By Yunus S Saliu
The Gambia was just eight years and one day old on the 19th of February 1973 when His Excellency President of the Republic of The Gambia, Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara walked into the cabinet of the Banjul City Council interim committee (IC) to rename the Gambia capital known as Bathurst to Banjul.
In 1816, according to Hassoum Ceesay, a historian and author, the British purchased the Island and renamed the Island St Mary and the settlement was called Bathurst named after Earl Bathurst who was the British Secretary of State for Colonies. “And from 1816 up to 1973 The Gambia capital was called Bathurst and it used to cause a lot of confusion because we have other towns in countries like Australia, Argentina Canada, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Argentina called Bathurst.”
That was one reason that made it important to change the name of the capital city 8 years after The Gambia’s independence and “what the late former President Jawara justified in the press release in changing of the name was that before the British came the Island had a name which is Banjul. Therefore it was only important and necessary for The Gambia capital to reclaim its name back to the original name and drop the name given to the capital by the colonialist.”
The settlement was renamed from Bathurst to Banjul but the name of the Island remains St Mary Island to date and it is a very good step in the decolonization process.
“The settlement on the Island was what was renamed from Bathurst to Banjul on the 19th of February 1973. The name is very important because it pointed out the need for it to be one step in the decolonization process. Imagine we were independent on 18th February 1965 and for 8 years our capital maintained a name that was given by the colonialist. So, the renaming was a very good step in the decolonization process,” historian Ceesay explained.
Furthermore, he added, three years earlier the country becomes a Republic “so the rename was timely but of course involved some costs the BCC have to redesign its logo, stamps, letterhead paper, post office box even newspapers available then, too. Every concerned place and organization has to change their settings and all necessary documents.”
It took some time for people to get used to the change of the name “even in the like of the Radio Gambia who could sometimes say ‘it is Radio Gambia broadcasting from Bathurst instead of Banjul.”
Though some people didn’t like the change of the name they were nostalgic for the past era some liked it “saying the name Banjul is a Gambian language because the Island used to be a harvest ground for ropes among other things so it meant a rope farm.”
However, “people accepted the names change later from Bathurst to Banjul but streets always been the problem so many mayors have tried to change the colonial names of the streets in Banjul to Gambian names but still not popular.”