Fort Bullen Museum, Barra Point, North Bank Region

FORT BULLEN, NIUMI AND THE ABOLITION: An exhibition mounted by the National Centre for Arts and Culture at Fort Bullen Museum, Barra. This exhibition comprises four sections:

Section 1- Niumi: Geography, Cultures and People

The region of Niumi, located in the North Bank of the Gambia, is now divided into two modern districts of Upper and Lower Niumi. Covering an area of just over 700 sq. kms, Niumi is bounded on the north by the Senegal border, on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the River Gambia and on the east by the Jurunku and Memeh bolongs (tributaries of the River Gambia).

Niumi has two basic geographical features: the coastal region of swamps and estuaries which support activities like salt making, fishing and oyster harvesting. This region covers Barra, Essau, Jinack is called Niumi Bato. The other section consists of upland areas of forests and farms, called Niumi Banta.

Rice cultivation is an important activity in this area, so is cattle herding and vegetable gardening.

Section 2- Kingship in Niumi

This section, explores kingship and governance in Niumi with emphasis on the pre-colonial ruling villages of Lower Niumi, and their three major ruling families: Jammeh, Manneh and Sonko. Visitors can learn that prior to the coming of the Europeans, there existed a strong political, social and economic fabric in Niumi.

Niumi’s origins can be traced from the establishment of the Mali Empire in the 1200s, when Mandinka speaking peoples began to expand the boundaries of the empire through conquests and trade. Legend tells of the exploits of Amari Sonko, a general of the great Sundiata Keita, founder of the Mali empire, who led his warriors down the Gambia valley, conquering villages. Amari finally reached the kingdom of Baddibu and Barra near the mouth of the River Gambia, and gradually established a Sonko dynasty, which enjoyed one of the rotating kingships of Niumi.

The section describes briefly each of the villages and ruling families from Barra, Essau, Berending, Sitanunku such as the Jammeh, Manneh, Sonko. One peculiar feature of Niumi was that it produced early in her glory 12 female rulers who together ruled for 122 years.

Section 3- The Trans Atlantic slave trade, Fort Bullen and the Abolition

This section shows how Fort Bullen and the Six Gun Battery were established in 1821 and 1826 respectively to complement the Royal Navy’s humanitarian work to suppress slavery. The Fort and its battery of guns, together with the Six Gun Battery opposite in Bathurst, proved most effective against recalcitrant slave ships trying to sneak in or out of the river estuary.

Section 4: Modern forms of slavery and racism worldwide

The Trans Atlantic slavery in the period from the 1500 to 1800 was not originally motivated by racism but it became closely and powerfully connected with it. Ideas of race and racial superiority grew out of the odious Trans Atlantic trade as slavers tried to justify their evil act to their societies. And when Europeans continued to enslave Black Africans and to trade in African slaves, they strengthened racism. This is why long after the Trans Atlantic trade, racism continues today in many parts of the West.

This section looks at examples of contemporary slavery including:

  • Forced prostitution
  • Forced marriage
  • War time enslavement
  • Forced labour
  • Chattel or descent-based slavery
  • Child labour
  • Trafficking in humans