The work of Charlotte Quinn (1972) will be extensively cited here. She travels the length and breadth of the Gambia collaborating colonial achieves with oral accounts in matters leading up to open confrontation between the Marabouts (Muslims) and the Soninkes (pagans).
Islam had been slowly gaining grounds among the people without the use of force. Quinn narrated even a Prince in some territories abandoning their rights to succession by accepting Islam. One such example happens in Kiang Genieri. The youngest son of Mamba Sanne took the acquaintance of a Muslim family, shortly after he decided to join Islam. His elder brothers threaten him with expulsion from the family. Before they could make any decision, he left them with his wife and kid’s to live in Kaiaf. (Quinn, 1972)
If a Prince can abandon his rights to succession and became a Muslim, what about ordinary folks? Muslims in many mini kingdoms were, “...constitutionally ineligible for succession for traditional office in all Mandingo states”.
Haswell (1860) recorded that, the Muslims in Kaiaf sort the help of the Muslims in kombo when war broke against them in Kiang. To demonstrate that, Muslims didn’t force dethrone the traditional leaders, a war leader and close royal aid embraced Islam and yet remain the aid to the king in subsequent wars against the Sarahuleh mercenaries in Niumi.
The sarahulehs acting as the fighters for Mansa Demba Sonko encounter the son of Demba Sonko himself in battle against his father’s leadership. The son fought on the side of the Muslims. (d’Arcy, 1863, landing Sali Sonko 1965 interview Essau and Oconnor, 1857)
Sarahulehs have settled in Niumi and were fierce fighters for the kings. The Soninke leaders faced a huge problem against the British who control the prices of groundnuts and also slave trade was abandon. The income gain from both sources dried up, the kings have little option but to start war and try to regain their powers.
The culmination of dissatisfaction across the Marabout communities in the wider Senegambia region, the first accounts of organised revolts of the Muslim were recorded. Although one has to acknowledge the Wollof and Fula kingdoms first witnessed the Marabout revolts.
John Morgan’s account was reminiscent of Soninke Mansa’s losing control of the masses due to the revenue that was being generated from groundnut trade. The people became rich and less dependent on favours from tyrannical Mansa’s or leaders. (Morgan, 1864- Founding of a Christian mission in Gambia). The big steps toward altering the political landscape was said to occur in Futa Toro, Cayor, Jolof, and Walo in the 1670, 1690, 1726 and1770.
Those revolts in Wollof and Fula states resulted in the creation of temporal “...theocratic rule the titular leadership of an Almamy”. Philip Curtain (1971) believes that, the courage that gave the marabouts the fire to change their oppressive situation is due to the influence of militant jihad movement geared towards reviving Islam. (Curtin, 1971- Journal of African history, xii p11-24)
Even in the Wollof states where the Islamic scholars were said to attract some fame, Muslims in general were “...excluded from the core families constitutionally eligible to rule.” The damel of Cayor was said to be unable to control his fighter (tiedos) who like the Soninke agents in the Gambia inflict immeasurable toll of suffering on the people. “Their heavy drinking, depredations, and contempt for believers of God...” resulted in their imposing unnecessary tax duty and fines on Muslims. (Mollien, 1818- Travel in Africa to source of the Senegal and Gambia)
The Muslims no longer wish to bear the torturous rule of the marauding petty so-call kings. The Muslims across the tribal divide starts to rally round each other across states and kingdom. Whenever their community is attacked or unjustly taxed, they will refuse to undergo oppression and stand to fight. They will summon help to established marabout regions of Futa Toro and Kombo.
Another key reason why the Marabouts had to revolt was the actions of the wandering Soninke jawaros or fighters. The laws that prevent Muslims from landownership and the privileges to assume position power was tolerable but the “...continual harassment, stealing of wives, properties etc...” by the Soninke arm bands couldn’t be allowed to continue. Most keen Senegambians who listen to oral history and songs by bards would have had them sing praises of this arm bands. Famous among them was kelefa Sanneh, and the many Koring and Nyangho so-called warriors whose main art was stealing cattle and other people’s possession. (d’Arcy 1862, Sherif kinteh 1965 interviewed by Quinn p68)
David Gamble’s account of the marabout mistreatment in Badibbu for instance is a typical example of why affirmative action took place. Gamble said “Muslims were fought to leave Illiasa in Baddibu to seek sanctuary in the banks of the river near Saba village. That arrangement was to be uncomfortable as the lands allocated to them were less fertile and small. This creates further discontentment” (Gamble, 1949- contribution to a socio-economic survey of the Gambia, p 118).
The accusations that Marabouts primarily use force to convert people are baseless and unfounded. Islam gain momentum through peaceful preaching by traders and travellers from Timbuktu in Mali. It was after the people of Senegambia recognise the lights in true believe and that living a life deprive of true religious adherence that people entered Islam. But naturally the old status quo wasn’t going to allow that to continue since the survival of the Soninke rulers depends on the tax revenue and brutal rule imposed on the people. But when people recognised that they don’t have to tolerate a system of tyranny by the kings, and that they can organise and put a stiff resistance, the inevitability of war became all the more unavoidable.
This culminated to what we know in Senegambian history as the Soninke-Marabout wars. Defenders of the old customs, nostalgic Nyanchos and romantisers of traditional pagan believes blame Islam for the disappearance of old Senegambian Ancestral worship. They claimed that Islam forcefully and brutally subjugates our ancestors and change them to accept an Arab faith which is alien to us, for that matter, an intense hatred is inculcated against Islam and black Muslims. Yet this myriad is base of misconception and African pride.
The belief in Islam does not affect anyone’s Africaness or proud black progress. Islam respects other people’s cultures and practices were it does not contaminate the essence of belief in one God, and the obeying of God’s commandments. The sense of modest dress, respect for parents, elders, looking after the weak and children, hard work, communal efforts, charity etc are values that are universal. Islam never preach to change those, but where immorality, drunkenness, lewdness, promiscuity, gambling, fetish cultism, fortune telling, and the like takes place, believers are urge through rational teachings to avoid those as there is no good for the betterment of any society.
To be continued: The Jihadist (were they doing it for Islam or empire?)