Janjanbureh Island, and Janjanbureh Town, are in the Central River Region of The Gambia, in the Niamina East District, 300km upstream from the Banjul capital. The former British colonial settlement was founded in 1823, when king of Lower Niani, Kolli Camara, ceded the island to Britain. It is the headquarters of the Central River Region, and one of the eight Local Government Areas, with an estimated population of 3,600. It was formerly known as Lemaine, then re-named MacCarthy Island (after Sir Charles MacCarthy), with a mud brick Fort George (Georgetown).
Holiday room choices in Janjanbureh are mostly eco-tourism orientated bush lodges or basic guesthouses, most can be found on or very near to the banks of the River Gambia. There is the in town Talamanca Lodge, with a diner, 3 rooms with ensuite shower and WC. The in town Alakabung Lodge has 10 ensuite rooms plus meals (tel: 5676123). There is the Baobolong Camp (tel: 5676133) and the Janjang Bureh Camp (tel: 9816944). On the mainland and to the west is the Kairoh Garden Guesthouse, Kuntaur. There is also the island based Bird
Safari Camp with 36 rooms of tents or thatched huts, a pool, bar and restaurant.
• Janjanbureh Island
It got its new name in 1995, and is sometimes referred to by its colonial name of McCarthy, it is 20 square kilometres in area, 10 km long, and 1.5 km wide. The north of the island is linked to the mainland at Lamin Koto village terminal by a vehicle and passenger ferry service, while the south is linked by a 100m span vehicle and passenger bridge, opened in July 2010, which connects the settlement to the South Bank Road via Sankulay Kunda village.
The dominant vegetation type is tropical rain forest in the form of a gallery forest, which are particularly rich in bird species.
The west of the island has abundant, secluded woodland, as well as the West Rice Paddies.
• Janjanbureh Town
This is a planned port town, formerly known as Georgetown, and lies on the north side of the isle. It has a ferry terminal crossing, a post office, a Methodist Church opened in 1835 (claimed to be the oldest Methodist Church in sub-Saharan Africa), a primary school, police station, a village produce market, a bush taxi rank, a prison, a Gamtel office, the Commissioner's Officers' Residence, the co-ed Armitage High School, and a number of colonial buildings dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The town is mainly used as a collection point for groundnuts and rice which has been harvested by the local farmers and in outlying areas. It is sometimes referred to as the Gambia's 'second city' and is still an important trading and administrative centre of the Central River Region.
ATTRACTIONS & THINGS TO DO:
If you go on an one or two-day excursions by foot or boat, you can roam much of the vicinity of the island, as well as interesting sites a little further afield.
• Bird Watching
Baobolong, Janjang Bureh and Bird Safari Camp all offer birdwatching tours.
Janjanbureh's habitats of woodland, riverine, scrub
savanna and rice fields are particularly rich in bird
species. While on a bird watching
trip you might find Abyssinian Rollers, African Crakes,
African Green-Pigeons, Bearded Barbets, Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagles,
Black-rumped Waxbills, Blue-eared Glossy Starlings, Broad-billed
Rollers, Bruce’s Green Pigeons, Egyptian Plovers (Crocodile
Birds), Four-banded Sandgrouse, Green Woodhoopoe, Grey-headed
Kingfishers, Hammerkops, Little Egrets, Long-tailed Glossy-Starlings,
Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, Northern White-faced Owls, Oriole
Warblers, Palm-nut Vultures, Pearl Spotted Owl, Pin-tailed
Whydahs, Red-billed Queleas, Red-billed Firefinches, Senegal
Coucals, Snowy-crowned Robins, Stone Partridges, Striated
Herons, Swamp Flycatchers, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls, Village
Indigobirds, Wood Sandpipers, and Yellow-crowned Gonoleks.
• Sports Fishing
The tidal waters of the River Gambia, this far upstream, offer plenty of fish species for anglers. If you come along with the right rod and tackle, you could catch game fish such as the West African Tigerfish, or Threadfin Salmon, Tilapia, Freshwater Sole, Elephant Fish, Captain Fish, Ladyfish, African Pike, and Catfish species such as Vundu, Silver, Electric, Channel and Hardhead. The best time of the year to go fishing in these waters is December to May. To arrange a fishing trip enquire with one of the
operators, or at the Bird Safari Camp.
• River Cruises
There are several options available for canoe or boating trips. The first is to book an excursion on one of the boats, such as privately chartering Jane's Boats, departing from Denton Bridge in Banjul. This could involve a few nights stay in one of the local lodges. The other option is to use one of the boats provided by the local accommodation such as the Lady Hippo, which is operated by the Bird Safari Camp. The last option is to simply ask one of the local pirogue owners, likely a fisherman, to take you along the river, for a fee of course. Interesting places to explore are downstream along the spectacular stretches of the riverside, and the various islands called Miniang, Kajakat, Sapu and Brikama Island. If you are going solo then do check if you are allowed to set foot on any of them. Kai Hai, further to the west, is off limits to visitors.
• Wildlife Spotting
There is plenty of wildlife in the wooded sections of Janjanbureh Island, as well as along the river and the closest parts of the mainland. There are mammals and reptiles such as Green Vervet monkeys, turtles, Callithrix monkeys, Temminck's Western Red Colobus.
About 14 miles downstream at the Central River Circuit, around the three uninhabited Kai Hai Islands, you have one of the few remaining populations of hippopotamus in West Africa. Further downstream are the Baboon Islands and the
River Gambia National Park. West African Manatees have been known to visit here, but are rarely seen. These last two locations don't allow visitors, but looking on from a boat you might see crocodiles, herons, hippos and chimpanzees.
• Wassu Stone Circles
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is 20km north of Lamin Koto.
The megalithic Wassu Stone Circles, dated between 927 and 1305 AD., are comprised of 11 circles and their related frontal stones.
• Lamin Koto Stone Circles
This ancient monument is smaller than its more famous counterpart at Wassu, but is closer to the island and easier to reach at only 1.7km away from the North Bank.
• Janjanbureh Cultural Festival
1983, elders and the educated elite decided to revitalise
the cultural practices and norms of their ancestors, with
the purpose of educating youth. The ideas came together in
the form of an annual festival, first held in that same year
and organised by the Janjanbureh Cultural Association. The
festival is comprised of various cultural activities, and
gives a chance for visitors to meet and talk to elders about
various traditions and practices. The opening of the ceremony
is marked by a musical performance with drums and dance, with
a show of various types of Kankurang
One of the most interesting ceremonies to be seen is the initiation rite of circumcised Gambian boys, where they would gather at the tinyang sita (a baobab tree), where they would rest for the day. Other activities that take place includes naming ceremonies, weeding ceremonies and Kadeeboo. The Kadeeboo is a ritual game in which girls try to unveil the Kankurang mask in public.
• Colonial Architecture
There are a few historic buildings in the town that tell of the settlement's colonial past. On the riverbank 19th century warehouses stand neglected and crumbling, aided by the relentless encroachment of vegetation. There is the Maurel and Prom Building, a former French trading house from Bordeaux, on the slipway to the ferry terminal. To its right are the roofless ruins of the CFAO Building. These structures are sometimes erroneously called 'slave houses' or 'slave market', they are not, as both were built long after Britain abolished slavery in 1807. Furthermore many of the floors are tiled, something a slaver is highly unlikely to have bothered with. In all likelihood they were goods stores and warehouses.
Located opposite the market, on Owen Street, is a small wooden house. It is one of the few remaining Creole buildings of its kind, built by a family of liberated slaves who settled here in the early 1830s. Beside the post office is the old government rest house with its unusually intricate corrugated iron roof design.
• Bars & Restaurants
There are a limited number of dining choices for tourists outside of the lodges.
The Bendula, located on Owen Street, is open from 11am to 9pm. It has a dining hall and serves cold soft drinks, Guinness and reasonably priced meals.
There is the Roadside Pub on Findlay Street, opposite the Alakabung Lodge, serving nice Jollof Rice with a Fanta, Coke or Sprite. The wharf side has a handful of simple eateries serving basic food. You can also try the in town Talamanca Lodge, which actually started out as a restaurant.
• Mungo Park Memorial
About 20km east of Janjanbureh is Karantaba Tenda Village. Close to the village on the riverbank is an obelisk on a thick, square base called the Mungo Park Memorial. This place marks the spot where the Scottish explorer began his adventure from The Gambia and into the interior, to follow the course of the Niger River on the 2nd December, 1795. This tourist attraction can be found at the following coordinates: latitude: 13.55 / Longitude: -14.57.
• Kunkilling Forest Park
The nature conservation area is located on the south bank of the river, near the eastern end of Janjanbureh, and just 10 minutes by vehicle from the village of Sankulay Kunda.
Kunkilling Forest Park is 142 hectares of superb riverine forest, of rhun palms and hardwood, with numerous monkey species, birds and reptiles. From the avian viewing platform you might see birds such as Adamawa turtledove, Beaudouin's Snake Eagles, Finfoots, White-backed Vultures and Yellow-bellied Hyliota. Along the riverside you might spot crocodiles taking in the Sun.
• Chameleon Arts
is a combined craft studio and store where you can pick up
some tourist souvenirs such as djembe
drums, African jewelry, tie dye fabrics and the musical
African harp called kora. There are also other places in town
selling crafts such as carved wooden masks
and human figurines.
• Foroyaa Sooto Freedom Tree Monument
This is a tiny, half-block fenced, wedge shaped park with a Bantang tree, planted to act as a reminder of the 'Freedom Tree' that used to grow in Fort George, nearby. It is said that after the British had outlawed slavery in 1807, any runaway slaves who managed to touch the tree would have their name noted down by soldiers at the fort, and were immediately emancipated. You can find a short pillar with a written description of the monument and a little background.
During the 16th and 17th centuries the island was called Lemaine by Luso-African and European traders, who kept temporary trading stations there, and had used the island as an assembly area for slaves, pending shipment to slave buying markets overseas.
hundreds of years Janjanbureh had been an up-country refuge
for escaped slaves, Muslims
fleeing religious oppression, and merchants looking for somewhere
safe, and well-linked, to trade in groundnuts and other merchandise.
In 1785 Richard Bradley signed the first treaty with the king
of Niani to cede Lemaine Island (MacCarthy) to the British,
in exchange for gifts amounting to £579.80, with the view
to establishing a penal settlement. However, nothing came
of the plan, the convicts being eventually diverted to other
locations. In 1810 the first village settlement of Morokunda
was founded by Mandinka
Muslims fleeing religious persecution. On the 14th April,
1823, the second treaty of cession of the isle was signed
by the king of Niani, Kolli Camara, and Captain Alexander
Grant of the Royal African Corps. This was in return for a
box of wine and five cases of coins.
The British used the settlement as a base for commercial trading, missionary work, agriculture and for protecting its traders, and the upper navigable reaches of the river, against illegal slave traders. The first British settlers were a few merchants from Bathurst, a detachment of soldiers from the West Indian Regiment who were stationed on the north of Janjanbureh, who built a mud-earth works garrison and Christened it Fort George, and a number of Wesleyan missionaries who established the Wesleyan Mission (Methodist Church), begun as a station in 1824 under John Morgan, and finally built in 1835. These first settlers proceeded to build Georgetown's warehouses, stores, quays, and dealt in iron products, fabrics, rifles, and palm oil. Later Fort Campbell was built on the eastern end of the territory.
Discharged solders from the coast and the Kombos helped swell the small population. In 1832 two hundred Aku (Creole) freed slaves from Freetown arrived. A good number of them were skilled craftsmen and unskilled workers, and they assisted in developing the island's farming potential. They took full advantage of the first class mission schools in the area. Out of the mission schools sprung up the Chiefs' School, reserved for the seyfolus' sons. This was rebuilt, and opened in 1927, and renamed Armitage High School, which became a prestigious boarding school for the sons of the Gambian elite.
The 1860s witnessed an influx of more refugees fleeing from the Soninke-Marabout wars being waged on the mainland.
In the 1920s Cherno Kaddy Baldeh, the king of Fulladu West, recognised the need for a bridge to link his district to MacCarthy Island, and benefit from the booming trade in groundnuts. He used forced labour, local wood and other materials to build a floating log-bridge, which allowed the movement of groundnuts from his district, across the Sankulay Kunda River, to groundnut buying depots in Georgetown from 1925 to 1931.
In the 1930s the freighting and trading of groundnuts between the upriver regions and Kombo increased, Georgetown was the centre of this activity, its local economy growing strongly. After Banjul, it had now become The Gambia's second town, and an administrative base for the British Protectorate. Since 1965 Georgetown's economic glory has been on the decline, exacerbated by the construction of the South Bank Road in the 1970s, and the termination of the riverboat service.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
Janjanbureh has many wild areas so there are several things you need to be wary of. Firstly, not every snake, spider or scorpion is poisonous, and many aren't venomous enough to cause your real harm. However, it's a good idea when trekking in the bush to wear boots, at least covering your ankles, as well as trousers such as denims.
Think about your own safety and don't swim in the river no matter what people tell you. Certain parts of the river have crocodiles and hippos, though they are not often seen around the immediate vicinity of the island.
To get to the island of Janjanbureh you take one of the bush taxis South Bank Road eastwards up to the road junction leading to Sankulay Kunda village, from there you continue to the bridge crossing and onto the isle. The alternative route is to take the Banjul ferry up to Barra. From there you take the North Bank Road which passes through places like Kuntaya, Kerewan, Farafenni, Saback Ngaine, Wassu and finally Kuntaur, then from here directly to the ferry terminal at Lamin Koto village. Because the ferry operates only until 7pm an early start is required, otherwise you might have to spend the night in a nearby lodge on the mainland.
Note: This place name has the alternative spelling of Janjangbureh or Jangjangbureh.
& Lodges Map
[Geographical coordinates 13.31 ° N, 14.50 ° W / Central River Region / Niamina East District]