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Monuments, an Unknown Legacy

Coen van Wyk

Posted on June 9, 2018 14:54

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Circles of standing stones, from a forgotten people, dot the Senegalese and Gambian countryside. These people probably wanted to leave behind something tangible and something to be remembered by. And all we can do is wonder who they were, and how we will be remembered in two thousand years.

We had been looking for them. Guidebooks mentioned the Stonehenge of Africa. The first group we saw were disappointing: a loose pile of cylindrical stones in a field. The local farmers find them a nuisance, and sometimes plough them out to make room for cultivation. Many consider them haunted.

Forgotten

Eventually, in Gambia, we found the site at Wassu. Here we met Mr Pa, returned from working in Germany, self-appointed guardian of this site. He uses his own money to keep the place clean and secure, while cultivating patches of peanuts in between with the help of his granddaughter.

These stones were said to have been erected by ancient Woloff people who migrated here about 400 years before Christ. They had a well-organised society, who regularly held formal gatherings where the people were lined up according to rank. It is thought that these stones are a representation of these gatherings. Considerable effort must have gone into the excavation of the laterite stone, which is soft and fragile until hardened by exposure to sun and air.

Mr Pa explaining to Hans

Some of the stones mark gravesites, some mass graves. Archaeologists found no great treasures, sometimes a spear, sometimes an upturned clay urn. But they clearly recall people who lived here, loved, were happy, died.
 
We speculated that all people seek to leave behind some tangible monument, something to be remembered by. But the memories behind these stones were wiped out. The Woloff people were driven from these lands by Mandinka competitors, and later converted to Islam, so losing the cultural memories tied to these stones. The Mandinka have no memories or traditions linked to these sites, and either ignore them, or consider them haunted.

Gravesite

That night around our camp fire in the peaceful, balmy Gambian night our tour leader, Hans, asked what each of us would want to be remembered by, and we shared our dreams, aspirations, and hopes. We slept well that night, not haunted at all. Perhaps the spirits were at peace, having made their statements to the future.

Campfire chat

We asked friends at Embassies in Banjul to consider funding Mr. Pain his conservation of the monuments to these forgotten people. And we went on our voyage, but the memory of the stones in that quiet African night remains with me still.
 
Recently we said farewell to Hans as he left on his last voyage, leaving behind a legacy, not of stones, but of strong, proud children and grandchildren, people with integrity, a circle of clients who had become friends for life, circles of people who remembered him with admiration.

Coen van Wyk

Posted on June 9, 2018 14:54

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by ceejayhol Working on Friday Legacy as we speak... the cannibals have loooong memories

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