Thursday, September 4, 2014


There isn’t a lot of specific information on the art traditions of The Gambia. Many of its traditions are similar in nature to a lot of other West African countries. I’m trying not to say that there really isn’t any outstandingly noteworthy about their art, because I think there is probably a significant amount of art created there. It’s just that there really isn’t much that has been written and expounded upon in comparison to other countries. Like other West African countries, each ethnic group has its own set of masks for various ceremonies and functions. They are mostly made out of wood and painted with plant and other natural-based dyes.

by Edrisa Jobe
by Baboucarr Etu Ndow
Gambians are also skilled in arts and crafts and a variety of other art medium. Sculptures, dolls portraying traditional wear, and jewelry are often displayed. When it comes to functional art, Gambians make a variety of sandals, handbags, woven mats and material, and tie-dyed clothes. They also have a lot of traditional European-style paintings, mostly of African landscapes and people depicting typical Gambian life. Artists' styles vary from modern, abstract doused in surrealism but with touches of  primitivism. Watercolors seem to be a common medium. Some of the most renowned artists coming out of The Gambia are Baboucarr Etu Ndow, Bubacarr Badgie, Edrisa Jobe, Momodou Ceesay, Moulaye Sarr, Njogu Touray, and Toyimbo. Several cities have art museums and galleries showcasing traditional and modern Gambian art for both locals and tourists to admire.

Literature in The Gambia is either in English or in Arabic. Although English is the official language of the country, many Muslim Gambians are also starting to learn the Arabic language to better understand the Qur’anic verses they recite.  Literacy still remains a difficult feat, mostly because The Gambia still has a large portion of its people living in rural areas.  This makes it difficult for the access of schools and supplies. There are a growing number of elementary schools, but not as much access to higher education. Attendance is not required nor is it free. This is one reason why many have difficulty continuing their education. However, in most cases, it’s not for lack of interest. Most parents of school-aged children see the value in having both their boys and girls educated. Despite all of this, literacy is on the rise, although many of the older generations remain among the least literate.

University of The Gambia

Since the 1970s, there has been an increase in the number of people attending university and going on into educational fields and writing. Gambian schools often use textbooks and literature from other areas of Africa and Europe.  With this surge of college graduates, there is a push to create Gambian textbooks written by Gambian educators.

Janet Badjan-Young
And there have actually been many Gambian writers contributing to English-language literature (as well as some Arabic-language literature). Some of the English-language Gambian writers you might come across are Janet Badjan-Young (considered one of the best playwrights in the country), William Conton (educator and novelist, born in The Gambia, but of Sierra Leone Creole roots in the Caribbean, did most of his work in Sierra Leone and Ghana), Ebou Dibba (educator and novelist, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire), Hassan Bubacar Jallow (lawyer, Attorney General for Gambia, writer, member of several International Criminal Tribunals),  Hanna Augusta Darling Jawara (nurse, playwright, fighter for women’s rights), Alh. A.E. Cham Joof (historian, author, radio program director, lecturer, known for his Pan-Africanism), Lenrie Peters (surgeon, novelist, poet, educator), and Tijan Sallah (economist, short story writer, poet).

Up next: music and dance

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