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From Dust To Digital: The Gambia Oral Archive Gets New Lease of Life After A Turbulent Storm

By Yunus S Saliu

A new lease of life has been restored to the RDD unit of the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC) after a turbulent storm that destroyed the roof and building of the depository of its oral archives located at Fajara along Kairaba Avenue in July 2023.

The oral archives also referred to as the Research Documentation Division (RDD) of the National Center for Arts and Culture of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture contains 6000 audio tapes, 3000 transcribed files, and over 4000 oral archival documents including the Gambia newspapers library with newspapers collection dating to the 1970s. This place is used by university students and international researchers who are interested particularly in pre-colonial Gambian history, the archive is managed by the NCAC.

On this sad day in July 2023, staff woke up and saw that the roof of the archive had been completely blown away by a windstorm and that water was gushing into the depository, threatening to destroy the memory of the Gambian Republic. The Archives which include oral histories collected since 1946, on various aspects of Gambian history and culture, settlements genealogy, traditional knowledge history, pre-colonial state, folklore, proverbs riddles are indeed endangered.

However, thanks to a UNESCO training, attended by some members of the archive held in Saly, Senegal in 2022 organized by the UNESCO Memory of The World Project, the staff were able to quickly intervene and rescue all archiver holdings.

Speaking on this, Hassoum Ceesay, the Director General of the NCAC affirmed that not a single archival file was lost, which was indeed a miracle, “But thanks to the step-down training that the staff received after senior members of the archives attended the UNESCO training in Dakar. The disaster was averted and all the material were rescued.”

According to him, the Gambia Ministry of Finance in August, came up with emergency funding to enable the NCAC to hire a most suitable building to house the archives.

The Director General therefore commended the Permanent Secretary and Minister of Finance for their quick action, and support for the salvation of the memory of the Gambian Republic.

He also commended the Director General of the Gambia Procurement Authority for being very flexible in helping to make sure that the procurement process was done without delay.

Mr Hassoum Ceesay explained that for three weeks “we were all in shock because the entire archive holdings had to be removed to temporarily storage. But thanks to the support of the Ministry of Finance, through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, a new building was rented and now the archives have been safely and comfortably transferred. The working environment is better and the archive is now in a better conservation state.”

More so, he said the NCAC will continue to work with the UNESCO Memory of the World Program to ensure that the staff is trained to continue to be able to handle such disaster risk and mitigation scenarios.

Also, to make sure that materials in the archives will continue to be housed in favorable conditions while adding that the archive interests the Gambia and a lot of information also concerned Senegal, Guinea Bissau, and Guinea Conakry. “So the archives is in a way a Pan African archives having a Pan African memory,” he noted.

He concluded that the NCAC will now continue to work to make sure that the Gambia oral archive located in Fajara is listed in the UNESCO Memory of the World for it to continue to remain a source of historical knowledge that brings together the similarities and the culture and history of the West African sub-region.

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Yunus S Saliu

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