Tribes of The Gambia: Serer

Popularly known as Serere in The Gambia occupies a greater part of Sine and Saloum. Serers are also seen in large numbers in Baol, Kayor, and Jollof. They are subdivided into Serer-Sine, Serer-N’doute, Serer-Nones, Serer Njenghen or Safen because of the difference in dialect of the Serer language. Serer-Sine occupies the area of Sine and Saloum and some parts of Niumi and Baddibu in The Gambia; Serer-N’doute and Serer-Njenghen or Safen are located in areas of Senegal and Baol, respectively.
Narrations say that Serer migrated from Kaabu in the Upper Cassamance because of the civil war four hundred years ago. War for the throne broke between the late king’s brother and son. They moved northward, passing Foni and across the River Gambia to Baddibu and first settled in Mbissel, which later became Sine. They settled in forest areas because the environment was fa-vourable to their culture. They made Lamans (chiefs) their rulers. Some Serer moved further to settle in Jollof and Northern Gambia, where they established towns and villages.
Later on, a group of Mandinka’s intermingled with Serer and eventually controlled them, but then assimilated Serrer culture and language. This ruling class was called gelwar in the state of Sine ad Saloum. They were Nyanchos (a ruling class of Kaabu). The first ruler in Sine was called Mansa Wali Jon. His grand-nephew, M’began N’dure, ruled the other Serer state. After he was defeated, some other successors took over the throne. The Serer state was expanded through intermarriage between kings, queens, princes, princesses of different states.
However, just like any other kingdom, Serer states began to experience political instability due to scramble over the throne by successors. This brought civil strife and war, which led many Serers to migrate to more peaceful areas. Also, the war in the neighbouring areas, especially the Sonike marabout war, led to the migration of Serer in greater numbers to areas like Barra, Essau and Sabach. They sought the British protection from the wars.
In Barra, their women are involved in farming and cooking. The famous Serrer Cherreh was and still is one of the favourite foods. The men were well-known boat carvers, making carved boats from the trunk of the mahogany or silk-cotton trees. These boats were used for transportation and fishing in the river and ocean.
The Balanta have initiation rites at various states of the individual’s life. From childhood to adulthood, each phase of life is regulated by an initiation that marks the entrance into a new social category. From early childhood up to age 15, the child belongs to the class of Nwatch. Around age 18 to 20, the individual enters the Fuur, at 25 the Nghaye. According to the rites of Kgness, when a man is around 30 years old, he should take a woman.
After the young Balanta man has become a landowner and taken on family responsibilities, he can then be chosen by his maternal uncle to participate in the Fanado initiation. Once chosen for the Fanado, a Balanta man cannot refuse the family’s wishes. The Fanado initiation ceremony takes place once every four years. A two-month process in the “sacred woods” is the ultimate stage of initiation rites and social hierarchy. Initiation during the Fanado ritual opens the doors of maturity and wisdom in the Balanta community.
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