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Made in the Gambia: Local Salt Production

My Magazine 2023/05
4 min
Nowadays, most of the salt produced in The Gambia comes from the sea, mines and wells. But in the past, the most significant quantities of salt were produced along the creeks of The River Gambia, where the water salinity is still very high due to the close proximity to the ocean.

The Great Importance of Salt

Salt is an important ingredient in the kitchen as almost every dish contains at least a small amount of salt. It gives food its taste and is an essential mineral to the body. But in some of the traditional religions, salt had many more purposes.

Some ethnic groups used it to satisfy the spirits by putting it on the altars, encouraging them to protect individuals and bring good luck. This is also the reason why some people carried salt in their bags, purses or on their bodies. Or they would place salt on the four corners of the building foundation to protect its residents.

Wolof tribe used to add salt to the water to bathe the baby at the naming ceremony. It was believed that the water would, like with food, give babies the »taste« to become interesting and likeable adults.

With Wolof, Mandinka, Fula and Aku tribes, salt was also added to the water used for washing the bride on a wedding day to protect and keep away jealous, evil people as well as witches and sorcerers. Salt was also sprinkled on the newlyweds' bed to protect them and keep them loving each other as people love the salt in food.

Furthermore, kings used to wash their bodies with salty water on the day of their crowning to protect themselves from evil and become productive and prosperous.

In the old days, salt was many times used as a medicine. Salty water was used for cleaning the wounds, teeth, healing stomachaches and gargling to heal the sore throat. Some people still use these healing methods today. 

Apart from all of the above, salt is a great preservative. Salted dried (and sometimes smoked) fish was one of the foods that became very popular when there were no refrigerators yet. People used to preserve beef or pork meat in the same way.

Salt was also popular with tanners when preparing skins for leather and silversmiths to colour metal in a golden shine.

Not to mention, salt also has significant economic value. It used to be an essential item in an exchange trade trans Sahara. Today’s economic value has reduced drastically but is still one of the export items, although imported refined salt competes with local produce. 

Production of Salt in The Gambia

Most of the salt used to be produced close to the creeks, tributaries and lagoons along the Atlantic coast and up the River Gambia, where the salinity of the water is still very high due to the mixing of the saltwater from the sea.

In those areas, people would dig smaller or bigger plots close to the water and leave an opening that would allow water to flow in at the high tide. When the plot was filled, they would usually close it, and the evaporation process would start.

Usually, the harvesting period was at the end of the dry season when water from the plot would evaporate completely, leaving thick crusts of salt behind. This crust would later be broken with different types of sharp instruments, and the broken parts of accumulated salt would be washed in big calabashes until cleaned. Broken pieces of salt would then be put in baskets to dry, transport to the house and storage for the future.

The other process, which was usually used to acquire salt for home consumption, is by collecting salty mud from the river banks and then filtrating it to obtain the salt. Women would build their filtrating station by sticking three or four sticks into the ground and tie a piece of cloth or sack on it to create a suspended holder for the salty mud. They would mix the sand with fresh water and allow the salty water to filter through the cloth into the container placed below. After that, salted water would be left until all the water would evaporate, leaving only salt. Many ladies would boil the salty water and leave the accumulated salt to dry to speed up the process.

You can still see this type of process of producing salt if you decide on a Ninki Nanka Trail, where you will visit a Jola village on the river’s south bank, not more than 45 minutes drive away from Brikama, called Ndemban. Book your adventure with us!

 

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