Saturday, 08 December 2012 00:00
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We don't encourage tourists to display affection in public —The Gambia High Commissioner to Nigeria

Angela Bernadette Colley, the Gambian High Commissioner to Nigeria, was born on November 13,1964. She taught for 17 years before her appointment as the Secretary of State for Tourism and Culture in 2006. Ambassador Colley, in this exclusive interview, sheds some lights on the Gambian culture and the reason for the influx of tourists to Gambia, among other interesting issues.

COULD you explain the reason for taking permission to take pictures in Gambia?
Taking permission before taking pictures is an international law and it is not peculiar to Gambia. The Europeans are more particular about this. A young guy once took a picture in Gambia and the man who felt he was in the picture reported him to the Police. Can you imagine that the pictures had to developed and printed to truly check if the man was actually in the picture? Though this law is more relaxed in Africa, it is a law that the Europeans don't joke with.

Is holding rood with left hand a taboo and what are the effects on tourists to Gambia?
On the left hand issue, we see it in Gambia as a sign of disrespect. It is our culture and belief. Our issue of right or left hand doesn't have to do with tourists. They are free and most of our people don't react to tourists as regard this issue. Really, not eating with left hand is not a taboo, but a culture that has been there for a very long time. More so, since the majority use the right hand to eat, you get easily noticed when you do otherwise.

There is a strong warning on the mode of dressing in Gambia. Does that apply to tourists as well?
As regard the mode of dressing while at the beach and hotels, you are free to dress the way you like. But when they are in the streets, they are strongly advised to dress moderately. Interestingly, tourists want to practise our culture; they want to be part of our rural Gambia. They are adventurous and happy to be in our part of the world. There is a village where tourists are trained how to dance and it will surprise you that they take the training seriously.

Could you also explain why you don't display physical affection in the open in Gambia?
It is not only in Gambia; in Africa, displaying affection in public is un-African! It is not in the African culture to kiss and cuddle openly; conviviality is not part of our culture. We advise tourists not to do so in public. Tourism may be food, but it comes with some isadvantages. For instance, tourism destroys the fabrics of our society. We are fast losing our culture because we are copying other cultures. We need to protect and preserve our culture. Our great grandfathers and grandmothers love one another more than the people in this generation do.

We want to develop, but it does not mean we should throw away our culture. We should take the good one with our own good one, match them together andmove on. The dos and don'ts are not laws actually, but general piece of advice for tourists.

Does it mean that Gambia is highly insecure so much so that tourists are warned to steer clear of some places and walk in group?
Gambia is very safe, but we don't want to wait until it is insecure before saying it. In our home in Banjul, we don't close our doors and we don't have locks. That was then! Now, we're living in a global world, and a lot of people are coming into our country; so, we need to advise them on security. Insecurity is a global phenomenon. In Gambia, it is   safe  because   community policing is there and effective.

Why are tourists advised to take anti-malaria drugs before coming to Gambia?
Truly, we have several cases of people suffering from malaria; so, we advised tourists and visitors, especially during the rain season, to take anti-malaria drugs. As of now, the malaria tendency has been greatly reduced.

What is Gambia rescue the country foreign onslaught cultural heritage?
We are doing our best and there are two major ceremonies which are done alternatively every two years. They are done to showcase our culture, bring our people home and let our young ones know the beauty of our culture.

Home Coming Root Festivals is open to everybody, particularly African in the Diaspora. The Root doing to from the their on film by Alex Haley, hope you remember? Alex Haley, the producer of The Root, is from Juffureh, and that village has been revived and the slave snip rebuilr, along with the library and other things. The festival move sfrom Juffureh with boat sail to James Island now renamed as Kunta Kunte Island, which is where the slaves were based in those days.

The festival takes them to Kombo, which is where the President comes from. During this festival, they partake in Futampaf (which means circumcision in Jola Language).

Interestingly, Africans that come home also go through this ceremony willingly and joyfully.

One major feature of this festival is the wrapper which they sew and wear; it is similar to that of the Igbo people in Nigeria. The pair of trousers is called Chaya. It is a big
pair of trousers,which is being sowed with 10 yards or more. There is a special type of dance for this festival and this dance is taught in the bush. Most foreigners join the natives to be taught the dance   and  even  show  more seriousness.

The second is the Kanila International Festival (KIF), also a biennial event that takes place in Kanila itself. At the last festival, Nigeria played a major role. This festival is growing every year. We have cultural troupe all over the world that participate in this event. Competitions are held, but there is no winner and no loser. Our belief is that no culture is better than the other. What we do is to award the best entertaining group.

Culture is such that it is unique to its people. An award is given to any group based on the level of entertainment and its ability to carry the crowd along.

KIF is a week-long festival. The opening and closing ceremonies are usually done at the weekend so that workers and civil servants can participate in it.

Apart from these two festivals, everybody is a Muslim in Gambia, during Sallah. We come together to celebrate Ramadan while the whole country is in festive mood during the Christmas as well.

Another one I must mention here is Fanale, whereby papers are used to build different structures. Papers are used according to their ability. It can be used to build a house, a ship and so many other things. We have different associations and each build its own structure. On the night of December 26, each association or group will dance around and celebrate with their Fanale.

Each group gives their Fanale a name in the honour of a person. As they dance around, people will give them gifts and money. After all the celebration, they will bring the Fanale to the person it is named after. The handing over of Fanale is known as Jabale.

Recently, regions have come up that before Jabale Fanale, there should be a final competition. The venue for the final is now fixed for July 22nd Square in Banjul. The best group as well as the best entertaining group will now be given awards.

In fact, Banjul Demba is another interesting aspect of the Gambian culture meant to rescue our youths from the foreign onslaught. Banjul Demba means Banjul yesterday. During this ceremony, the young ones are dressed and paraded like our parents and grand-parents. Majorly, the youths are used, but they are dressed by the old people; it is similar to what you call old skool dresses and shoes. The songs are old skool too. It is meant to keep our culture and tradition alive. It also attracts a lot of tourists into the country.

What is your plan regarding some synergy with Nigeria on culture and tourism?
Before my coming to Nigeria, I worked closely with Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, a former minister of Culture and Tourism Minister in Nigeria. We were directed to bring in Nigeria during the last festival m Gambia. It was a huge success.

During  our Independent Day march past, the Nigerian community in Gambia was not left out. Let me say that some Igbos and Yorubas have their roots in Gambia. Somehow, we are related. What about the Cokers in Nigeria, are they not rooted in Gambia? Nigeria and Gambia may be far apart geographically, but we are close socially.

I can be seen as a Gele merchant because I sell a lot of Nigerian gele in the past, as people begged me to assist them to ouy it from Nigeria. Our fashion designers come to
Nigeria to buy and sell. They come to buy gele and sell it in Gambia.

On Fridays in Gambia, particularly in Banjul, though not a rule, everybody dresses in the traditional way. It is like a custom. The majority of the Nigerians will show off their native attires and our people are in love with these dresses. Sometime, you may think someone is Yoruba or Igbo, but he or she is from Banjul. We are doing our best to unite the two countries culturally and find a way to promote tourism between us.