It is the first week of the month of March and 4 years ago what would have been the topic of the day for every primary school pupil was Commonwealth day which is celebrated on the second Monday of March every year to all it is member countries. The Gambia, it could be recalled last celebrated the event in 2013. One fine Wednesday the 2nd day of October in 2013, the then President of our beloved Gambia Yahya Jammeh withdrew the country from the Commonwealth where he was quoted “The government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that The Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism.
This made the celebration of the Commonwealth day a history in The Gambia. The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of 52 independent and sovereign states. Most are former British colonies or dependencies of these colonies. Rewind back to those days, I can vividly remember in primary school the manner in which the day was celebrated. Those were the best moments all primary school going pupils looked forward to like a kid at a candy shop school. The culture and tradition of the different ethnic groups were showcased in spectacular style, affording every child in the school to easily identify or relate to a given tribe.
The Mandinka girl child will be decorated in her beautiful “Darr Fano” as if she was a young maiden she being readied for her husband like in line with her culture, evoking memories of those days when the traditional marriage ceremony was at its zenith. As a fula, I can fully recall when my mum would prepare the ground early morning including my “lachiri” which we are known for. Further, before departing for school, mum will dress me in my “chaaya” sewn purposely for this specific historic day. By the same token, the wolof girl will have her feet and palms beautifully decorated with “fudan” and then would majestically, as if walking fast will result in the “fudan” fading away from her feet. All the young girls could be seen braid in different hair styles, making them all appear in their element. In the school campus itself, the competition begins by determining who got the best of food or traditional dress. It must be said that this is the only day in which every single pupil gets to school in possession of food. Ambassadors of the different countries in The Gambia are also selected amongst the pupils and as well a President who presides over this ceremony.
At that juncture, it is not a school celebration anymore at but an event that is accorded a national character in every sense of the word. The infant President from the youngest class, Grade one, is dictated by the senior teacher to memorize a particular speech which he uses to address the so-called national event organized by every other Primary schools in urban Gambia at the time. The Gambia became a member of the Commonwealth in 1965, when she attained independence from Britain.
Although it remains a major tourist destination for the British, H.E Adama Barrow, wasted no time in pledging to return the country to the Commonwealth of nations almost a week after officially assuming the country’s mantle of leadership. Now that such a declaration has been made at the level of the presidency, I, a former infant President back in the day at one of those school-based Commonwealth celebrations, is hoping to see the re-introduction of an event we once cherished and relished dearly.
By Ebrima Sowe. He is a fecund broadcaster and the Newsroom Coordinator of The Stone Circle.