GAMBIA HOLDS 6TH LITERATURE DAY
-A Symposium Honoring Prolific writer Baaba Sillah
By Abdoulie Jammeh & Saikou Suwareh JABAI
The University Of The Gambia (UTG) and the Gambia College, on Wednesday, 12th February, jointly organized the 6th edition of the annual Gambian Literature Day at the Gambia College Hall in Brikama and honors prolific Gambian writer, Mr. Babaa Sillah. The occasion, with a view to making Gambians become aware of their works and avail the public the opportunity to be familiar with key issues they raise in their writings, brought together government officials, teachers, students and other stakeholders in the domain of education in the Gambia.
The day was also characterized with paper presentations on Baaba Sillah’s works and of course, cultural exhibitions including sketches, songs, dance and recitation of poems by students.
In his opening remarks, the Acting Dean of the UTG School of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Pierre Gomez, welcomed the gathering, notably members of the high table for their attendance despite their busy schedule, saying their contributions shall go a long way in the realization of their collective dream of preserving our culture for posterity.
He shed light on the origin and development of The Gambian
Literature Day and noted that at the initial stage, they came together as literary critiques, writers and readers to reflect on the status and future of Gambian Literature. He said the first two editions were mainly based on such reflections, and with time they decided to shift their focus and look at the works of prominent Gambian writers.
This year, he said they looked at one of the most prolific contemporary Gambian writers, Mr. Babaa Sillah, who has published the following books: When The Monkey Talks, ‘Dabbali Gi’, Dreams Of The Islands, and ‘Pencum Taakusaan’.
While expressing how honored the university feels to have you in their midst for national development, he said they, in the School of Arts and Sciences deem it necessary to promote Gambian culture by enhancing Gambian Literature.
He said as a theoretical discipline concerned with raising social consciousness, literature engages in speculations, offers critical evaluation of existing social condition, and provides indications to society. For Dr. Gomez, a philosophical reading of literature can be of immense value in promoting African self-understanding by providing an intellectual and analytical framework within which the African experience can articulated, explained and reordered.
Dr. Gomez lectured that literature and development are two disciplines that are more closely related than most people think and that the essence of literature is to show the economic arrangement in society and the nature of the relationship it produces. He went on that it evaluates existing society on its own terms and depicts a fictional world that is a lifelike representation of the real world, adding that the writer serves as a medium for raising the consciousness of his or her society concerning the mode of production that operates there, the nature of the relationship between the various classes and how to bring about an end to the oppression and exploitation of one class by another. This viewpoint, he added, reflects the opinion that reputable African writers have about the significance of literature in relation to development.
“Baaba Sillah is among the first Gambian writers to look at the colonial Gambian society and aptly assesses the economic policies of the colonial masters and the reactions of the Gambians to such repugnant policies. In his trilogy of When the Monkey Talks, Dabbali Gi and Dreams From The Islands, he skillfully uses writing techniques that make each of the texts a must read for anyone who lays hand on them. Baaba's use of local Gambian names, history and storytelling is a clear indication that literature mirrors society and that every text is a reflection of the needs and aspirations of the people. Baaba has further helped the readers to be exposed to the contradictions in the accounts of the colonial officials on a wide range of issues that dealt with key Gambians like Edward Francis Small who could be considered as the father of Gambian nationalism,” he said.
Above all, the acting Dean cited that Baaba has demonstrated through his works that every people have a lot to offer to the world concerning their literature and the philosophy of their society and that he has paved the way for emerging Gambian writers t9 continue from where he may stop in the literary journey to unearth and present the stories of many who lack the voice for them to be heard.
For Prof. Muhammadou M.O. Kah, the Vice Chancellor of the University Of The Gambia (UTG), the very composition of this gathering (Gambian Literature Day) gives credence to the fact that this UTG activity has earned itself a prestige.
“Sure enough, this activity has lit a torch in the University. We wish to let the flame from this torch be ever burning. We are prepared to let nothing extinguish this flame.”
He assured the audience that they are in for another profitable and enjoyable academic treat as they were present to taste of the spiritual food another illustrious son of the soil has prepared for them.
“He is a guru in Literature, a visually impaired writer who sees far more than sighted writers see. I am talking about no other person than our Guest writer for this occasion, Mr Baaba Sillah. When you read his works you will see that he paints images more vividly than some sighted writers do. Indeed he outwits a lot of sighted writers,” these were the words used to described the honored Babaa Sillah.
He said the university has invited you here to benefit from literary works, adding that there wish, as a university community, is that the occasion helps to propel the students to writing.
The Vice Chancellor encourage the young people to take up the habit of reading and writing so that they will be celebrated in just the same way as Dr Lenrie Peters, Nana Grey-Johnson, Dr Tijan Sallah, Baaba Sillah, amongst others. He further enjoined them to be voracious readers and stubborn writers, saying: “ If you don't read, if you don't write, how can The Gambia hope to see one of its sons or daughters become a Nobel Prize winner? This is not impossible.” He encouraged the presenters to develop their presentations into publishable materials so that they can enrich their academic credentials.
On his final note, Prof Kah thanked the participants for their presence, particularly the Acting Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and his entire crew not just for the tremendous efforts they have always deployed in order to get the community involved in university matters, but also for their unmatchable and unflinching vigor to instill dynamism into the university body politic.
The Head of the School Of Education, Gambia College, Madam Isatou Ndow, dilated on the importance of studying Literature, noting that it cannot be over emphasized as it helps us to appreciate how attitudes changes over time. He assured the gathering of her schools’ full commitment in the teaching and learning of Literature at the college.
Mr. Almamy Taal, the President of the Writers Association Of Gambia (WAG), started his brief statement by recognizing the presence of the dignitaries present and said WAG is elated to be part of the Gambian Literature. He spoke about the importance of literature in relation to development and paid tribute to the late Chinua Achebeh and Nelson Mandela. He finally thanked his predecessors at WAG for revitalizing the association.
The Chairman of the Conference of Principals, Mr. Karamo S. Bojang, who doubles as the Principal of Nusrat Senior Secondary School, decried the high failure of English in schools and said mechanisms urgently need to be in place. He added that students should inculcate the culture of reading and writing, this he believes will go a long way in remedying the situation. He urged the Ministry of Basic And Secondary Education (MoBSE) to give a close look at English and Literature while urging teachers to nurture the talents in students.
The Permanent Secretary of the MoBSE, Mr. Baboucarr Bouy, expressed similar sentiments as the previous speaker and said in 2007, studies showed that a good number of grade seven (7) students cannot read. He further decried that students hardly get used to the habit of reading and writing in their early days. He said the poor command of English let the failure. Some of the measures his ministry is undertaking, according to the PS, includes early grade reading, introduction of the National Language Program, spending over 6 million Dalasis to purchase a lot of supplementary materials written by prolific Gambian writers, working with the National Library to encourage students to read by establishing library and training librarians.
Mr. Cherno Omar Barry, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry Higher Education Research Science and Technology, also spoke about the significance of Literature, saying it helps broaden the understanding of the people. He said the elders should lead by example, noting that only few takes time to read. He highlighted how diverse Literature is and cited its link in the Holy Quran and bible. PS Barry spoke about the works and achievements of Mr. Babaa Sillah and said his books are well written, with international standards that even universities can use.
In his keynote address, the honored guest, Babaa Sillah thanked the university and college for organizing such an important ceremony. He expressed how much he felt to be honored. He also dilated on the importance of Literature and said it needs to be given a special attention. The writer and educator gave a rundown of his activities and involvement in Literature.
The UTG, at the end of his speech, awarded him prestige certificate in honor of achievements.
About Author Babaa Sillah
Baaba Sillah is a Gambian, resident of Norway, educated in part in Britain in the fields of Psychology, Education and Management. He has worked as a consultant in various fields, especially in training and in development work. He is a born teacher and has taught all his life, in Gambia, in Britain and most recently in Norway where his teaching has taken the form of mentoring and support for individual students private voluntary organizations and fledging immigrant organizations.
For many years, writing has been an alternative expression for Baaba's need to communicate his ideas and to reach out and share them with a larger audience. After losing his sight some years ago and thus some of his occupational mobility and flexibility, writing has been a way for Baaba to do his part as a citizen of the world.
Being a creature of several worlds has given him the multiple perspectives of distance and local insight and knowledge. Not an accident in history, sometimes Baaba argues, "We have to move out to know ourselves, move out of Africa to know Africa" and yet, Baaba bears with him the insight of the African and the pride in and respect for what the African has been, is and can be!
In his vote of thanks, Abdou Kabirr Daffeh, expressed thanks to the students for their participation and the members of the high table for honoring their invitation.