Sunday 17 July 2016

Gambia Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest of Gambia cities.

Banjul is a mispronunciation of bang julo meaning 'rope fibre'. Here the name describes how the inhabitants, the Mandinka, collected fibres from the local plant life to produce rope.

Basse Santu Su also has a district known as Basse Duma Su, the suffixes meaning 'lower home' and 'higher home' respectively. These show how, during the rainy season, the lower area had been subject to flooding - it is but four metres above sea level. Both share the common element basse meaning 'mat', traditionally held to be where the founder, one General Tiramakan Traore, laid a mat to show where he intended to put down roots. An unlikely explanation may, taking into consideration the previous definition, be where locals had earlier gathered leaves or plant material to weave into mats.

Brikama had been settled by the Kontes and the Bojangs, but was largely destroyed during the decades-long Soninke-Marabout wars in the latter half of the 19th century. The name comes from the Bainunka and means 'women's town.

Janjanbureh has never been understood, other than the town and the island on which it stands share this name. Earlier the town, when a British colony, had ben named Georgetown from 1832, to honour the regining king, and prior to this, in 1822, the island had been known as MacCarthy Island after Sir Charles MacCarthy, former Governor General of the British West African Territories.

Mansa Konko is Mandinka for 'hill of the kings', this once being home to an important chief.

Serekunda is derived from 'home of the Sayer family' and named after its founder, Sayerr Jobe.

Cape Point gains its English name, and obvious meaning, from British colonial days. Earlier it had been named by Portuguese explorers Cabo de Santa Maria or 'Cape of Saint Mary'.

Makasutu is from the Mandinka language where Maka refers to Islam's holy city of Mecca and sutu means 'forest' and thus understood as 'holy forest'. The name is first known in the 12th century when Islamic followers swept through this region.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

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