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Farabo Makes Intangible Cultural Heritage Worthwhile

By Yunus S Saliu

If you like, call it ‘talkuru,’ ‘safoo’, ‘terreh,’ ‘baaka,’ or ‘esafaye,’ but what the elite called it is an amulet charm or juju made by charm’s cobblers called Farabos in Mandinka, Galabos in Fula; Oudehs in Wollof; while it is Ararabas and Garanke they are called in Jola and Sarahule respectively and it is a famous intangible cultural heritage which cannot be overlooked.

Here in this write-up, Farabo will be maintained as most of the cobblers sewing the leather amulet/charm or juju in The Gambia are Mandinkas.

Many refer it to as ancestral work thus it is an aegis work not done by just anybody on the street as majorities take the job after their fathers and it is not a push aside intangible cultural heritage.

In Africa, there are different charms, supernatural or paranormal powers that are meant for healing, protection, and success among other things.

Charms and powers are possessed by some people who are blessed with
them, as well as those intensified in research to acquire terrestrial powers.


Large numbers of Africans, men and women, despite their religions still believe in charms or jujus as a fast solution to their needs when it comes to protection, success, healing, miracles, luck, and so on.

There are different jujus used by individuals who believe in its efficacy. The most visible and common jujus in the society are those sewn into amulet by Farabos. The Farabos are those who sew the magical ingredients into amulets or jujus. In the amulets, they can sew items as combined by the priest/priestess, marabout, herbalist, and some others that possess the terrestrial powers depending on the situation of those that seek help from them. This is because jujus are composed of solutions to individual problems and needs. Whatever items they combined and sewn in the animal skins as amulets permeated with the paranormal powers.

Meanwhile, in this part of the continent, West Africa, there are varieties of charms/juju derived from toots, writing done with saffron on paper, bone, scapula, and some other things hence it is inherent knowledge.

Amulet/juju, when it is ready can be worn around the neck, tied around the waist, worn across the shoulder/body, arm, leg, finger or even pinned on the hair on the head, hidden in your pocket, or tied in your cloth and so on. To some, jujus can be sewn on their clothes example are warriors, hunters, and individuals for protection or fortune seeking.

One of the popular middle age Farabos, Lamin Fatty is among the Fatty’s generation of Kaabu Empire from a village called Alabatu Sengsangoto in Guinea Bissau. His forefathers arrived and scattered in The Gambia long ago and they were all Farabos. He inherited this work from his forefathers, though he was brought up and trained by his father’s eldest brother in this profession/work.

According to him, it is an intangible cultural heritage that passes from one generation to another. Lamin Fatty used to sit beside his father’s elder brother when he worked and from there he received traditional lectures on this work, the norms, values, and the traditions surrounding the job.

Then, he said, an amulet/charm is sewn for only D1.00 or D1.50 but now to sew one juju is expensive compared to that period.

However, Charm Cobbler didn’t limit themselves to sewing Juju or amulets alone but they also made shoes, wallets, bags, hats, and belts among other leather works. That’s if you are in the industrial area. But today most of the Farabos specialised only in sewing juju because people patronize them mainly for that and it keeps them busy.

Animal Skins Use By Farabos

The Farabos used different types of animal skins such as sheep, cow, goat, wolf, lion, snake leopard, crocodile, and skins of other reptiles to sew amulets. The type or combination of skins they used to sew them depends on what kind of charm the priest, marabout, and herbalist give to their clients with the prescription of the type of animal skin to use.

Animal skins are costly in The Gambia, the hunters used to sell them at high rates because some animals are not easy to come across in the bush. Some vendors in the market specialize in the sale of animal skins.

According to Lamin Fatty, buying a small portion of animal skin such as a lion will cost you a fortune and it is very scarce because it is not an animal you can get everywhere. Some of the animal skins the vendors are selling to Farabos are imported from countries like Mali and Guinea.

However, sewing amulet has its historical background but nowadays some are joining the profession willingly and inheriting it as a business just involves.

Farabo Lineage

In the Mandika society, the lineage of those who inherited this as we can still find them in some villages across the country is of those with surnames like Barra, Juwara, Saho, Touray, Sisawo, Jafuneh, Fadera, Jagne, Sillah and among others. The bearers of these surnames are very close relatives.

Apart from animal skin, there are other items Farabos need to do their work and this includes bee wax, cow muscle called faso or filai, needle, knife, and so on.

Gone are the days that individuals, warriors, hunters, and wrestlers wore it and those days cannot be compared to nowadays as civilization is taking away everything. This is just because people are not as concerned as before.

Some Norms Farabo Can Observe

Farabos observe different norms when sewing amulet although it depends on the type of juju they are working on. Cobbler sews some charms on instruction from the priest/priestess, or marabout by not speaking to anybody in the process.

Sometimes, Farabo will insert the needle in the mouth when sewing an amulet. Some amulets are not sewn in public; sometimes cobblers are instructed to sew particular charms in their nakedness while some should not be sewn in the vicinity where woman can be seen. Still, there is some juju that you are not to hit when sewing it and there are some you sew inside your pocket.

However, there is the need to follow instructions and directives given when you are sewing the charm because there are reasons for them.

When next you visit a Farabo, learn more about this job as they all have stories to tell you about this popular ancestral profession.


Yunus S Saliu

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