A small strip of generous land, the Gambia is a veritable enclave, entirely absorbed into southern Senegal. Its territory, marked by the river of the same name, is as small as it is rich in history, traditions and unspoilt landscapes, all waiting to be discovered.
Many people are probably familiar with the name Kunta Kinteh, a mythical literary figure and emblem that brings back memories of a sad, centuries-long past of slavery, but few know that he originated in this small English-speaking West African country.
While the coast today offers the cheerful and lively face of the Atlantic coastline, with its splendid beaches of fine sand, dotted with palm trees and modern tourist resorts, the true essence of the country flows inland, along with the waters of the River Gambia, a vital vein of identity, the habitat of a luxuriant nature that is a source of life, those same waters whose wealth the British wanted to continue to control until Independence in 1965.
While some interesting museums in Banjul and Albreda provide an educational tour of Gambian history and customs, travelling up the river and its banks in a small boat offers visitors a veritable open-air museum of history, ethnography and natural science. From the bustling capital of Banjul, with its colourful Albert Market, the great river mouth opens out calmly, amidst nature reserves of extraordinary beauty, fishing villages, unspoilt landscapes rich in avian-fauna varieties, small Mandinka huts and decadent colonial legacies, as far as the tiny island of Kunta Kinte (James Island), with the ruins of the 17th century English fort, the symbol par excellence of the slave trade that marked the destiny of millions of Africans forever. It is among the dense mangroves, colonies of pelicans and flamingos, the sleepy pirogues of fishermen with their silvery nets, the sanctuaries of chimpanzees, hippos and crocodiles, the mysterious megalithic circles of ancient kings and queens, the emerald rice paddies, the fields of peanuts and cotton, the melodic sound of the korà and the rhythm of the pestles in the wooden mortar – this is where the Roots of Kunta Kinte sink in.