By Yunus S Saliu
Hounourable Minister of Tourism and Culture, on Thursday, 14th December 2022 inaugurated a National Organizing Committee (NOC) for the 200 Years Festival for MacCarthy Island Homecoming Festival, at the Gambia Tourism and Hospitality Institute, Kanifing.
In what he called a response to national duty at a short notice, Honourable Hamat NK Bah welcomed the selected member of the NOC and thanked them for being part of the ambitious and unique project that his Ministry with the support of the entire government of His Excellency President Adama Barrow wants to roll out – “that’s to a hold a big cultural and artistic festival to mark 200 years of the occupation of MacCarthy Island which is also called Georgetown or Janjanbureh.”
This bicentenary, he said, cannot go unnoticed or uncelebrated “because it marked the beginning of the arrival into this region of one of the most productive segments of our population, now called the Krio, also Aku, as the Liberated Africans.”
Minister Bah narrated that following the purchase of the settlement then called Lemani by the British Crown through their agent Captain Alexandre Grant from the ruler of Niani called Ngarri Sabally, the British not only changed the name of the Island to McCarthy Island after Sir Charles MacCarthy, who was the British Governor General for West African Settlements. “But they also quickly went about establishing a new settlement which they called Georgetown and this place soon gained significance as a refuge for our brothers and sisters liberated by the Royal Navy from marauding slave ships. These lucky souls who almost were but never became slaves were settled among other places in The Gambia, at MacCarthy Island.
He narrated further that the Island became the capital of the British possessions in the River Gambia and for many years was ruled separately from Bathurst, now Banjul. The settlement soon became a melting pot of Liberated Africans, and other ethnic groups living side by side with the European colonizers, in harmony.
The Tourism and Culture Minister disclosed that the Ministry’s task is to use this interesting history of resilience and determination and survival using cultural expressions and manifestations in a two-day festival to coincide with the 200th anniversary of these events which fall exactly on 23 April 2023.
Although, “I have been told that due to Ramadan calendar exigencies, this exact date will be untenable for the start of the festival but we can do the events immediately after the fasting period, and I am optimistic that we can pull off a wonderful festival,” Minister Bah noted.
Among other importance of the festival, Minister Bah pointed out that “it will help to celebrate our diversity in unity as a country because no community in our country is more diverse than McCarthy. During its early years, there were Europeans, Syrians, Lebanese, Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, Krio, and others engaged in commerce, administration, and farming. It was a cosmopolitan settlement, which attracted people because of the opportunities that it offered to all who came to live. McCarthy Island was a beacon of hope and optimism and work. These are the virtues we want to be reflected in the celebratory festival because these are the virtues that we want to inculcate into our citizenry.”
More so, he said they want the festival to be a veritable moment for reflection on the linkages between “our country and our brothers and sisters in the diaspora. We want the festival to be like a homecoming meeting where Gambians and friends of The Gambia will interact and celebrate with the diaspora. Through this, we want to forge a truly national event which will remind us of our history and also celebrate our cultures and traditions.”
He added that the country desires is for a truly national festival that the whole country should be part of it, having a truly Gambian character that will rebound rural tourism and create jobs and income.
He thanked and commended the member for their acceptance to be part of the committee while assuring them of his Ministry and institutions under the tutelage of MoTC’s full support.