‘All the village chiefs we met, very kindly permitted our raggle-taggle, road-weary, team to turn up, unannounced, and pitch our small camp, each evening.
To show our respect, as strangers, when approaching the village chief -the Alkalo – we used the age-old traditional protocol, called ‘silafando’ (which roughly translates as ‘a gift to you on behalf of my journey’). The gift of a handful of bitter kola nuts – the walnut-sized nuts play an important role, in the Gambian culture and traditional social life. The chief then shares the nuts with his most important village elders. They break open the nuts and chew them, which are also valued for their pharmacological properties – they act as a natural stimulant and, apparently, an aphrodisiac.
Once the gift is accepted, from that point on, everyone knew that we were there as guests of the Alkalo. This meant that we were to be treated with respect, for the duration of our stay. And, if any of the villagers were to disrespect us, then they would have to answer to the Alkalo, along with putting shame on their family‘ . An excerpt from ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey‘ by Helen Jones-Florio