Chronicle of Literature: Discovering Gambian Literature 4th Edition


Ebou Dibba (1943 – 2001)

Ebou Dibba studied in Great Britain (University of Cardiff and London) and obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees, with French as a major. After graduating, Ebou Dibba decides to stay in England and work for adult education. He ran a highly respected school in Surrey for almost thirty years. In 1993, he was decorated by Queen Elizabeth II with the MBE (Member of the British Empire). Ebou Dibba accidentally drowned in December 2000. He has published four books.

Olu and the Smugglers – 1980

In 1980, a book titled Olu and the smugglers was published by Longman Group UK in the ‘Action Books’ series. Ebou Dibba, who thus began a literary career – later reinforced by three other novels (Paille sur le vent, 1986; Fafa, 1989; Alhaji, 1992).

The book is designed for younger students (Form 3, now Grade 9). It was therefore important that the text not be too long (40 pages), that it include illustrations (nearly thirty), that the story revolve around a young boy (Olu is 13) and that ‘he is the hero of a turbulent story and exciting story. All of this is perfectly at work in Ebou Dibba’s text.

The story begins in a small village by the sea. Aunt Abi and Uncle Yancoba, a customs officer, are waiting for their young nephew Olu. Since they have no children, receiving Olu is a real pleasure. They learn that a story is shaking the village: many people have fallen ill from cans of meat, and many empty cans have been found. But no one solved the case.

Olu is a nice boy, but he is very imaginative and has a knack for exaggerating everything he sees and does, so little credit is given to what he says. This character trait is not without consequences. One night, Olu and his friend Abu see a boat lighting fires, people disembarking with packages and a cyclist leaving; they look like smugglers. The next day, Olu, who cannot make his uncle believe it, considers it urgent to warn the policeman, Sergeant Demfa, whom he meets at the market. Demfa seems interested in Olu’s revelation but admits he couldn’t identify any of the people or find out what was in the boxes because of the darkness.

The whole story changes when Abu tells Olu that at the phone booth where he was going to call his mother, he overheard a phone conversation between Damfa and someone. The sergeant informed the caller that the boat would have to dock on the beach at one o’clock in the morning due to the untimely discovery of Olu and Abu. Sergeant Demfa was therefore one of the smugglers, probably the cyclist! To get out of this confused situation, Olu ends up convincing his uncle, not without difficulty, that something must be done. Uncle Yancoba accompanies the two children to notify police inspector Thomas. The latter will not be so surprised by this statement, because he already seemed to have suspicions about the sergeant. It is now up to the inspector to resolve the case and take appropriate action. The two young boys will be allowed to observe the night raid on the beach from a distance with their uncle. The police operation is large-scale: it leads to the arrest of all the smugglers, including Demfa, and above all, to the discovery of the traffic. Meat cans were used for diamond trafficking.

Ebou Dibba was the first to pave the way for children’s novels in The Gambia. It should also be noted that in the other book he wrote twelve years later for children, Alhaji (1992), the diamond trade is also at the heart of the enigma. It is true that from fiction to reality there is only one step in this part of Africa – as evidenced by the “blood diamonds” of recent wars in Sierra Leone and other countries of the sub-region.

Straw on the Wind – 1986

Straw on the wind is Ebou Dibba’s second novel, published in 1986 by Macmillan Education (203 pages divided into 13 chapters). Straw on the wind: from the ball to the wind. The “husk” is the light ground cover that surrounds each grain of wheat or rice and is so light that once separated from its support, the slightest breath blows it away. So it is with people caught up in the whirlwind of life. So it is with the two heroes of the novel, Pateh the audacious and Dinding the timid and naive. Fate seems to have traced a clear path for them: for the former, success; for the second, a humble and difficult life. It won’t, and the opposite will happen.

In the 1930s, Dinding left his village in the far east of the country. On the boat to the capital, he meets Pateh, who becomes his friend. Pateh immediately finds work in town and meets a 16-year-old girl, Isatou, with whom he falls in love. But Isatou is proposed by Charles, a 65-year-old bachelor of mixed Portuguese descent and public writer. “Charles’ cousin, the Madame, who is Isatou’s patroness, opposes this marriage which she considers inappropriate because of the difference in age and culture. Despite this, Charles becomes a Muslim and marries Isatou, but the marriage turns into a fiasco because Charles is impotent, Isatou becomes pregnant… by Pateh, who flees with her to Kaolack, where she gives birth to a boy”.

Dinding, meanwhile, finds work with Jobarteh, a wealthy Jola trader. Jobarteh takes a liking to him, and over time, he decides to give him his daughter Sira in marriage. Dinding, who had feelings for Kombeh (Isatou’s friend), ends up agreeing. Shortly after the wedding, Jobarteh dies and Dinding inherits his father-in-law’s business.

Now wealthy, Dinding involves Pateh in his business ventures. They reunite in Dakar, but Dinding is frightened by the morals of Pateh, who sees a white prostitute. Pateh is imprisoned by the French police, who accuse him of illicit trafficking.

Against the background of colonial events (description of a Prussian plane landing at Jeshwang and catching fire on take-off; birthday of George VI in May 1937) and world events (approach of the Second World War), the author can depict the psychological evolution of his two heroes with great accuracy and gives us an interesting portrait of the Metis, Signare milieu of the time.

Fafa – 1989

In 1989, three years after his first novel, Straw on the WindEbou Dibba publishes his third novel, fafawith MacMillan Educational Ltd. Although there is a connection between the two texts, like many characters in fafa are already known to the reader, it is not a sequel to the first novel. It is therefore not necessary to have read the first novel to understand the second. Fafa (118 pages, divided into 13 chapters) tells the story of a group of four friends: Sidi Masood, a merchant of Moroccan origin; “War Fourteen”, who claims to have fought in the First World War (his real name is Paterson and he is from the Bahamas); “Professor”, a man from the city, who is a real pedagogue (he studied at university in Germany but, during the Second World War, in Burma, he suffered such a shock that he can no longer exercise his job) ; and, finally, Fafa, the only real child in the country, employed by Sidi Masood to take care of his shop. The author shows us his four men with different backgrounds and experiences, united by a common friendship. Everyone is valued by others because of their difference. The “professor”, for example, takes with him two books which he constantly quotes. Sidi Masood likes black American music. “Guerre Quatorze” always has some anecdotes to tell. As for Fafa, he looks at people and things with an innocent and naive eye.

At the beginning of the novel, we learn that our friends want to resolve Fafa’s torment: he is in love with the pretty Kombeh and wants to marry her. So what’s the problem? It’s dual. On the one hand, Fafa’s financial situation is not very encouraging; on the other hand, Kombeh, if she is indeed a child of the provinces like Fafa, was brought up by “Madame”, a signar. With Marie Pereira, the niece of “Madame”, Kombeh was thus seen allotting a style of behavior quite different from the traditional one. Shy Fafa let Kombeh know that he was in love and wanted to marry her, but that wasn’t enough to convince her. Unexpectedly, the arrival of Sidi Masood’s aunt, who wants to marry her nephew to one of his Moroccan cousins, will rush the affair and solve Fafa’s problem. Indeed, Sidi Masood, who does not want to marry his cousin, concocts a ploy to pretend that he is already married. The aunt is not fooled, and before leaving, she also invents a scheme to “punish” Sidi Masood and help Fafa solve his problem.

If the plot and its happy ending amuse the reader, the undeniable art of Ebou Dibba lies in his way of painting the different socio-cultural backgrounds and their impact on individual behavior.

Alhagia – 1992

Even if they do not write primarily for readers but for themselves, writers need to be read and recognized by an audience. However, just as writers differ in their social origins, ideas, and mode of expression, so do the audiences they target and reach. Currently, an important public devotes itself to reading but knows little or nothing about books: young students. In The Gambia, as elsewhere in Africa, the written word is gaining ground mainly through schools, and if we look at the growth of the school population over the last ten years, we see that enrollment has more than doubled. For these young people, we produce books that are better and better adapted to the Gambian reality. Yet books are also needed that can both help them practice the language of instruction (English in this case) and promise to identify and recognize themselves as young Gambians. This is what Ebou Dibba did with Alhajiwhich became the first Gambian book for young people to be included in the Gambian school curriculum.

In the Teen Trendsetters series, Alhaji (72 pages) was published in 1992 by Macmillan. The young hero, Alhaji, speaks in the first person and tells the story that just happened to him. He is 16, lives near Cape Point and attends high school in Banjul. His life was transformed the day a Swede gave him a horse, named Alhaji in honor of his young master.

One day, while he was walking to school, a nice car stopped and the owner, Kebba, offered to take him to his destination. This meeting is not a coincidence because Kebba has already noticed the young boy and his horse on the beach. This man, who seems very rich, invites Alhaji to his hotel, where he even offers him the charms of a young girl. Why so many requests? Because Kebba has a plan in which the horse plays a key role. He wants the boy to sell or lend him his horse. The boy refuses. He remembers Kebba arguing with his passenger about a certain “thing”; he is confronted by an inspector from Sierra Leone who is watching Kebba. Even his math teacher, Quasi, seems to be involved in this surveillance. When the horse disappears, accompanied by Kebba, a chase begins that ends in Senegal. Alhaji discovers that his horse has been used to transport diamonds hidden between the animal’s hooves and shoes.

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