from Sierra Leone, half a battalion of the 2nd Central African Regiment, H.M.S Forte, Dwarf and Thrush (war ships).” They converged on Barthusrt and proceeded by river to “Tendaba under the command of Lt. Col. H.E. Brake of the Central African Regiment and two companies of the West India Regiment went along Bintang creek in the Dwarf and the colonial steamer Mansa Kila Ba.” This company was to cut off any retreat by the river.

The strategy was to deal with the people of Sankandi for their daring feat, neutralize all Foday Kabba loyalists within British territory and then redirect all their combined forces in a synchronized final showdown with Foday Kabba.

The land route was sealed by Musa Molloh’s troops who assembled in Jarra to cut off any retreat. On 11 January 1901, the group from Tendaba “marched to Sankandi and surrounded it in the early hours. The people of Sankandi hoisted a white flag, but opened a heavy fire as soon as one of the companies advanced. The enemy inflicted a few casualties but did not put up a very determined resistance. The place was taken and destroyed. Three of the ring leaders were made prisoners and three others were subsequently handed over to the people of Kwinella.” 

After Sankandi was taken and “destroyed”, the company marched across to the north bank into Salikeni, “where the previous year [1900], the Travelling Commissioner and the local chief had to beat a hasty retreat before a large armed party.” But unlike Sankandi, the people of Salikeni “were taken by surprise and not ready for war, so the village handed over the ring leaders without striking a blow”. Saba and Nokunda were also areas deemed loyal to Fodi Kabba and any known dissidents there were also disarmed and placed under arrest, a new chief appointed and the places effectively became British protectorates. “The next six weeks were occupied in marching detachments of troops through every district except Fuladu [Musa Molloh’s territory].” This was done to ensure all of British territory was cleansed of Foday Kabba loyalists and under strict control before Foday Kabba was confronted  “as there have been several manifestations of disloyalty in other parts of the protectorate.”

After having effectively rooted Fodi Kabba out of these perceived strongholds, the second phase was launced in March 1901, this time the French were to attack his base at Medina (in French territory) while the British amassed at the newly designed border to cut off any retreats. “Musa Molloh was once more to cooperate by advancing from the east.”

Dari Bana Darbo and two of the ring leaders responsible for the death of Sitwell and company it seems sought refuge in French territory. They were arrested by the French and handed over to the British. They would later be tried, convicted, sentenced to death and executed. “Six others believed to be ring leaders in the disorders in Kiang and Badibou were deported to Sierra Leone.”

What the foregoing points to is that Fodi Kabba and those allied with him were very averse to British colonialism manifested through their defiance and failure to recognize British authority. Whatever their motivation for resisting such, they must be credited for their resolve in the face of a stronger, more sophisticated power in terms of weaponry and warfare.

Works Cited

Gray, J. (1940). History of The Gambia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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