By Yunus S Saliu
The Gambia was just eight years and one day old on the 19th of February 1973 when His Excellency President of the Republic of The Gambia, Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara walked into the cabinet of the Banjul City Council interim committee (IC) to renamed the Gambia capital known as Bathurst to Banjul.
In 1816, according to Hassoum Ceesay, a historian and author, the British purchased the Island and renamed the Island St Mary and the settlement was called Bathurst named after Earl Bathurst who was the British Secretary of State for Colonies. “And from 1816 up to 1973 The Gambia capital was called Bathurst and it used to cause a lot of confusion because we have other towns in countries like Australia, Argentina Canada, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Argentina called Bathurst.”
That was one reason that really made it important to change the name of the capital city 8 years after The Gambia independence and “what the late former President Jawara justified in the press release was that before the British came the Island had a name which is Banjul. Therefore it was only important and necessary for The Gambia capital to reclaim its name back to the original name and drop the name given to the capital by the colonialist.”
The settlement was renamed from Bathurst to Banjul but the name of the Island remains as St Mary Island till date and it is a very good step in the decolonization process.
“The settlement on the Island was what was renamed from Bathurst to Banjul on the 19th of February 1973. The name is very important because it really pointed out to the need it was one step to the decolonization process. Imagine we were independent 18th February 1965 and for 8 years our capital maintained a named that was given by the colonialist. So, the renaming was a very good step in the decolonization process,” historian Ceesay explained.
Furthermore, he added, three years earlier the country becomes a Republic “so the rename was timely but of course involved some cost because the BCC have to redesign its logo, stamps, letter head paper, post office box even newspapers available then every concerned places, organization have to change their settings and all necessary documents.”
It took sometimes for people to get used to the changed of the name “even in the like of the Radio Gambia who could sometimes says ‘it is Radio Gambia broadcasting from Bathurst instead of Banjul.”
Though, some people didn’t like the change of the name they were nostalgic of the past era but some liked it “saying the name Banjul is a Gambian language because the Island used to be a harvest ground for ropes among other things so it meant a rope farm.”
However, “people accepted the names change later from Bathurst to Banjul but streets always been the problem so many mayors have tried to change the colonial names of the streets in Banjul to Gambian names but those names are still not popular.”