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JJB Location

'Janjanbureh!' - 'Ah! The town with three names:  McCarthy Island, Georgetown, Janjanbureh!'

Anchor 1
  • An island in the River Gambia in Central River Region

  • Accessed by south road via the bridge on to the island

  • Accessed by north road via Banjul Barra ferry, the ferry on to island at Lamin Kotu

  • Accessed by River Gambia

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  • The island is 6 miles (10 km) long and 1.5 miles (2.5 km) wide

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Why visit
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  • Bridge access from Sankuli Kunda

JJB Grid system
  • The town was built on a grid system in colonial times, reflected in the street names

JJB Why Visit
Why visit?

Traditionally visitors travel to Janjanbureh as part of a two-day excursion

with various tour operators from the coast.  

After an early start, they stay in one of the lodges

and are guided around the town by those escorts.  

They learn a little of the history,

take a boat trip to see the hippos and the crocodiles

and may return to local entertainment.  

They return the next day, perhaps via the north road to visit the Wassu Circle

Let JUST ACT Licenced Tour Guides show you much more

and encourage you to extend your stay

  • Developing as a centre for Sustainable, Responsible Tourism through Community Based Tourism

  • Your visit provides income for youths and surrounding communities

  • Local personal knowledge combined with excellent training 

  • Learn the real history of the island

  • The traditional riverboat tours, catering for different sized groups

    •  visit to Wassu Circle still available but with enhanced information

  • Experience everyday life in further new extended tours into Jamali and Tabanani to participate in their traditional activities

  • Enjoy

    • superb bird watching opportunities

    • good fishing access

  • Experience  the real culture of the island

    • Through participation

    • Visiting the National Kankurang Centre to the west of the island and be informed by JUST ACT members employed there

  • Have the chance to witness the annual Kankurang Festival

JJB History
The following information is taken from a pamphlet 'Janjanbureh Heritage Trail created by Just Act Gambia
but never published. Based on material provided by the late Hon. Foday Jiabni Manka,
one time NAM of Janjanbureh, author and great historian and maintainer of cultural values, 
and an article 'Guests of the Crown; convicts and liberted slaves of McCarthy Island, The Gambia'
by Patrick Web.
 Hon. Foday Manka approved it as accurate
  • Originally merely a sand bank, the island was formed over hundreds of years

  • Known as Lemain Island, visited by early European and Luso African (mixed African/ Portuguese) traders during the C16/17th it provided a crossing place and temporary trading posts for them

  • Both on the north bank, Jamally was a large prosperous town and  Jonka Kunda, a trading station for goods and slave market

  • 1785: First purchased by the British by Richard Bradley from the King of Niani a place to dump their convicts, the traditional American colonies having closed their doors to such practices in 1776 on their Independence

  • Adjacent banks were considered too dangerou. 

  • Intended to leave 200 convicts with agricultural tools, a medicine chest and wood for huts and leave them to fend for themselves. 

  • However, after reports that they 

’would not live a month’
‘was little sort of murder’ 
the butt end of the habitable world, a swamp'

'the most insalubrious spot in the most pestilential climate in the world, and situated almost on the confines of the limit of the  known world”

Names at 1785

  • Oral tradition states named after two brothers, Janjang and Bureh who farmed and settled here

  • Other sources state that the first settlement in 1810 was 200 Muslim-Mandingo refugees fleeing persecution on the mainland by the local non-muslim kings, led by Almamy Hamang Touray, thus the first village head. 

  • When the British arrived they confirmed the settlement of Moro Kunda (meaning a holy village).  These Muslims defined their origins as Janjang and 'Borry' verbs meaning ‘to scatter’ and ‘seek refuge', im mandinka

JJB-Cpt Grant

1823: on appeal for a military post to prevent warfare causing traders to leave, Captain Grant, commander of the new Bathurst (now Banjul) colony, explored the region close to Lemain Island

  • Thought the island ideal for both trading and dealing with slavery issues

  • April 14th 1823 the Treaty of Cessation was signed by Captain Grant and Kolly Camara, King of Naiani

  • Capt. Grant and Rev John Morgan of the Wesleyan Mission arrived with 12 soldiers, a few merchants and labourers

  • Mounted the British flag, built a mud hut fort name Fort George after the current King George IVth and mounted two cannons on April 30th

  • 1824 the Wesleyan Mission was granted land parallel to the Fort nearby

  • The settlement was named Georgetown after George IVth

  • Island renamed McCarthy Island after the contemporary Governor in Chief of Sierra Leone

  • A further fort, Fort Campbell was built

  • Not considered to be a permanent military base no permanent fortifications were ever built

JJB Grid system

'Captain Grant was responsible to the layout of the settlement with the first eight streets laid out in a grid system and named after Colonial administrators and military officers, all significant in the suppression of the slave trade'  

JJB Slavery
What was the situation of slavery at this time?
  • Slavery on a commercial scale started around mid-1600s

  • Slavery was abolished in 1807

  • The British intercepted ships on the Atlantic and settled Liberated Africans in Freetown, Sierra Leone

  • With overcrowding and desperate conditions, some were transferred to other parts of West Africa, including The Gambia 

  • Liberated Africans from different countries for various reasons, could often not be returned to their own countries


  • 1832: having requested skilled labour to support the developing settlement, the then Governor Randall was sent Liberated Africans captured from various countries  

  • 200, of whom 30 were women and children, landed at Bathurst

  • 12 died before leaving for McCarthy Island

  • They settled near Fort Campbell but suffered badly

  • Over the years roughly 1200 were sent here

  • 1833:  Granted land for farming

  • Suffered from drought and fire, re-enslavement by a local king

  • 125 died of disease and malnutrition

  • The Lindoe Farm model farm was established

  • 1836: a village of six four bedroomed cottages which built on 600 acres in the South West of the island

  • It expanded and was successful until its closure which coincided with the withdrawal of the British garrison in 1866.

  • 1843 when the government disclaimed any responsibility for them

 ‘The whole island is sandy desert with intervals of mangrove

swamp where every noxious inhalation that can arise from vegetable decay must be emitted….

of all the places selected this was the most unfitted, and the consequence has been that

in no place where they have been located has their condition been more unfortunate’ CD1843.6

In 1835  local Pastor Thomas Dove reporting  them having to

'eat monkeys, rats, snakes, dogs and cats.  

JJB Methodist Ch and Sch

The Methodist Mission, therefore, saw a great need to support them

  • The Methodist Church in Owen Street was started by Rev. Moister

  • 1835:Completed by Rev. Fox to evangelise the liberated settlers, many of whom were Christian Creole. 

  • The oldest functioning Methodist Church in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

  • The school was designed to help the ‘illiterate destitute’ to recover from the horrors of the slave trade and build a new life. 

  • There is only one earlier school than this in The Gambia and is in Banjul. 

The Methodist Mission, therefore, saw a great need to support them

  • The Methodist Church in Owen Street was started by Rev. Moister

  • 1835:Completed by Rev. Fox to evangelise the liberated settlers, many of whom were Christian Creole. 

  • The oldest functioning Methodist Church in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

  • The school was designed to help the ‘illiterate destitute’ to recover from the horrors of the slave trade and build a new life. 

  • There is only one earlier school than this in The Gambia and is in Banjul. 

  • On closure of the Lindoe Farm Project many of the liberated Africans built permanent homes in the area later called Tabu 

  • Mainly Christian Creoles, they lived in harmony with the Muslim Mandinkas with much intermarriage, developing cultural diversity found nowhere else in the country 

  • Creole and Mandinka was spoken by all in Georgetown,  One such family was the Jones family who had arrived in 1832 and being relatively rich; they built a wooden house still to be seen in Owen Street 

  • The family remained until the 1950’ when the liberated Creole immigrants started a mass exodus to settle in Greater Banjul.

JJB Slve Hse/WrHse
With a traditional visit to the island you will introduced to the Slave Warehouse, the  Slave House and the Freedom Tree
Which of these is based on fact?

  • Groundnuts became a major cash crop  in the country

  • Many trading stations established along the river banks

  • Gradually Georgetown became the major collecting point with many warehouses along the banks

  • Ocean-going vessels took them via Bathurst ( Banjul) to markets abroad.

  • They existed until independence in 1965

  • This is the only  remaining warehouse  

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JJB SLave House


'The Slave House'

  • The only remaining building from another trader, Maurel and Prom Company.....

  • The main hall, three rooms a basement and outer verandahs are still visible

  • This empty plot of land was initially leased in 1905 by the colonial government for 20 years. 

  • Used by several owners as a shop

  • It is only now  the latest owners who have converted it and called it 'a Slave dungeon’

Slave House Michael Lyons.jpg

The Minister of Tourism and Culture Hon. Hamat Bah confirmed during questions and answers in the Gambia National Assembly on October 2nd 2017,

that the so-called slave house in Janjanbureh was, in fact, not a Slave House.

Read the very full response here reported by Demba Fatty

Video link to the question

JJB Frredom Tree

Foroyaa Sooto - The Freedom Tree

”McCarthy became the Mecca to which all actual slaves turned and ran,

if opportunity occurred, throughout the 19th Century" 
Reeve 1912.95

  • Any runaway slave reaching here and touching the British flag or the fig tree which stood here was instantly granted their freedom

  • The original tree has since been replaced


The decline of Janjanbureh

  • Groundnut trading went into decline with Independence in 1965

  • Fewer nuts left floating around the wharves, upon which  fish fed  led to a decline in the variety and number of fish

  • Therefore a decline in people busily engaged in fishing

  • The new road on the south bank from Bathurst to Basse gave rise to many new settlements along it 

  • All these factors led to a rapid decline, poverty and isolation in the community with rapid urban-rural migration

Education in Janjanbureh
Education in Janjanbureh has always been of importance

  • Pioneered by the Wesleyan Mission as above

  • 1850’s, Roman Catholics established an elementary school at Roman Bantang, 

  • Later relocated until closure in 1926

  • Returning to its original site it became Armitage School named after the Governor of the time.

  • A government boarding school, initially for the sons of chiefs but soon changed to accept others.

  • 1951 it became a post-primary school preparing students for a Government Civil Service Entrance Examination.

  • 1947 -52 Sited beyond Armitage there was, for a short time, Gambia’s first Teacher Training College

  • Relocated to Yundum in Kombo North. 

  • These buildings next became Armitage Annex, a post primary school for those who failed to gain entry to Armitage 

  • 1999 Upper Basic School was opened

JJB- Education
The Kankurang and initiation

Written by our own Justice Saidykhan in 2014, he is Communication and Program Officer for JUST ACT 

Janjanbureh is a town, founded in 1832, on Janjanbureh Island in the Gambia River in central Gambia. It was formerly known as Georgetown and was the second largest in the country. It is now the capital of the Central River Division and is best known as home to Gambia's main prison. It is also noted for being the site of the first church in Gambia and the first high school, The island is known locally as McCarthy Island, and is located in what used to be called McCarthy Island Division. The island is accessed by bridge from the south bank, and small boat ferries or government ferry on the north bank. In 1995, both the city of Georgetown and McCarthy Island were renamed Janjanbureh respectively. Janjanbureh is also the name of the district in which the town of Janjanbureh is located

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          Every year the island settlement held their cultural festival in a form of three months initiation rites, where over 100 kids (boys and girls) are circumcised and kept at a hideout for months. The first cultural festival I witnessed was in 1998 when I was barely 7yrs old, however it is important to note that the island’s cultural festival was first held in 1946, from then it is held every 5 years.


          As part of efforts meant for the promotion, development and preservation of this somewhat rich and cherished, but fading traditional cultural practice, during my visit to Janjanbureh in December 2013, I caught up with Honourable Foday Manka, National Assembly Member (NAM) for Janjanbureh.

          Honourable Manka is, by all measures, an encyclopedia for our traditional cultural norms and values. His book, exploring almost every aspect of traditional cultural norms and values, will soon hit the bookshelves. It covers an extensive and in-depth analysis of African life, mainly in The Gambia, dating back  hundreds of years ago.

         Honourable Manka spoke at length on circumcision from traditional cultural perspective, with special reference to the recently concluded one held in his Janjanbureh constituency, which, having been rated highly by many, was said to be a perfect exhibition of the African traditional cultural norms and values. The honourable National Assembly member observed that in traditional Gambian society, the community is given more prominence than the individual interest, and that it is obligatory for the individual to respect and participate in almost all activities of the community, failure of which is normally punishable with exclusion, which may have series of severe and untold consequences on the individual and his immediate associates in the community. Thus the individual is forced to conform to the norms and values of the community.

         Circumcision is seen as a must for everyone, irrespective of sex, before being qualified for entry into adulthood. The word "Solima" in traditional Mandinka cultural terms is applicable to someone who has not experienced the world of circumcision. Circumcision ceremonies in Janjanbureh was usually determined by good harvest and the number of people available to undergo the ritual initiation, followed by consensus and mutual agreement from community members to stage the event, Mr. Manka explained.

         He revealed that the 1946/47 traditional circumcision rite was the largest and most famous one ever held in Janjanbureh, which he said attracted more than 100 initiates, between the ages of 13 to 19, drawn from Janjanbureh and its Stateline villages. He delved on the circumstances that usually surrounded organization of the ritual circumcision, especially the night before the circumcision day, which is characterized by high profile parties, reassembling of the initiates in the home of their "Karambas" among other activities, throughout the period of the event.

         The Janjanbureh National Assembly Member (NAM) spoke at length on circumcision from traditional cultural perspective, touching on different traditional cultural words such as Jujuwo, Nyansinbondoo, Kintagolu, Kangurang, Tamba Dokoo, One significant and interesting feature in the entire period is the ‘’Kankurang” (masquerade)

         According to a definition given by Honorable Foday Manka, the national assembly member (NAM) for Janjanbureh, in his book on traditional cultural norms and values, the word Kankurang means a mask worn by individuals during ritual ceremonies. This mask is said to conceal the wearer's identity, and that the hidden identity establishes that no ordinary man has the right to judge others. Therefore, the mask disguising the human form is believed to have the authority to act in the name and place of spirits. The non-human form of the masquerade has become the most important traditional cultural practice retained by the community.

         During the festive period initiates are taking out every day for schooling were elders taught them the norms, values, and beliefs in society to a sacred place called ‘’Tinyansita’’.  This is a place at the eastern side of the town, “ Tinyan means Rest, Sita means a Baobab Tree’’.

         The Kankurang is the main character throughout the entire period, it will usually come out at nights, rarely at day time but when the initiates began complaining about supernatural powers (witches and wizards) attacking them because it is believed that the initiates are normally attacked by the peoples, so the Kankurang will be the protector . Throughout the period the initiates would not take bath, neither would they see their mom’s because women are forbidden to set eye on male initiates. It is an intense period through adulthood for them. During the time, traditional songs would be learned and values would be taught.

         After months in the hideout, the big day is set for the grand party, but before that the initiates would be first taking to a place called ‘’Birikiba’’ meaning a Big bricks, where they will be giving a bath, their clothes been washed and rest for a while before being escorted to the hideout. On this day celebrants from all walks of life will gather for and usher the brave boys and girls from Birikiba to the hideout, drums and Kankurangs made this day special. The initiates are first taking to the chief's residence for his blessing, this is done with less than two weeks before the big ceremony. On the last day of the three months in hideout, the initiates would be taken to Birikiba for the final washing, at Birikima, traditional songs would be sung andgoodbyee songs would be heard from them.

         After they  are cleaned, a message would be sent to the elders to lead the women. Drums and Kankurangs to go welcome the newly ordained adults to the society After the welcoming gestures, the initiates would be taken to Tinyansita for the final rites and whilst the rituals are on, women would all converge at one spot commonly the eldest woman home for cooking and other things, whilst men would be busy decorating the ground for the evening’s show. Middle men in their part would all be busy masking their various Kankurangs.

         At around 2 pm after lunches are taken, the ground is set for the big day, onlookers, natives and guests would all make their way to Tinyansita for the cultural festival to see their sons and daughters for the first time after three months been conferred by the elders of Janjanbureh the mantle of future leaderships and welcome them into adulthood.

         From there the entire night is celebration and narrating their experience at the hideout. The unfortunate part of it was that I was never part of the Janjanbureh initiations rites, I was circumcised in 1998, and my dad wanted to take me to the hideout but my mom said a Big No and I ended up at home alone, boring and sad, but within two weeks I was healed and I continued the celebration with the rest. Lol!

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