Keeping the Ji-bindaa Alive in ‘Modern’ Gambia
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Although he was born and bred in a Kombo Central village a rural setting, Louie P Mendy, 20s, did not enjoy the delights in drinking from the chilly indigenous clay-made water jar, Ji-bindaa.
But, he treasures memories of the time when young Louie would dip a cup in the nicely shaped water jar, fill it with cool water and drink it, as the rest of his extended family members did.
“I remember then…” says the student of development at the University of The Gambia, picturing ‘the good old days’ at his village when life was still good and yet natural with the Ji-bindaa.
The Ji-bindaa has for centuries provided tropical Gambia with cool water before the massive rushing for the environmentally disastrous refrigerators and plastic-made water bags.
However, this ingenious indigenous technology that is in all ways – economically, socially and environmentally – more advantageous to The Gambia, is losing its role in society..
Even in The Gambia’s rural homes, increasingly ‘modern’ citizens are switching to using water stored in plastic bottles and bags and kept in fridges..
This results in plastic bags littered around after use, they are environmentally polluting, use a lot of energy in their production and are unpleasant to see floating around the lovely environment. Also, many refrigerators that find their way into the country are outdated, filled with environmentally unfriendly gas and are outlawed and dumped by the developed world.
Besides, electricity prices in The Gambia are rated among world’s highest and only 35 percent of the population is connected to the grid through NAWEC, the state-owned sole provider. With increasing poverty and skyrocketing prices of basic commodities , for many Gambians, cooled water remains either an illusion or a daily struggle.
Jenny Joseph of the charity Start up observes that, the supply and accessibility of electricity in The Gambia is extremely unreliable and problematic as NAWEC is operating at peak capacity. Already high electricity tariffs, she reveals, is set to increase by 30% this year, making it unaffordable to the average Gambian. By contrast, Jenny figures out that, those in the rural areas are watching the NAWEC lines march along the highway, hoping soon to be connected.
However, she opines, “small-scale solar photovoltaic or wind turbines can provide rural communities with all their needs for light, mobile phone charging, computers, TV’s, fans etc – in fact all the things that transform lifestyles.”
Although Jenny acknowledges that such energy supply system cannot effectively run high consuming items, particularly ‘poorly insulated discarded second-hand fridges,’ as she observes further that, most Gambian households primarily use fridges for cooling water.
The Fabulous Four
Jenny Joseph and Louie P Mendy were part of the Fabulous Four, a group of 8 from diverse backgrounds that contested for the twelve thousand dalasi cash prize put up for grabs.
This was at the maiden edition of the 4-day Green Africa sustainability conference, which wrapped up Sunday March 15, at Sandele, an eco tourism camp situated at the Kombo South village of Kartong.
Meanwhile, the contest charged the randomly-created five competing groups to identify an environmental challenge to envision and innovate creative, and achievable, environmentally sound solutions.
The Ji-bindaa project, whose other members are: Liron Schur, a student of University College London, Babou Lowe of Gam-Solar Energy, Mamudou Manjang of department of Physical Planning, Mariama Sanneh, a student, Trudy Mensah of SOAS London and Mary Hark of University of Wisconsin, was placed third.
‘Ji-bindaa,’ is a term from the local Mandinka dialect, which does not have a direct translation in English, . , However it refers to the clay-made water jar produced by artisanal pottery makers.
For several centuries, this indigenous technology, which was exclusive to a particular group, at least when caste was alive and well, has been part of The Gambia’s socio-economic and cultural picture.
Since The Gambia is generally warm throughout the year, cool water is necessary not only to quench thirsts, but also cool down the body temperature.
The Ji-bindaa had been satisfying in that respect as the evaporation of water through the walls of the pot keeps the water cool.
It is environmentally friendly,” says Babou Lowe of Gam-Solar Energy, another member of the Fabulous Four” as it has zero CO2 emissions and is made from a single natural material which is completely recyclable.”
Economically, he says, “the Jibinda provides affordable cheap cool water. It asks very small capital outlay and no running costs while providing employment to locals, and on a national scale reduce the need for more power plants.”
Moreover it reflects and strengthens the ideals of the communal life as it is generally serves the entire family.
Solution: cylindrical Ji-bindaa
However, in recent times, the Ji-bindaa has had its critic. Striking among them is that, the use of the same cup by dozens of family members increases vulnerability to infections.
Preferred and promoted nowadays are refrigerators and, where they are unavailable, plastic-made containers again used by all the family thus the problem of use of the same cup by more than one person, is not totally solved.
Yet keeping the Ji-bindaa alive in a modern Gambia remains challenging for its makers as well as the sellers whose survival rests on the trade in the traditional technology.
“Nowadays people don’t buy Ji-bindaa because they term it to be for the uncivilised,” as Fatou Nyassi, a vendor I found almost isolated at a not-so-strategic selling spot at the Serrekunda market tells me, with a tinge of hopelessness.
The 52-year-old sells various locally made clay products, among them only one Ji-bindaa, which she says has been with her for several months and yet no one offered to buy it.
But, the Fabulous Four seems to have a solution that, the group believes, can restore public confidence in the use of the Ji-bindaa.
“Our method will be to design the jibinder in a cylindrical form and attach a tap to it,” says Mendy. This, he points out, will avoid people using the same cup for drinking.
For the Fabulous Four, by doing away with the fridges and plastic-made water containers while promoting the Ji-mindaa, in countries like The Gambia which lacks the capacity - resource and intellect wise - to adapt, will at least be contributing to reducing, in a cost effective way, the effects of the imminent climate change.
No cash, what next?
Had the Ji-bindaa project won the D12, 000.00 cash prize, as per the condition of the award, the Fabulous Four has intended to implement the project in two phases.
Phase one, according to Mary Hark of the University of Wisconsin, will develop a small scale version of the Ji-bindaa for sale to the tourists, making it the souvenir that people take back from The Gambia.
“Also, to sell large versions to the hotels and connect with private companies to brand and market the product, thereby promoting the idea that they are cool and modern,” says the US-born woman who has pioneered the production in Ghana, of hand-made paper from tree products.
According to her, an education program is intended to be developed involving multi-media and puppet shows to be performed in schools and villages particularly in the areas currently without electricity.
“The program will promote the Ji-bindaa in a joyful and beautiful way using art, music and culture to remind rural as well as urban-Gambia of the effectiveness of this traditional technology,” she says.
Unfortunately, left unanswered as Green Africa wrapped up was: now that the Fabulous Four failed to grab the cash award for implementation, will the idea of the Ji-bindaa project be allowed to be eaten away by brain termites?