In 1816, according to Hassoum Ceesay, a renowned 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 Gambian 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 made it important to change the name of the capital city 8 years after The Gambia’s independence and “what the late former President Jawara justified in the press release in changing of the name was that, before the British came, the Island had a name which was Banjul. Therefore it was only important and necessary for The Gambia’s capital to reclaim its original name and drop the name given by the colonialist.”
The settlement was renamed Banjul but the name of the Island remains St Mary’s Island to date and it is a very good step in the decolonisation 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 pointed out the need for it to be one step in the decolonisation process. Imagine we were independent on 18 February 1965 and for 8 years our capital maintained a name that was given by the colonialist. So, the renaming was a very good step in the decolonisation process,” historian Ceesay explained.
He added that three years earlier, the country became a Republic. “So the rename was timely but of course involved some costs because the BCC had to redesign its logo, stamps, letterhead paper, post office box, even newspapers available then, too. Every concerned place and organisation had to change their settings and all necessary documents.”
It took some time for people to get used to the change of the name “even in the likes of Radio Gambia who could sometimes say ‘it is Radio Gambia broadcasting from Bathurst instead of Banjul.”
Though some people didn’t like the change of the name, they were nostalgic for the past era. 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 name change later from Bathurst to Banjul but streets have always been the problem as so many mayors have tried to change the colonial names of the streets in Banjul to Gambian names but still is not popular.”