By Awa B. Bah
At the first ordinary session of the National Assembly in the 2019 Legislative year, the Minister for Tourism and Culture Hamat N K Bah, on Tuesday 19th March 2019, appeared before Members to orally reply to their questions, for which due notice(s) was given.
Members took turns to ask the Minister on the plans his Ministry has for the development of three tourist sites on the Island of Janjangbureh. The tourist sites in question are the Old Slave house, the Cave and the Freedom Tree.
Minister Bah in his response to Members said the conservation, preservation, interpretation and presentation of the historic buildings and tourist sites at Janjangbureh, have for long been a dilemma for the National Center for Arts and Culture (NCAC); that first and foremost, the so-called slave house constitutes a misinterpretation of historical facts, because the relevant historic building and its so-called “dungeon” or “cave”, date to the period after the abolition of the slave trade. He said it is an established fact that the building was a trading house of the CFAO and its spaces, including the cellars referred to as slave dungeons or caves. He said they are reminiscent of European buildings during that period of colonialism dated in the 1890s. Bah said the structure and the materials it is constructed with, can be found in other warehouses built by European traders in Banjul and along the river.
The Island, he said, has relation with the slave trade. He said the first shipment of liberated Africans were deposited on the Island precisely at the site of the freedom tree.
Bah said most if not all the European historic buildings or trading houses, are properties of the local families and Lebanese traders that resided on the Island of Janjangbureh who bought or inherited the property from their former employer(s); that as a private property, it is inviolable and the NCAC cannot compel their conservation without providing the owners with grants as incentives for doing so. He said the only option available is for the state to purchase/acquire these properties and vest them in the NCAC for conservation and development.
Bah said Janjangbureh in particular, is factored in NCAC’s plans and has been included in the country’s tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage inscription as an extension of the Kunta Kinteh and related sites whose outstanding universal value rests on its association with early European penetration of the region through the river Gambia; that the NCAC at this stage focuses on the empowerment of the Janjangbureh youth through a tour guide training scheme under the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), initiated by Government. Bah said through this, the island will have a crop of tour guides who can effectively interpret the rich history of the Island, including the Kankurang tradition for which a museum was opened in 2016; that this augurs well for the development of the tourism industry and the local community in the area.
On the update on whether the Wassu Stones Circle is under his Ministry and if funds have been generated from there, Bah responded that the Wassu Stones Circle site is under the NCAC, which in turn is under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture; that since 2016, the stones circle has been a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the NCAC generates fund from visitors. He said the host community of Wassu benefits directly from the site in terms of the employment of five staff and spin offs from visitors such as sale of art and craft objects. He informed the Assembly that in 2018, a major rehabilitation work was carried out at the site and artisans from the community gained short term employment. He said the 2014-2019 management plan of the site developed with clearly spelt out strategies to optimize the benefits acquired by the community from the site. He noted that the NCAC has always encouraged crafts people to use the site to sell their wares; adding the Wassu Kanyeleng group have been given the opportunity to perform their skills for visitors and get donations in return.