The day started with an exploratory walk into the surrounding bush .. which, when you are walking through it, does not look too dense. However, I well remember getting totally lost on my first ever visit, when I decided
Although Mohammed had visited his family regularly over the years since he had left the farming home to live and work in Serrekunda, it had been a long time since he had walked outside its boundaries to rediscover the areas which he had known so well as a child growing up on the farm.
As we left the Fula herdsmen to finish off ferrying the rest of the herd
We carried on along the path, seeing a variety of trees .. bare-branched Baobabs silhouetted against the superb blue sky and other's .. having no leaves, but covered in white blossom. The shell of a building caught
my eye and Mohammed explained that before Basse had become the major business centre of the region, the area we were walking through had been an important trading post settlement, set up and
run by early Gambian, European and Lebanese traders. The building we were looking at had been the home and shop of one of these traders and .. according to an inscribed stone we found nearby ..
people had been trading there until at least 1923. The flat stone floors and foundations of very much earlier buildings could also be seen, built into the top of the riverbank .. evidently many hundreds of
years old .. but now just sparse remnants of earlier civilisations, almost lost beneath a covering of sand. I have yet to find any documentary evidence about this, but I will.
As we were watching the Egrets, a small herd of cattle walked out from under the trees and into the water for a drink .. closely followed by their Fula herdsmen, who rounded them up and brought them towards us. Some other young Fulas arrived .. with a herd of calves belonging to the water-drinking adults .. and the two herds joined up. We followed them along the path and emerged into an open area of cultivation where many of Mohammed's family were busy harvesting groundnuts.
Although I have travelled widely in West Africa and seen fields of groundnuts ( peanuts ) growing,
1 to 4 seeds, which forces its way underground to mature. It gained Western popularity when it came to the United States from Africa. Native to South America, it was imported into Africa from Brazil by the Portuguese around 1800 and is one of The Gambia's major cash crops.
Click the picture above for a pictorial explanation of how groundnuts are harvested by hand in many parts of West Africa .. before eventually becoming roasted and salted snacks, ground into peanut butter or refined into oil .. for sale all over the world. I joined in with separating the nuts from the stalks using the special sticks and was evidently quite successful at it. Amongst a lot of laughter .. promotion to honorary groundnut harvester was conferred !! Yes, it was great fun learning the way, but I was fully aware of the constant daily hard work that is necessary for this family to survive.
Something which has occurred to me whilst writing this account is that not only do these farming methods go back centuries .. they can be closely compared with early Neolithic times. Excluding the
comparative modernity of this crop and the use of plastic buckets and the iron plough ( not very long ago they were made from wood ) consider this: The land is ploughed using animal power,
harvesting is done by hand, the separation of the seeds from the plants ( which we call threshing )
The farm compound was busy as usual, with food preparation and evening feeding of the donkeys and other animals that were kept in at night for security. Many of the children, having heard of my 'prowess' at groundnut harvesting, were laughing and dancing around .. arms flailing and legs kicking .. imitating the movements involved with using the sticks to beat the stalks.
Shouting in Mandinka; 'Toubabo this' and 'Toubabo that' .. which I had to put a stop to. "Now come on you lot, my name is David or Dawda ( the equivalent in Mandinka ) not Toubabo ! Toubabo is for strangers, I hope I am your friend." And so it became from then onwards .. with the older children teaching and reminding the younger ones to call and refer to me as Dawda. Of course, learning the 30 or so names of the children and attributing the right name to the right child, was not as easy !!
With excited talk amongst the girls and ladies of a big happening supposedly taking place in the farmyard on the next evening .. our proposed three day visit was turning out to be too short. So, with a minimum amount of persuasion from them, we accepted their kind invitation and agreed to stay one day longer. I had no real idea of what was being planned, but talk of a visiting Kankuran, drums, dancing and a big party was buzzing around the compound. Too good to miss, despite the risks of being close to a Kankuran .. a fearsome ceremonial guardian I had heard about in The Casamance !
The difficulties of finding everyone and organising them to be in one place .. dressed in their preferred clothing, sitting still and smiling .. were somewhat akin to rounding up a school playground full of scattered children. Eventually we managed some colourful pictures for the family album .. but many of the family were missing, so they will have to be included in the group photos on my next visit.
Photos taken, we chatted the night away accompanied by the click, click, click of adult decorticating.
Huh ? Yes, that is what I said !! A decorticator is a machine which separates the nuts from the
Something which I tried hard to do and failed miserably .. either the nuts I chose were too hard or .. more likely .. my fingers were just not strong enough !
My time that evening was divided between the nut-clicking adults inside the large lounge, Mohammed's mother and her sisters sitting outside their line-house in the starlight, with a group
In the course of a conversation with the adults .. mischievously and with a wink to Mohammed ..