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Gambia Independence Day: Exploring Gambia’s Malinke, Fulani, and Wolof Traditional Artforms, and Contemporary Uses in African Diasporic Storytelling

Feb 17, 2022 08:00AM ● By Oga Africa

Happy Independence Day, Gambia! On February 18th, this West African country gained independence from the British. To celebrate, we are exploring Gambia’s traditional storytelling, fashion, and food mediums, and their influences on modern culture.

Gambia’s rich cultural history is evident in the country’s ethnic groups, which include Malinke, Fulani, Wolof, Diola, Soninke, and more. The Malinke, Fulani, and Wolof are the most populous tribes in the country.

The Malinke tribe, also known as the Mandingo, founded the Ancient Mali Empire, which spanned the countries of Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Guinea, Senegal, and Gambia. The Malinke settled in Gambia sometime during the 14th century. The Malinke are known for their griots, who are storytellers that preserve culture and history. Through poetry and instrument playing, the griot tells stories that continue the group’s legacy of oral tradition. Two main instruments of Malinke griots are the kora, a 21-stringed harp, and the balafon, a xylophone-type of instrument.

One of the most popular stories of Malinke griots is the Sonjara, a 3,000 line epic that tells the Malinke history, including the events leading up to Sundiata Keita’s founding of the Mali Empire. Contemporary griots are keepers of the culture who are African and African-diasporic poets, rappers, musicians, and jazz, hip-hop, and R&B singers.

Read “Honoring the Gambia on Independence Day: ‘Roots’, The Gambian Revolution and Cuisine”: 

Honoring The Gambia on Independence Day Roots The Gambian Revolution and Cuisine

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( Fulani girls of Gambia. Image by Adam via Flickr )

The Fulani tribe, which is one of the largest pastoral nomad groups in Africa, began settling in Gambia during the Ancient Ghana Empire. The first Fulani kingdom in Gambia was Fuladugu, in eastern Gambia. Adama Barrow, who is the president of Gambia, hails from the Fulani tribe. The Fulani are known for their exquisite fashion styles, and for their pottery work. Fulani fashion, depending on the tribe, may exhibit intricate braiding styles, bright color schemes, beads, layered jewelry, iconic Fulani earrings, and headdresses. Fulani fashion styles, which has been worn by icons like the late Cicely Tyson and Rihanna, including the Fulani braids and earrings, add timeless elements to modern fashion.

Read “Hair History - Fulani Braids”: 

Hair History - Fulani Braids

Braids have been around for centuries but sadly some braiding styles’ history has been forgotten. Find out more about the trendy Fulani braids here. Read More » 


 ( A Wolof village. Image by Sunu Keur Maison d'hôtes Saint Louis du Senegal via Flickr)

The Wolof ethnic group lives in Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, and the diaspora. The Wolof tribe, known for being the inventors of Thiebudienne, or jollof rice, has a decadent cultural history. This tribe, said to have migrated from the Mali region after the fall of the Ghana Empire, retains their culture through Wolof griots, known as gewels, who are praise singers that use metaphors and themes in their storytelling to retain cultural values. African films like Mandabi by Wolof film director Ousmane Sembene, and African-inspired projects like Beyonce’s Black is King, continue gewel traditions of channeling art and vision to reinforce morals.

Read “Black Heroes/Heroines to Celebrate for Black History Month”: 

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Who is your favorite modern-day griot? Comment below!

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