Tribes of The Gambia: Manjago

Manjagoes were descended from a country called Guinea Bissau, where they do much of their cultural programs. They migrated in the Gambia and settled in the southern part of the Gambia in the outskirt villages. They practice occupations like tapping palm wine and farming, which is called kajar. Predominantly Manjagoes are Christians, although some have converted to Islam. The Manjagoes' traditional dishes are premuntow (rice milk and palm oil) and ounat (beans, rice and palm oil).

The traditional dress of the Manjagoes is called Blengbunigit, dara fano in Mandinka and seriraba in Wolof. It is mostly used by many tribes, but with the Manjagoes, the blengbunigit is used in marriage, naming ceremonies, and funerals. The Manjagoes harvest palm oil by climbing palm trees. When the palm nuts are ripe, they harvest them, boil them and pond them to extract oil. The same oil is used to prepare their traditional dishes, and also 99 % of the tribes are using oil for cooking their dishes. That brings unity in a country and society where tribes will be benefiting from one another.

Many Manjagoes’ households within the traditional homeland have an ancestor shrine made up of carved wooden posts which represent people. These are referred to as pitchap. The carved posts while appearing to represent individual people, as interpreted by the Portuguese colonists, are actually collectivist representations of ancestors in general. When Manjagoes make offerings, they refer to a single ancestor despite the shrines representing ancestors collectively. An important distinction to make is how the Manjagoes honour their ancestors in comparison to other cultures. Rather than revering ancestors and treating them as guides to moral superiority, the Manjagoes tend to subjugate their ancestors and incorporate them back into society as relative equals.

The offerings and asking questions to ancestors begin by pouring water and then palm wine on the shrines. The conversations cannot be initiated by a woman, and women must have a man to start the conversation before they are able to talk with the ancestors’ shrine. Men and women also differ in what must be relayed and communicated to the ancestors. Men, in general, ask for peace over the household and have short remarks, while women tend to discuss the daily occurrences and keep the ancestors updated on village and family life through lengthy conversations.

Despite prominent Manjago communities outside of the Bassarel and Babok regions, this type of shrine is very rare outside the homeland. When Manjagoes pass away abroad or outside the community, they are reborn back home as ancestors in their town in a form of a shrine.

As mentioned by the early Portuguese records and observations, the Manjago power structure and society were robust and well established before the colonialization. The people lived in a semi-feudal system where villages were under the subjugation of a leader. The leader reported to the king of the Bassarel and Babok. Bassarel, Babok, Balunpat, Babenk and others are also the types of Manjagoes in Guinea Bissau. The king of Bassarel presided over a federation of areas, some of which were more prosperous and had a greater population than the Bassarel but still reported to the king. The king and aristocracy maintained a higher standard of living through relatively heavy taxation of their subjects as most people participated in rice production.

The Manjagoes, along with other groups, developed a system of agriculture unique to West Africa society. The plan entails a series of dikes, drainage canals, and rice paddies within mangrove swamps to cultivate rice. Early Portuguese explorers in the area were highly impressed by the complexity and efficiency of these agricultural systems.

Paulette F. Gomez

A student and a young leader at Inspiring Young-stars
My Name is Paulette F.Gomez. I am a proud young Gambian with great passion and the qualities of a young leader. I am a young and well cultural Manjago. I am 17 years old, a young student of The Gambia, and a well trained young leader of the Inspiring Young Stars. I am trained to lead and inspire young people of The Gambia, to encourage the spirit of community transformation and inject community development projects. I inspire students and empower young stars in schools and communities to become effective and confident leaders and embrace their roles as societies changing agents.

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