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Sankandi Incident: Last act of resistance against colonial rule in Gambia territory

Giving an account of the past events in The Gambia cannot be completed without the story of the remarkable Sankandi Battle known as Sankandi Incident of 1900 and 1901.

In the record, that battle as referred to by the Europeans is called ‘Sankandi Incident’ but to Gambians and historians ‘it is more than an incident because it was the last act of resistance against the colonial rule in The Gambia territory.’

According to historians and as narrated by historian Hassoum Ceesay, Director General of the National Centre for Arts and Culture, in 1900 the British had declared the whole of the present-day Gambia as their territory and occupied land. In the same 1900, the British, also, had defeated most of the Kings in the country either through treaties – like they had with the King of Barra or those of the Kings who had decided to fight against the British’s dominations – like Foday Sillah of Kombo. Though, then there was one pocket of resistance left which was Foday Kabah Dumbuya who was very strong as a ruler of present-day Kiang and Foni areas.

Consequently, it was in that 1900 the Sankandi incident broke out when two neighboring communities known as Sankandi and Bateli in Kiang were quarreling over farmland – rice fields.

Narration and Causes of Sankandi Incident

Going by history, Foday Kabbah Dumbuya, as known, was an Islamist and Islamic reformer that used Islam as a tool to fight against British penetration. To have a full hold over The Gambia, the British were aware of the need to conquer Foday Kabbah Dumbuya. They made every possible attempt to cajole him for a fight (war) to end his rule but all proved abortive.

Meanwhile, some neighboring villages in Kiang such as Sankandi, Bateli, Dumboto which among them already converted to Islam were with him while some were not hence they were yet to convert to Islam then.
However, there was also community mutiny causing customary rivalry over farmland – rice fields (faros) in Kiang. During the period, two neighboring communities Sankandi and Bateli were quarreling over land.

Ordinarily, when such an issue arises, it is always solved among the communities involved in their way. But then the issues between the two villages become a matter of confrontations and fights among the people of the two communities. It was out of hand the British colonial administration heard of it and reported to Governor Denton who in turn considered it an opportunity to subdue Foday Kabbah Dumbuya and this led to the beginning of the battle or Incident of Sankandi.

British Interference

It emerged that some people of Sankandi were allied to Foday Kabbah Dumbuya when the British knew that they interfered on the side of the people of Bateli. Thus, they were looking for an avenue to wage war against Foday Kabbah Dumbuya to get hold of The Gambia.

Therefore, Governor Denton sent one of the two traveling Commissioners, (one for South Bank and the other for North Bank), Sir Bam Sitwell, and instructed him to take along police and order the people of Sankandi to handover the rice field to Bateli if not they will be dealt with.

The Commissioner and his constables departed from Bathurst to Sankandi through river craft and on arrival, the commissioner arrogantly sent one of the constables inside the village to tell the King of Sankandi – Darri Bana Dabo to come and see him. Commissioner’s message was delivered to the King who in return sent the delegate/constable back to the traveling commissioner with a message that he is not coming or going out of the village and also what is he (Commissioner Sitwell) doing in his territory.

According to Historian Ceesay, Commissioner Sitwell got the King’s message and sent another delegate instead of entering the village himself, and this time with a strict warning that if he, King Dari, does not want to be punished or arrested he should come right away!

Begin of the Fight

“This message annoyed King Dari Bana Dabo who in turn said, this time around the messenger will not escape, and he instructed his warrior to open fire on him. He was killed. The traveling commissioner and other Europeans heard the gunfire they wanted to flee but King Dari and his warriors pursued and killed traveling Commissioner Sir Bam Sitwell with all the police constables,” Historian Ceesay narrated.

The police constables killed in begin of the incident on 14th June 1900 include 1st Class Constable Theophilus Johnson, 2nd Class Constable Joseph Lewis, 2nd Class Constable Jacob Savage, 2nd Class Constable Joseph Joof and 3rd Class Constable Isaac Goddard and to date, their graves are at the Anglican Church closer to Quadrangle in Banjul city and their names are written on an erected cross in the church premises.

Memorial Cross of Police Constables killed in Sankandi in 1900

Reinforcement

King of Sankandi, Dari Bana Dabo, and his warriors massacred the British constables and the traveling Commissioner Sir Bam Sitwell who was sent to him by Governor Denton.

When “Governor Denton received the news he considered Foday Kabbah Dumbuya to be behind the incident though there was no link or proof that he know anything about the matter or what the people of Sankandi did. But what the King of Sankandi and his people did was meant to protect their dignity and independence hence it was a simple quarrel between two villages that can be handled without external interference,” historian Ceesay explained.

Without much ado, the British capitalized on the incident and Governor Denton called for reinforcement from Freetown – ‘Third West Indian Regiment in Sierra Leone’ and as well from Senegal (because Foday Kabbah Dumbuya areas of influence covered present-day Foni, Kiang in Gambia, and across the borders up to the present day Cassamance, Senegal) to form a joint French and British army in February 1901 as they set sail and attack Sankandi village.

Interestingly, “Foday Kabbah heard this and promised not to allow Sankandi to be punished, he got prepared while the joint armies and Foday Kabbah Dumbuya with his warriors met and fought to finish. The British used superior firepower while Foday Kabbah Dumbuya retreated into Senegal side of his kingdom, where he had capital, precisely Medina in the present day Senegal,” Ceesay disclosed.

Since it was a joint army formed by British and French fighting him “he was pursued down to his capital where he was killed inside Senegalese territory, while they now come back to punish Sankandi, and King Dari Bana Dabo, his chiefs, his warriors that didn’t die in the battle were all arrested and taken to prison at the present day Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education in Bathurst but later to court.
At the Court

“They were all tried at the court. Though it was just a ‘Kangaroo Court’ as King Dari and other arrestees refused to talk throughout the trial, the judge was brought from Sierra Leone. After three days he sentenced them to death by hanging. Back in Sankandi village, the people did not know what was happening in Bathurst as the arrestees were all taken out at a night and hanged to death. And this becomes the last resistance to the British rule in The Gambia,” he narrated.

It was noted that after the battle the whole of The Gambia become calm and the British were able to rule till 1965. The battle site where the fight started to date remains in Sankandi village for posterity, the tree, holes, and cannon balls are all visible to date in the village. The resistance of those villages created a very important part of The Gambia’s history

After that incident, the whole of The Gambia become calm while the British were able to rule the people of the country till 1965.

The Corpse of Foday Kabbah Dumbuya

However, nobody see the corpse of Foday Kabbah Dumbuya as the British got rid of him. The narration about his corpse was in two versions. In the first version the British asserted that when the armies approached his capital in Medina, Foday Kabbah Dumbuya who had seen them coming set his gunpowder store on fire and the whole capital blew off. So nobody see his body and the British described it as suicide.
The second version according to the ‘griots’ who had given a different version of his death said he was not killed but disappeared because he was a holy man and a powerful warrior whom the British can never see his body.

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Yunus S Saliu

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