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The Gambia: The Footprint of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

A rusted cannon on the Kunta Kinte Island/
A rusted cannon on the Kunta Kinte Island/
Source: CNN

The Kunta Kinte Island, formerly the St Andrew Island (because Portuguese explorers buried one of their sailors on the Island), sits at the mouth of River Gambia and welcomes several visitors every year. However, this historic spot holds the darkest history in The Gambia.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to exploit the virtue of The Gambia in the 1400s. Their mission was to export gold, but they found slaves instead. The Mandinka mansas were also anxious to sell and exchange war captives for firearms, leading to the dawn of the cruel transatlantic slave trade in The Gambia.

By the 1600s, the English, the Portuguese, and Spanish were fully enthralled in the transatlantic slave trade, shipping over 5,000 slaves yearly. This makes the Gambia one of the earliest sources of West African slaves.

This calls to mind stories of Kunta Kinte, a famous rebel who was a victim of this slave trade. He attempted to escape slavery four times and his foot was chopped off the fourth time by his enslavers.

The growing awareness of his story and the horrors of the slave trade has made the island a center of attraction for historians and tourists. The historical remnants of the slave era are obvious sights to behold in The Gambia. These include dungeons, gun batteries, and contours – all in an atmospheric backdrop amid old baobab trees and a striking landscape. It is, therefore, not surprising that tourism keeps soaring in The Gambia, with hotels springing up at every corner of the country.

Kunta Kinte Island remains
Kunta Kinte Island remains

In 2003, Kunta Kinte Island was recognized and awarded a World Heritage status because of its significant role during the transatlantic slave trade. James Island was renamed Kunta Kinteh Island in remembrance of Gambia's most famous rebellious son in 2011.

Although in recent times, heavy erosion has been threatening to wash away the island, the Gambian government has joined efforts with UNESCO to preserve the historical remains of the Island.

Kunta Kinte inspired the 1976 Alex Haley's novel and hit TV series, Roots. His legacies are also preserved in pop culture by artists such as Kendrick Lamar.

Beyond the horrors of the slave trade, as we celebrate Black History Month, let us explore the source of wealth in the Gambia.


Closely linked with the history of The Gambia after the transatlantic slave trade is peanut, called gerte. Gerte is the Wolof word for peanut.

Peanuts have been an integral part of The Gambia since the 16th century, when it was introduced by the Portuguese.

Peanuts were grown by Gambians for domestic consumption only until the 1830s when they became an agricultural export. The demand for peanuts grew as a result of their use in the beauty/skincare industry.

Churra gerte is a traditional Gambian porridge made with boiled ground peanuts and rice.

Churra gerte
Churra gerte

This is a simple yet immensely satisfying traditional Gambia meal, kind of like thicker oatmeal with a rich nutty taste.

Domoda, Gambia's national dish, is a delicious peanut-based stew often served with chicken and a mix of vegetables.

Other major crops grown in the Gambia are millet, sorghum, maize, rice sesame, cassava, and cotton.


Gambia’s coastline
Gambia’s coastline

The exploding global demand for fishmeal – a lucrative golden powder produced from pulverizing and cooking fish – has brought a boom to the Gambian aquacultural sector.

Thanks to its marine coastline of almost 50 miles, Gambia attracts many commercial aqua species that feed and spawn in the country. These include tilapia, African bony tongue, catfishes, shrimps, oysters, barracuda, captain fish, guitarfish, thornback ray, catfish, cassava croaker, jack crevalle, pompano, queenfish, rays, and tarpon. The Gambia is a global leader in fishmeal and fish oil production.

The Gambia also enjoys foreign investment due to its waters. For instance, China canceled a whooping $14M in Gambian debt and invested $33m to develop aquaculture in The Gambia.

The Gambian government is actively trying to intensify reforms in its aquacultural industries.

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