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Brikama Town & Area (Gambia)

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Town & Vicinity Bird Watching

Brikama Town (also spelt Birikama) and its outlying vicinity are in the Kombo Central District, West Coast Region of The Gambia, in West Africa. It is the regional capital of the Western Region, the base for the headquarters of Brikama Area Council, & it is the most populated Local Government Area in the country. Located inland, in the South Bank, the main urban settlement is about 35km southwest of the Banjul capital, and has an estimated population of 750,000 people (699,704 - 2013 census).

The largest ethnic group are the Mandinka, followed by the Wolof, Manjago, Jola, Fulani, Serer, Serahule, Laibe, Aku, Mauritanians and others. Brikama is a market town and major trading centre for raw groundnuts, palm oil (dende) and kernels. The local economy revolves around petty trading, soap making and tie & dye. Other livelihoods are horticulture, fruit and vegetable distribution, pottery making, batik and wood craft workshops. The town is famous for its traditional music heritage of the Kora jalis (griots).

Brikama is not an obvious place to stay for tourists visiting The Gambia, as it is about 37km southeast of the coastal resorts, and has few visitor amenities. However, there are still a few  hotels & lodges available in the town itself, as well as in the vicinity. The best room standards can be found outside of the centre of town.

General Area:
 The Town:
Brikama is a well used transport hub, and taxis from all areas of Kombo either pass through, terminate or commence their trips from the busy taxi garage, just north of the produce market. A good network of main trunk roads and feeder roads radiate outwards in all directions, adding to the town's dominance in the Kombo Central. These highways are used by passengers, road haulage companies moving goods, and imported foodstuffs to the market, as well as eastwards into the interior of The Gambia, via the South Bank road. Fish is transported in from the south west village of Gunjur, passing the villages of Sifoe and Kiti, livestock makes its way to and from the Livestock Market and also westwards towards the coast and the Kombo Saint Mary District (Ksmd).

In the central area of the settlement there is the village market selling food, clothes and household goods, several banks, the post office, Gamtel, the livestock market, mosques, the fire station, the craft market, the police station, a Catholic church, petrol stations such as Galp, hardware retail stores, and other amenities.

 The Vicinity
Brikama's outlying rural areas are characterised by small villages, forests, savanna scrub, and small and large farm holdings. The places worth visiting in these areas are the various nature conservation reserves. To the east of the town's vicinity is the Pirang Forest Park, a forest gallery between the south bank highway and the River Gambia. Its varied habitats are rich birdwatching grounds. There is the conservation project centred around the Jola Kachokorr camp in  the Tumani Tenda Eco-Reserve, near Kafuta. Here you can spend a few nights, relax in the rural surroundings, as well as learn about local customs, culture, and cuisine. To the north east of the town is the Nyambai Forest.

The most popular tourist attraction in the vicinity of Brikama is the Makasutu Cultural Forest. A private nature reserve with mangroves, salt-flats, savannah, hard-wood and palm  forests. Their visitor centre has a decent restaurant and superb swimming pool. Makasutu is also home to the luxury accommodation based in the forest called Mandina Lodges. Then to the south of Brikama there is the area around Marakissa village. Here you will find attractive woodland, savanna and palm trees, which are attractive breeding and feeding grounds for numerous migratory and resident bird species. There is the Marakissa River Camp, to the south, which caters well for birdwatchers, with its flat roof overlooking the river.

Founding Family History:
The former pagan founders of Brikama, the Kontes, and their descendants the Bojangs, are acknowledged as the original settlers. The settlement is an old royal town, but which had been destroyed in the second half of the 19th century, during the Soninke-Marabout wars, which raged on for decades in the Kombo regions of The Gambia. Brikama in Bainunka means 'Women's Town'.

Tourist Attractions & Things To Do:

 Brikama Woodcarvers' Market
This partly sheltered area is also known as the Woodcarving Centre, and is located on the main road which splits further north from the South Bank Highway. After the rather scruffy and unpretentious entrance of the Brikama Craft Market is a good selection of stalls selling various souvenirs and gifts such as weaved baskets. At the back of this area is the so called wood carvers' 'factory' where skilled craftsmen hack, split and chisel freshly arrived wood (mostly teak and some mahogany) into rough shapes. This is then passed onto the professional carvers, stationed at the open stalls, to finish with more intricate chiselling, sandpapering, varnishing and waxing. Beware that many 'ebony' pieces are actually made of the tropical hardwood, teak, then polished black. Also note that some 'antique' pieces are not antique at all.

The majority of the wood carvers are not Gambian but Senegalese, and they follow a standard production formula for the various forms. Among the varied wood products produced here are wooden masks, Djembe drums, food bowls, elephants, tall male and female statues carrying containers, tigers, high-back stools, lions, chess boards and pieces, Balafons, abstract forms, old men figurines with attached beards, and decorated calabash shakers. Aside from tourist souvenirs these objects generally have little export demand.

 Brikama Market
This is the major market in town that is well worth exploring. The fruits, vegetables, fish and meat are piled in heaps or neatly arranged into rows. You will find hoards of flies hovering over pungent fish, piles of red onions, tomatoes and okra,  rows of smoked catfish, cloves of garlic, plastic bottles of palm oil, heaps of in-season mangos, bunches of bananas, gleaming aubergines, yellow and red hot chillies, green oranges, rice sold by the pot, lemons, imported apples, papaya, breadfruit and other fruits and vegetables. There are also household goods and garments on sale such as used clothing, metal and plastic bowls, buckets, flip-flops, sandals, rolls of colourful plain or designed fabrics, cheap clothing from China and much more.

 Bird Watching:
Beyond the outskirts of Brikama are several nature reserves and bird watching hotspots where you can find many bird species. Among these areas are  Kabafita Forest Park, Furnya Forest Park and Marakissa River Camp.

Further to the northeast and east, near the Gambia River, are the Makasutu Culture Forest and Pirang Forest. Together, these environs provide rich and varied habitats such as gallery forest, riverine, salt-flats, Guinea savanna and scrubland, which are bountiful in bird species, such as Gabar Goshawks, Green Crombecs, African Pygmy Kingfishers, Black Crakes, White-spotted Fluftails, African Green Pigeons, Western Bluebills, Verreaux's Eagle Owls, Green Hylias, Turacos, Hammerkops, Greenbuls, White-breasted Cuckoos, African Pied Hornbills and Spotted Honeyguides.

At the now abandoned Pirang Shrimp Farm you might see Quail-finches, African Spoonbills, White-faced Whistling Ducks, Ringed Plovers, Black-headed Herons, eagles, parakeets, European Spoonbills, Lesser Flamingos, Brown-necked Parrots, Yellow-billed Shrikes, Ospreys, Dunlins, Spur-winged Geese, Pied Avocets or the more elusive Black-crowned Crane.

 Sacred Site
On the outskirts of town is a grove of trees called the Santangba, at a place called Kotokali. The grove is regarded as a sacred place, and is the location of the first settlement in the locality, made by the 13th century Mandinka migrants from Mali Empire, during the reign of Sundiata Keita. The reason why it's so well preserved is because it is thought to be occupied by the spirits of ancestors, so it is taboo for local people to take fruits, fell trees or hunt there.

This is the national sport of The Gambia, and tournaments are mostly held in the Brikama Mini Stadium.  The rules of wrestling are simple, the first man down on the ground with torso, hands or arms loses.

 Restaurants & Nightlife
Brikama's evening entertainment is quite subdued most of the time, and very localized. Aside from the craft market, the area is not generally geared towards tourists. However, when there is a major Senegambian artist playing in Jokor Night Club, the entertainment scene gets more lively. Concert goers from all over the vicinity, and the rest of the Kombos, as far as Bakau, will make the long trip into town.

Despite its low-key atmosphere there are a few good restaurants and bars around, and if you ask a few locals you might be directed to a few bars and restaurants in the locality.  There is the Wahatilene Restaurant & Garden, on the high street, serving local cuisine, with a little seating at the back. There is the budget priced Bantang Bantaba in the Methodist Mission. It is on your right hand side as you enter the Sanyang Road. They serve cool drinks, nice sandwiches and other snacks. You can even buy hot chilli sauces, jams and mustards (Tel no: 4484853). If you don't mind something really local then there is the Roots Bar & Sutura. Located opposite the council offices, the restaurant serves Gambian dishes such as peanut stew (Domoda), Jollof Rice and Chicken Yassa, along with soft drinks or Julbrew. (Tel no: 9959606).

There is also a small guesthouse on the Mosque Road, 300 metres from the taxi stand, called the Domorrdeema, which serves food at the front, where you can eat beef, chicken, fish, benachin (Jollof Rice), chips or rice and the local sauce of the day (Tel no: 9903302).

Health & Safety:
During the day there are usually plenty of people out and about, and there is very little to be concerned regarding your personal safety. However, do be aware of hazards in the streets. Avoid walking on the paved road, if possible, due to the risk of getting hit by a car. This is not always easy as there isn't usually a decent pavement to walk on. Keep your money and jewellery out of site. Finally, do not venture far out alone at night. If you go out into the vicinity, such as the bush, then do cover your arms and legs properly, wear boots, sunscreen and use insect repellent.

Travel Information:
To get to the centre of Brikama Town from the Gambia's coastal resorts of Kololi and Kotu, you take one of the yellow or more expensive green tourist taxis, go up the coastal road, past Brusubi turntable and onto the Airport Road. At the main T-junction at Old Yundum, you take a right, past Busumbala village and into the Brikama Highway. The other route is directly from Banjul, through Serrekunda, past Banjulunding and onwards into the centre of the settlement. It is possible to take either of two paved roads that will take you directly to Sanyang or
Gunjur on the south west coast, within 15 minutes.

[Geographical coordinates 13.2667 N, 16.6500 W / Kombo Central, Western Region (WCR)]
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