Destinations Tourism and Heritage

Destination Janjanbureh


One of the most historical Islands in The Gambia that one cannot avoid visiting in The Gambia is no other Island than the popular Janjanbureh. It is an island that tourists can hardly miss if they want to claim knowledge of Gambian history and their stay in the country. It is because Janjanbureh is an island of history and, every minute spent is a moving and memorable one as the knowledge and what will be seen will last in one’s lifetime.

As the saying goes ‘no event no history,’ you can take everything away from Janjanbureh, but not its characteristic excess in sand and bar of ironstone, running from the bank across the river, known as Buruko Rocks. Its culture and tradition form the historical value of the island, which made it a household name in The Gambia and beyond. It is an island evolving from a mere sandbank made out of alluvial river deposits.

This island developed into a wooded environment inhabited by wild creatures and numerous species of birds and reptiles. Before it assumed its present names, early European and Luso, African traders of the 16th and 17th centuries, originally called it Leman Island. According to the history of settlement, a structure found in the famous Freedom Tree Monument, a Triangle Park on the island located close to the slave house and slave market – in the island, “on April 14, 1823, the Island was ceded in a treaty signed by Major Grant and the King of Kataba, in exchange for an annual payment. On the same day, Grant took formal possession of the Island and built a fort.

On 30th April of the same year, two cannons were mounted on the bastions, the British flag hoisted and the royal salute was fired. The settlement was named after King George IV (1820-1830) and the Island was renamed after Sir Charles MacCarthy, Governor of British West African Possession (1814-1824).”
This island occupies about 1/6 of the 43.2km square land area popularly called MacCarthy, Georgetown, or Janjanbureh, its present name. The various names appeal to specific groups of people that visit the Island.

Among students of Armitage Senior Secondary School, Georgetown seems to be more favorable, while most of the indigenes (youths) call it MacCarthy and the old ones, and the rest of the country called it by its present name – Janjanbureh. The Leman name has virtually lost its place in this generation, except for historical references.

Janjanbureh is one of the oldest towns of the Gambia as the administrative center of the Central River Region; it is the second oldest city of the colonial era. Wherever you are in The Gambia one of the three names – MacCarthy, Georgetown or Janjanbureh might be mentioned, during discussions in houses, restaurants, commercial vehicles, on the streets, in market places, and more so in classrooms, where it is often very popular among the students who see it as one of the first choices for an excursion.

The island, 283km by sea and 304 km by land, from Banjul, is among other provinces in the Gambia where its environment is said to be among the cleanest. Its streets boast of perfect tranquillity, boosted by the occasional relieving sounds of music emanating from shops, and the ubiquitous makeshift canteens that line it. The island was once a commercial center. But because of migration, many of the indigenes had migrated to the urban areas, some venturing further out of the shores of The Gambia in search of greener pastures. But despite this mass migration, Janjanbureh still serves as a link to the surrounding villages and communities on its mainland north, south, and west.

In addition, another thing that makes this island a perfect place and continues to attract thousands of tourists every year is its peaceful nature, with the conspicuous absence of criminal activities, compared to the main urban cities. Janjanbureh can also boast of one of the most popular learning institutions in the country today – Armitage Senior Secondary School; the most recognised prison yard; Kankunrang Center and Museum; the famous Freedom Tree – although the original Freedom Tree was said to have been removed but replaced, the wooden house among other.

On 21st September 2002, the Janjanbureh Community held a ceremony marking the planting of a new tree at the site to celebrate ‘a rebirth of the town of the freedom.’ This is the site that holds the Freedom Tree. It also accommodates the remains of the slave market, its stone-built warehouses, and the underground slave house which are still visible today, solid reminders of hard days gone by.


Yunus S Saliu

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