The Gambia History Facts and Timeline

(The Gambia, Western Africa)

The history of The Gambia is much like others in the Western Africa block, with Portuguese landings and gold and slave trades, through to British and French squabbling, colonisation and eventual independence. Although this may well be one of the smallest countries in Africa, it manages to boast a growing tourism industry.

A quick glance at a map indicates a tiny slither of land buffeting the Gambia River, wedged into the southern coastline of Senegal.

Gold and Ivory

Arab traders made an appearance here from about 800 AD, followed by Muslim traders who established trade routes across the region. Gold and ivory were chief industries, but it was a burgeoning slave trade that was a defining time in The Gambia history books. The burial sites marked by the large Wassu Stone Circles hail from these early years and nowadays draw a stream of visitors.

Islam and the Arabic language came to the region during the 11th century, while The Gambia was incorporated into the Mali Empire in the early years of the 14th century. The Portuguese landed here in their quest for discovery and riches in the mid-1400s, spurring a cotton industry and eventually passing it on to the British.

British Gambia and Banjul

The English established Fort James on James Island in the middle of the 17th century, and the French, too, set up fortifications at nearby Albreda. They fought with each other into the 18th century over trading rights. Fort James also housed slaves and remains today as ruins.

At the height of the cotton slave trade, Juffure Village (east of capital Banjul) was where Kunta Kinte was captured and subsequently written about in the acclaimed book 'Roots' by Alex Hailey. Tourists enjoy the Roots Heritage Tour here, as well as checking out the Museum of Slavery at Albreda.

The capital, Banjul, was founded by Britain in the year of 1816 as a base for trade and to suppress slavery. Banjul today is worn and bustling, although still serves as a major tourist magnet, due to its noticeable colonial character. The Albert Market, Arch 22, the Banjul State House and Fort Bullen are all extremely prominent, historic landmarks based here in the capital, hinting at Gambia's history.

Colonialism History and Independence

Janjanbureh (formerly named Georgetown) was founded not long after Banjul (in 1832) and immediately set about freeing all of the slaves settled here. This town retains a colonial air and is known for its slave house, peanuts and nearby Bird Safari Camp.

The British eventually gained full control of The Gambia from the French, and for almost 100 years the country came under the crown, from 1888 onwards. Boundaries were set, slavery was officially stamped out completely in 1906, and the country headed towards self-government.

The Gambia joined the Allies in WWII, although marched on towards independence post-war, achieving this in 1965 - Independence Day is now celebrated on 18th February each year. Dawda Kairaba Jawara became president and remained so until 1994, seeing the formation of 'Senegambia' (plus Senegal) in the 1980s. The president was overthrown in a military coup in 1994, which returned The Gambia to civilian rule in 1997.

Tourism and Holiday makers

Swedish cruise ship tourists stopped off in the 1960s and told folks back home of the beauty of The Gambia's beaches, the sunshine, the hospitality and the impressive colonial landmarks of yesteryear.

Dubbed the 'Smiling Coast', the country developed a tourism industry that grew fast and is a major part of the economy today. The country itself, however, is little more than a microcosm of Africa, with a small economy, a relatively high population density and a low per capita income.