By Yunus S Saliu
Out of lots of islands in destination Gambia, ten among them are premised on history taking into consideration its tangible and intangible expressions in the destination.
These ten islands are among the places of attraction in The Gambia – The Smiling Coast of Africa and one among the islands is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In the Destination Gambia, the River Gambia has some major islands counting from Jinak Island to McCarthy Island, and all these Islands are found within the stretch hence beyond Georgetown known as McCarthy Island in Central River Region (CRR), the rivers have no island because it narrows.
Most of the islands are found in the Lower River parts of The Gambia, according to Hassoum Ceesay, Director General of the National Centre for Arts and Culture doubles as a historian, “Some of these islands are more interesting to us historians because of its historical meant.”
St Mary Island
This island is the capital city of The Gambia it is called Banjul it was purchased by the British from the local rulers of Kombo in 1816 to be the bastion of British imperial and colonial interest, particularly commercial interest.
This island is also known as Charles Island. It is off Barra and a quarry where the stones and gravels that were used to construct the buildings in Bathurst (Banjul) known as St Mary Island were got from. It was under the King of Barra. When the British were building places like the government house and other government buildings, they got permission from the King of Barra to quarry at Dog Island.
James Island renamed Kunta Kinteh Island is another island of interest. It was occupied by the Portuguese as far back as 1456 and it played a very important role in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. It is on that island that Kunta Kinteh was shipped out as a slave as an enslaved person in 1767 as well as narrated in the book ROOTS. After that, hundreds and thousands of slaves departed from James Island it was a major slave depot where the slaves and the enslaved people were kept until they were enough to fill the boat with two, or three hundred cargo and put on the boat for middle passage to the new world as enslaved people.
This is another island of historic interest called McCarthy Island or Georgetown, and it is called Janjanbureh. This island was purchased in April 1823 by the British to enable them to have a very strong presence in the upper reaches of the River Gambia after the destruction of James Island (Kunta Kinteh Island) in 1810. The British thought it was no use to try to reconstruct the island because the French bombarded it seriously and it was in ruins. They decided to have a new position in the River Gambia to protect the country’s commercial interest. They negotiated with the King of Niani – Nabani Sabally to get this island called McCarthy Island and established a settlement called Georgetown. Now people are living on the island. But then it was a place for the runaway people from justice, brigands and also for a small Islamic Training Centre called Limania. But after the British purchased it they established McCarthy, Georgetown as a commercial center.
This Island is well known for its biodiversity and some of the local tour operators and guides do call it Treasure or Paradise Island. It is fringed with mangrove creeks, tidal sand flats, saltwater marsh, low coastal dunes, and a coastal lagoon. The population continues to grow thus people are living on the island.
This Island is known as Chimpanzees Rehabilitation Center it was established in 1979 and is home to the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project (CRP). It was meant for the care and reintroduction of orphaned and unwanted chimpanzees. Wild chimpanzees disappeared from The Gambia in the early 1900s, but as of September 2019, there are now more than 100 chimpanzees living free on 3 islands in 4 separate social groups known as – the Dash family, Pooh family, Hesus family, and Jumbo family. At Baboon Island, there are six islands only three of them have chimps. It is always an unforgettable experience on Baboon Island. Many holidaymakers, adventurists, and lovers of nature visit this island regularly.
Baobab Island is also called Sita Joyeh Island located in a quiet, peaceful, and tranquil environment and it is eco-friendly. This island is about 2.5 kilometers away from Kuloro/Tungina village in West Coast Region, and less than 35 minutes drive from the Banjul International Airport. Baobab Island is proximity to Bonto and Farasutu Forests, Faraba Banta, Marakisa, Tanjeh, Tujereng and Kartong. This beautiful island is accessible by boat with hot spots for birding and nature tours. Your visit to Baobab Island for a nature trail will be an opportunity to see “African Owl, Greyish and Vereaux’s Eagle Owl, Nightjars, and so on, while a beautiful Sita Joyeh Lodge awaits you for accommodation.
Other islands have ecological significance, this includes: Elephant Island in Jarra, Deer Island – near Kundang, and Bird Island near Wassu
All these are known for their ecological significance for fauna and flora.
However, these islands are now virtually unknown because of the decline in the River Transport. In those days when Gambians traveled aboard Lady Chillel, Lady Wright, Lady Denham, or the Prince of Wales boats, Gambians used to enjoy these Islands. When traveling on these boats you will have the opportunity to see these islands.
“That’s in those days it was common for school children to know all the names of the islands on the River Gambia and names of all points like Buniadu Point, Barra Point, Dog Island Point, Bintang Point, and lots. All these are significant points on the river and of course the tripartite of the ‘bolongs’ which also number about 17 ‘bolongs’ on the River Gambia,” Mr. Ceesay outlined them.
There are environmental or ecological interests, the fauna, and flora are all indications of how beautiful and rich the River Gambia is.
All these islands are all tourist attractions waiting for their full potential to be tapped for tourism, ecological interest, research purposes, and also for ecstatic and they should be counted among the Gambia’s natural resources different from the river.