Tribes of The Gambia: Wollof

Although not the largest ethnic group, it is the third-largest group in the country and their language is the most spoken language in the Senegambia area. Wollof can be called the “lingua franca of the northern Senegambia region”. Because it is the language of commerce and communication in the trading centres especially those frequented by the Moors, Serer, Tukulor, Mandinka and the many people who interacted with them.

The Wollof ancestors are believed to have migrated from the Sahara Desert area. They are believed to be the first people who inhabited this region. The Sahara was said to be a fertile land but gradually it dried up and this led them to migrate to greener pastures. According to history, the ancestors of the Wollof during forced migration moved into the area north Senegal that is known as Mauritania and Futa Toro.

When the Fula moved from the east to Futa Toro, the Wollof were forced to move further into northern and eastern Senegambia. The Wollof then settled in a small village under chiefs or lamans in the Gambia.

When the Wollof establish themselves in Africa they formed their Empire called the Jollof Empire which consisted of 3 states; Walo, Kayor and Baol. Later conquering thin the serer state Sine and Saloum.  The Fula, Mandinka and Serer form the minority in each of the states. The Wollof had their leader called “Burr ba Jollof” who was the king. The first ruler was called Njannjan Njie.

In the past, Wollofs were stratified according to ancestral heritage called the caste system. The highest rank was the Geer (nobles) who are born into the royal family. “Laube” are the woodworkers in the traditional Wollof society.

The “Wude” are the leather workers. “Tëgg” are the Blacksmiths, these are followed by the “Gewel” are the griots, storytellers, etc. The lowest caste in tradition Wollof society is the “Jaam”. These are descendants of former captives who were enslaved.

The Wolof, especially the women, are known for their beauty. They dress fashionably and wear sophisticated hairstyles. In fact, they are often the fashion-setters for others around them.

In the Gambia, Wollof can be found in places like Niumi, Jokadu, Sabch, and Sandial.

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