Exactly a week ago, over 40 young journalists mainly from the University of The Gambia’s School of Journalism and Digital Media secluded themselves in the North Bank settlement of Juffureh to familiarize themselves with the ethical reporting of children and migration issues.
Upon their arrival at Kunta Kinteh Island just as darkness was fast creeping in and with the yellowish sun staring down at them, one could see the gaggle of students brimming with excitement – even the most faint-hearted of them who were initially reluctant to board the boat amidst the mild evening breeze at sea.
“I have never ever used a wooden boat before in my life. This is cool,” says a bespectacled sassy young lady apparently putting on a brave face despite her rather nervy demeanor as she sat on the bowels of the carrier.
For most of the first timers at Kunta Kinteh Island, spellbinding tales of the barbaric treatment meted out to their forebears by the slave masters were something they struggled to muster as local tour guide Lamin Trawally literally handed down to them a history lesson they never had attended in their entire basic and secondary education cycle.
Trawally’s flawless mastery of the history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the manner in which he was able to paint a picturesque view of this dark chapter in The Gambian history struck a chord with both the students and their trainers. The irony and a positive take-away for that matter was that on a journey of such historical significance, the star of the show was no university professor but a native man who was feeling at home with the story of his ancestors.
“This man would have made a huge difference if only he was at the University of The Gambia offering lectures in history,” interjects one of the students, oblivious of the fact that the man who goes by the moniker Steven might even be doing a bigger job in that role selling Destination Gambia than someone in the comfy of some air-conditioned office established for that purpose.
On their way home, the mood among the students turned out to be one of melancholy, understandably due not only to the slavery subject but out of genuine fears that a site with such mammoth tourism potentials seemed to be under tapped and not actually living up to its billing.
“You cannot convince me that Senegal’s Gore Island is a bigger historical magnate than Kunta Kinteh Island, especially if one takes into cognizance the fact that it is our story unlike our neighbours that has been scripted and turned in to an epic film that hit uncountable television screens in different parts of the world,” argues Assan Jobe, a student leader at the UTG Journalism Students Association.
Asked what he would have said to the powers-that-be if he were to talk to them about Juffureh/Albreda, journalism lecturer and travel enthusiast Demba Kandeh suggests “I would recommend that a leisure facility such as a hotel be built at or around Kunta Kinteh Island where visitors would be spending nights and also be indulging in entertaining stuff like water sports.” The soft-spoken lecturer echoed some of his students’conviction that “in order for Kunta Kinteh Island and other heritage sites to remain attractive to visitors, innovative ideas must be explored and acted upon by the players in the local hospitality industry.”
Inhabited by a people that are nice, accommodating and proud of their ancestors chiefly the fabled Kunta Kinteh, what appears to be backpedalling the tourism capacities of Juffureh/Albreda is the deplorable state of the Hakalang road linking the two communities and Buniadu.
“With the condition of this road, not every tourist, particularly the old, are keen to travel down this route. Also, other than the safari jeeps, the major tour operators rarely use the Hakalang way,” reveals Pa Ousman Jeng, who also recalls instances when business around that end had hit a snag when one or two big tourist boats from the coast had their own issues too.
Juffureh and Albreda are two interwoven villages in The Gambia, 30 kilometers inland on the north bank of the River Gambia and best known as the birthplace of Kunta Kinteh as told in Alex Haley’s 1976 novel Roots. Among the noteworthy attraction sites in the community are a museum housing precious historical artifacts, San Domingo Ruins on the outskirts
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