Through a Glass Darkly
I was then a student on government scholarship and was con sidered one of the fortunate few to have this boon bestowed on them by the benign, all powerful, paternal masters of the day, the local representatives of Her Majesty’s Britannic Empire. This was the opinion of the colonial society in which I was born, a society which had experienced and has partly been shaped by, 300 years of British overrule; a society the urbanised and educated members of which had become so British in certain modes of thinking and yet so stubbornly African (or rather, Gambian) in others that it would probably require a monograph to analyse its split personality. In short, I was born into the colonial society of Bathurst, the Gambia; the very name of the town is a clear indication of its strong British colonial connection and of the attitudes of its members. Up to the age of sixteen, I knew very little about the rest of the country outside Bathurst; all I knew were names of places there and I often heard some of my Wollof and Krio relatives say that ‘they’ were ignorant and backward and that our town was more ‘civilised’. They said it with such finality and authority that I simply came to take this ‘fact’ as given. We all did-I mean my parents, relatives and schoolmates. Whatever the older ones said was true. After all, did not the white men bring education to them first ? That group of people in the town who believed this most fervently and lost no opportunity in assert ing it were the Creoles or Akus, most of whom could trace their origins to Freetown, Sierra Leone. The other section, the Wollofs,
generally subscribed to this attitude, adding to it their ancient pride and dignity. Through my parents, I was a member of both groups: the former were mostly Christians, very Victorian in outlook and with a strong predilection for out-moded English manners; the latter were mostly Muslims, generally caste conscious, and needed no European to lecture them on the virtues of being loyal to one’s traditions. In spite of the differences in religion and acculturation, both groups did have certain values in common-mutual aid, respect for one’s elders, loyalty to the Empire, responsibility for relatives, however distant, hospitality and the dominance of the men. More importantly, through intermarriage, a series of bewildering family ties sometimes made one wonder whether Islam, Christianity and colonialism have in reality created any fundamental divisions in African society.