Looking back: A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush, 930km African Odyssey

Chief Jara Sowe and photographer, Jason Florio, The Gambia, West Africa ©Helen Jones-Florio 2009

A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush –

930km African Odyssey

Throughout November and December 2009 Expedition: The first-ever circumnavigation, completely by foot, of The Gambia, West Africa by award-winning photojournalist & filmmaker, Jason Florio, and photography producer, Helen Jones-Florio, three Gambians, two donkeys, and a cart!

Along the way, Jason shot what have become award-winning, internationally exhibited, portraits of the traditional village chiefs – the Alkalo – and elders

‘Silafando – a gift to you on behalf of my journey

The following exert is from the expedition blog, ‘930km African odyssey’ – words by Helen Jones-Florio:

Despite turning up unannounced, at the end of a long day of walking, each village that we approached kindly permitted our raggle-taggle, road-weary team to pitch our small camp. This generous acceptance was mainly due to the fact that we used the age-old tradition and protocol for approaching the Alkalo’s – by offering them ‘Silafando’

Gambian village chief and his brother - portraits ©Jason Florio
L-R Samba Sowe (Alkalo’s brother)- farmer Alkalo Jare Sowe, Felling Koto The Gambia, West Africa ©Jason Florio

The story behind the black backdrop

In The Gambia, as in other regions in West Africa, when approaching a village as a stranger and/or traveler and you are asking something from them – such as shelter for the night – it is customary for you to give a ‘silafando’ (roughly translating as ‘a present on behalf of my journey’) of kola nuts, to the chief, which he then shares with the elders.  Once accepted, you are warmly welcomed into the village and everyone knows that you are there as a guest of the Alkalo. This, in turn, guarantees that you are treated with respect as strangers in the village during your stay. And, if anyone were to disrespect that, then they would have the Alkalo to answer to and the shame that this disrespect brings on the family.

A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush –

930km African Odyssey

We met many Alkalo’s on our 6-week journey as we traversed first the length of South Bank, to the country’s furthest easterly point on the border of Senegal, then crossing the River Gambia (which was to form an integral part of a future expedition) we walked the length of the North Bank, before crossing back over the river on the Barra to Banjul ferry to make our way back to where we began the walk.

On the Barra to Banjul ferry, a very tired Short Walk expedition team: Helen, Momadou, Samba, and Jason (and the donkeys, ‘Neil and Phadley). Photo by expedition team member, Janneh.
Helen films the team leaving Makasutu Culture Forest, where the Short Walk in the Gambian Bush Expedition began. Image © Jason Florio

Read/see more images about the expedition on our dedicated blog: 930kmAfricanOdyssey.

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Follow us for regular photography updates on Jason Florio’s fine art photography prints and Helen Jones-Florio’s doors and facades from Malta, The Gambia, and beyond…

Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio - wet plate collodion print portrait courtesy of Marcin Andrzejewski
Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio – portrait courtesy of Marcin Andrzejewski

The Gambia – Portraits of Victims and the TRRC update, July 2019

Ya Mammie Ceesay & Alhajie Ceesay, The Gambia ©Jason Florio

First and foremost, in light of the shocking and distressing revelations coming out of the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in The Gambia over the past couple of days, we would like to extend our love and healing thoughts to all of the families who have listened to the testimonies of two men, Lieutenant Malik Jatta, and Omar Jallow (AKA Oya) – who were members of the ex-president, Yahya Jammeh’s assassination squad, ‘The Junglers’ – confess, often in explicit detail, their involvement in multiple killings on the command ex-president Yahya Jammeh; namely, the attendant families loved ones. And, particularly pertinent to our on-going series of portraits and filming testimonies:

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters of a regime’

Excerpt from our recording with Ya Mammie Ceesay & Alhajie Ceesay, mother and father of disappeared Gambian-American businessman, Alhaji Mamut Ceesay: Alhaji returned to The Gambia in 2013 with his friend Ebou Jobe to set up a business, but they were allegedly robbed of their money by National Intelligence Agency (NIA) heads, who later told President Jammeh the businessmen were in The Gambia to overthrow his regime. The two were then allegedly murdered on Jammeh’s command. Much to the family’s dismay, their bodies have never been found.

Gambia - victims and resisters: portrait of Ya Mammie Ceesay whose son was murdered by the former regime of Yahya Jammeh ©Jason Florio
Ya Mammie Ceesay, The Gambia ©Jason Florio

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019, Omar Jallow (alias Oya), former Jungler, testifies: “We covered them up with plastic bags and strangled them until they die and because Yahya Jammeh has given orders that we cut them into pieces, Malick Manga and Fansu Nyabally cut off the heads of Ebou and Mamud. After completing the digging, we put them in the ditch and we returned to Kanilai,” he said.

These are just a few of the portraits which we have been working on over the last few years, from the on-going series ‘Gambia – victims, and resisters’. However, all of the people featured here (aside from Imam Baba Leigh) have spent years of anguish, hearing only rumours about what may have happened to their loved ones. Everyone who sat for a portrait graciously allowed us to film them sharing their stories with us – openly and candidly. All of which, without exception, were profoundly heart-rending to hear. The common thread throughout was their utmost need to know the truth of what had truly happened to those who had been disappeared or murdered. And, to find out the whereabouts of their loved ones remains so that they can finally lay them to rest. Only then can the healing process truly begin. Sadly, as events unfold, it is now known that many of the bodies were thrown into wells or buried in unmarked graves.

A man wears a t-shirt with a photo of murdered newspaper editor and journalist, Dedyra Hydara, who was assassinated in 2004 ©Jason Florio

Deyda Hydara, co-founder of The Point newspaper was an advocate of press freedom and a fierce critic of the government of President Yahya Jammeh, who was openly hostile to journalists and the media. On December 14, 2004, he was assassinated in his car by gunmen as he was driving home. Two of his colleagues who were also with him were injured in the shooting 

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019: It took 15 years to have a concrete answer to the question: “Who Killed Deyda Hydara?” displayed on The Point newspaper front page banner since 2004. Lt. Malick Jatta of The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) and ex-Jungler testifies: “I shot at him… my colleagues Alieu Jeng and Sana Manjang also fired,” he said at the TRRC, noting that they were all quiet throughout their journey back to Kanilai without a single stop. The witness added that he only came to know in the following day that the person shot was actually Deyda Hydara.

'Gambia - victims and resisters' : portrait of Fatou Jaiteh & Modou Lamin Jammeh - mother and son of murdered 'brother' of Yahya Jammeh, Haruna Jammeh ©Jason Florio
Fatou Jaiteh & Modou Lamin Jammeh ©Jason Florio

#Portraits4PositiveChange

Excerpt from our recording with Fatou Jaiteh & Modou Lamin Jammeh, wife and son of Haruna Jammeh: President Jammeh allegedly ordered the murder of his cousin (‘brother’), Haruna, after he criticized Jammeh for his abuse of power. Haruna’s sister, Massie, was murdered soon after by Jammeh’s henchmen after she spoke out about her brother’s disappearance. A former member of Jammeh’s hit squad, the ‘Junglers’ now in Germany spoke openly on a Gambian radio station about witnessing the murders.

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019, Omar Jallow (alias Oya), former Jungler, testifies: ‘On Haruna Jammeh’s death, Jungler Jallow said Haruna was arrested and detained at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) where he (Jallow), Sana Manjang, Alieu Jeng and Solo Bojang picked him and took him to Kanilai. “On our way to Kanilai, we drove through the bush and Sana Manjang brought out a rope and asked me and Alieu Jeng to tie it on Haruna’s neck. We did and he asked us to pull the rope, which we did, and he (Sana) stamped him on his neck and he died.” He further confessed that Haruna was their friend and they used to eat with him in his house, adding the order was from Yahya Jammeh’ The Point newspaper.

Later, when asked what they did with Haruna’s body, Jallow replied: “We took the body to the same well where these Ghanaians were killed. We took him to that well and threw him there,”

Gambia - victims and resisters: portrait of Bintu Tunkara, daughter of murdered Gambian Lamin Tunkara, holding the only photo she has of him on her mothers cell phone ©Jason Florio
Bintu Tunkara ©Jason Florio

Excerpt from our recording with Bintu’s mother, Adama Conteh: 13-year-old Bintu, holding her mother’s phone with a photo of her father of Lamin Tunkara – the father she never got the chance to meet. Gambian, Tunkara, was murdered in July 2005 when Adama was 7 months pregnant, with Bintu. They had been married for less than a year. When Lamin first went missing, Adama said “I  searched everywhere – Mile 2 prison, other prisons, police stations, NIA... they warned me to “go home if you do not want any trouble…stay, and you will have trouble”. I did not eat or wash for one week…he (Lamin) loved me, he took care of me.” She searched for over 1 year. ” Despite the many rumours, “I would not accept, nor would his father, that his son, my husband was dead“. 

It later transpired that Lamin was part of a group of almost 50 Ghanaians and other West African migrants bound for Europe who was arrested and slaughtered by the Gambian security forces. There was one sole survivor, Martin Kyere, who has now come forward to testify. “The West African migrants weren’t murdered by rogue elements, but by a paramilitary death squad taking orders from Gambia’s President Jammeh,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Jammeh’s subordinates then destroyed key evidence to prevent international investigators from learning the truth.”

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019, Corporal Omar A. Jallow testifies: “We were told they were mercenaries,” Jatta said, adding that he shot and killed one of the migrants. “I heard people shouting in the forest saying ‘save us, Jesus.’” Jallow told the TRRC that Lt Col Solo Bojang, the leader of the operation, told the men that “the order from Yahya Jammeh is that they are all to be executed.” It is believed that Lamin Tunkara was amongst the Ghanaians, Nigerians, Togolese, and Ivory Coast nationals were unlawfully killed. 

#Jammeh2Justice

Imam Baba Leigh, disappeared, held prisoner and tortured by Yahya Jammeh regime, The Gambia ©jason florio
Imam Baba Leigh ©Jason Florio

Excerpt from our recording with Imam Baba Leigh: The imam spoke out against President Jammeh’s proposed execution of multiple prisoners. Leigh was then abducted and tortured, on Jammeh’s orders, and ‘disappeared’ for five months, before being released without charge. ‘Today is the day you die (he said that during his imprisonment he was threatened with death on multiple occasions)… they made me dig a big hole which I was then told to get into. “This is your grave,” they said…and then they buried me up to my neck’ IBL

UPDATE from TRRC – July 2019, Omar Jallow (alias Oya), former Jungler, testifies: “I participated in the torture of Imam Baba Leigh, Imam Bakawsu (Fofana) and another Imam, in the torture of the 30th December coup plotters” He went on to say “On the torture of Imam Baba Leigh after he (Leigh) was interrogated……, we were ordered by Nuah Badjie to torture him. We beat him using sticks, elastic pipes and I saw blood and bruises on him. The torture lasted for about half an hour.” Foroyaa Newspaper

Watch:

‘We Never Gave Up – stories of Courage in Gambia’

'Gambia - victims and resisters' : portrait of Fatou Suwaa widow of murdered army signal officer Mustafa Colley ©Jason Florio
Fatou Suwaa ©Jason Florio

Excerpt from our recording with Fatou Suwaa, widow of former army signal officer Mustafa Colley: In 2012 Mustafa was found with a broken neck at the wheel of a taxi he had bought to earn extra money. Reports in the press said General Saul Badjie heard that Mustafa had been discussing the murder of Sergeant Ello Jallow, who had been killed for allegedly having an affair with President Jammeh’s wife. Baji was then instructed by Jammeh to have Mustafa murdered by his hit squad, the ‘Junglers’.

UPDATE: TRRC – July 2019 Omar Jallow (alias Oya), former Jungler, testifies: Staff Sergeant Jallow also admitted participating in the killing of Baba Jobe, Ndour Cham, 9 death row inmates, Haruna Jammeh (a brother to Yahya Jammeh), Mustapha Colley, Saul Ndow and Mahawa Cham, among others. (At Mile2 Prison) “We lined-up our vehicles and Nuha Badjie and our leaders went in and took out 9 inmates from their cells,” he said. “When we got to the Range, we all came down and brought them down one by one. We put nylon plastic on their heads and cover them up. We suffocated them one by one until they all died. There was only one female who was Tabara Samba,” he said. “After killing them, we took them to the bush and throw them into a well,”

Visit Jason Florio’s website to see more from our on-going series

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters’

Watch the testimonies from the TRRC – via QTV’s channel – on Youtube.

All images © Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio. Text by Helen Jones-Florio.

‘Portraits for Positive Change’ at the TRRC – donated by the British High Commission, The Gambia ©Jason Florio/Helen Jones-Florio

With thanks for their support: The Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations; The Goethe Institut; The British High Commission in The Gambia; Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission


Available for assignments & for image licensing – Contact here

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Vintage storefronts, Valletta, Malta

Vintage Storefronts, Valletta, Malta – Universal Store © Helen Jones-Florio

A few of my all-time favourites, from almost four years of shooting doors and storefronts in Malta. As of June 2019, they are all still standing… so far.

Vintage Storefronts, Valletta, Malta – Paul’s Store © Helen Jones-Florio

#DisappearingMalta

vestiges of a small Mediterranean Island

To find my bearings, I walked… and I walked. It’s the only way that I know to get a real sense of any place I’ve ever landed in. So, leaving the vast concrete and glass apartment complex, perched on a peninsula, I turned down one narrow side-street after another – off the main drag of Sliema – and the true architectural beauty of Malta began to reveal itself… Helen Jones-Florio / Times of Malta

#DisappearingMalta – literally: ‘Canberra’ Vintage Storefront- is no longer there. Valletta © Helen Jones-Florio
#DisappearingMalta – literally: ‘Canberra’ Vintage Storefront- is no longer there. Valletta © Helen Jones-Florio
Disappearing Malta Series - 'Meme' vintage shop front, Valletta, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
‘Meme’ vintage shop front, Valletta, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
Mellow Yellow – Helen Jones-Florio, Valletta ©Jason Florio


O.K. … ‘Binett’s Library’ is not exactly in Valletta… but, look at what a beauty it is!

This thing I have for doors never seems to abate, wherever I find myself. For daily photo updates, follow me on Instagram @doors_facades_florio.

Photography prints are available from helenjonesflorio.com online gallery.

Helen Jones-Florio

#StoriesBehindDoors / #GambiaDoors

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