The Last King of Foni
Thursday, May 24, 2012
The history of Foni and its great ruler had been long forgotten by historians even though this ruler was one of the most remarkable rulers of the Gambia. When the history of Foni or the name of Foni comes to mind today, it is remembered for all the wrong reasons - being the birth place of Yahya Jammeh or the Kombo/Foni wars or the Foni/FodayKaba wars.
Historical accounts of the last two events have for long been one sided, given less credit to the mutual relationships enjoyed between the Jolas and Mandinkas for years. Thanks to one king!
They said the bitterness between the Mandinkas and Jolas started when the king of Kombo attacked the Fonis, and the Jolas united under one command of Jakoi Nyassi, a very influential and brave general of King Sebum Appai of Asil.
They fought the Kombonkas fearlessly and nearly defeated the Farantambas, which forced the King of Kombo to send emissaries to Kaabu to seek for help from Mansa (King) Kele Mankato Ba Sanneh king of Kaabu. They were assisted by the generals from Kaabu and those from the sub-kingdoms of Saama, Kantora, and Tumana, part of the Kaabu Empire, to ensure the defeat of the Foninkas.
Upon their defeat Jakai Nyassi and his troops fled Foni to Karoon, leaving only few generals like Nyesen Jarju and LakoTamba, who stayed to break truce with the Kombonkas, in order that their leaders could come back and retain their leadership of the remaining Jola tribe.
However, the aftermath of the war brought an unbreakable bond between the Mandinkas and Jolas to such an extend that these two tribes share the same family names in the Gambia. Historians had it that most of the Nyanchos, who came from Kaabu to support the Kombonkas, settled in BintangKaranai in Foni, which resulted in the FoniSannehs, Mannehs, Jammehs, Sanyangs, and Sonkos among the Jolas. The Manneh are said to have settled in Brefet, whilst the Sanyangs founded Batabut (which is now BatabutKantora named after its original founders). Some of them also found Kanlagi and Kinling. The great AungSanneh of KassaJembering was a direct descendant of Kele Mankato Ba Sanneh, whose grandson married a beautiful Jola girl from Ala Kunda, becoming the mother of Aung’s father.
The Sanyangs were the first to settle their dispute with the Jolas and they agreed to form an alliance with Jakoi Nyassi, who later married a daughter of the Sanyang clan and had four daughters with one son, who was named Bakary Nyassi. This Bakary deserves much credit to the relationship that ensued between the Mandinkas and the Jolas and between the jolas, fulas and many other tribes in the Foni. Most historians who studied the history of the Gambia might have at some point heard of his name in their studies.
At a tender age, his father, Jakoi, sent him to the capital of Kantora in Sung Kunda to his uncles to learn military tactics. Due to his skills and bravery, the ruler of Kantora, Manjang Ba Sanyang encouraged him to stay in Kantora. He gave him the daughter of one of his brothers, Fantumbung Sanyang, to marry. But Bakary wanted to return to Foni and after he learnt of his Father’s illness, he swiftly left Kantora and hastened to Foni, where he found the Sanyangs had become very influential and powerful. Worried he might run into trouble with them and because of his lack of trust for them, even though his mother came from them, he did not see himself as a Sanyang and suspect their taste to rule Foni when the chance arises. After the death of his father, he was crowned King by the white colonial masters. He however left Kankuntu, his father’s capital, to settle in the small enclave of Bajakar, which is in the heart of the Jola settlement at the time. For this reason, he became known affectionately known as BakaryBajakar or BajakarDembo.
BajakarDembo strengthened his grip on power by maintaining the Jola culture and tradition. He further married two wives: one from the powerful Jola tribe of Asil (so as to keep the Jola unity) and the other a Mandinka girl Sata Sanyang, who was the daughter of one of the Mandinka generals from the Fortress of Kantora, then part of the Kaabu kingdom.
This was a wise move by the King Bajakar in that whenever attacked by any of his enemies; be it Jola or Mandinka, one of his wives’ clans would come to his aide. He also sought the help of Sheikh Mafugi’s son of SheickAmadouFaal, who came from Binako in Cassamance Senegal, to take his father’s seat as Muslim head in DarsilamehSangajor. In the days of King BakaryBajakar, one of his worst enemies inside Foni was Nfally Sanyang; a powerful Jola warrior who wanted to rule the Jolas, as well. He was the founder of the Foni village of Kinling. For that reason, he is affectionately known as NfallyJeju of Kinling. However after founding Kinling, Nfally left the village to his little brother to settle in a village called Batabutu. It was at Batabut, where he tried to create bad blood between BakaryBajakar and the white Governors, in order that BakaryBajakar can be removed for him to take over.
However, King BakaryBajakar was a very lovable ruler, who had created many good ties with his surrounding kingdoms of Kiang and Jarra in the East and Kombo in the west. For that reason, when FodayKaba had problems with the white people concerning harbouring murderers, who killed one of their governors and King Mansa Koto Sanyang of Bateling in Kiang at the Battle of Sankandi, he ran to Bajakar, where he wanted to use as a base to defend his fortress at Madina (now in Cassamance), but BajakarDembo refused him. Angry and dissapointedFoday attacked Bajakar, but both Kiang and Jarra came to the aid of Bajakar to defend his fortress and pushed FodayKaba further into Cassamance even beyond his capital at Medina.
It was BajakarDembo, who also invited the family of YesemangJobarteh (Affectionately called Lieutenant Ceesay) from NiumiBako (now in Senegal) to settle in Foni. He allowed them to settle and rule Sibanor, which they did until 1994 coup, when Yahya Jammeh abruptly ended that long tradition. The Jobartehs in Sibanor were rulers of Foni West up to Bullock, even though their forefathers were from NianiKayaiTatokono.
BakaryBajakar will be well remembered for fostering one of the greatest bonds between the Jola tribe and all other tribes in The Gambia to a point that there is no Jola village or town in Foni today that has no Mandinka speaking clan; even the Wolof and Fulas settled in Foni thanks to his generosity. And as predicted by Sheikh Mafuji and his son after him Sheik AmadouFaal, most of BajakarDembo’s descendants rule Foni and became chiefs and influential people. Former Chief Arfang Nyassi was his descendant. The last of his direct descendants to become a ruler was Alhagie Momodou Lamin Nyassi, who disappeared together with NdongoMboob and other elders of Bwiam. Momodou laminSyngle Nyassi (the Father of Sulayman Nyassi) is also a direct descendant. Now you may understand why Shyngle remain a bond between the Mandinkas, even at the era when young Yahya Jammeh wants to destroy the bonds created by his ancestors.
BakaryBajakar’s legacy should be kept in the national archives of the Gambia, as a real democrat who allowed the people of Foni total freedom and allowed intermarriage with other tribes. Foni today thanks to his wise leadership, proudly stands out as a multi cultural society in the Gambia.
Author: Bamba Mass
Source: Kibaro News