Serer (or Serrer, Serere as they are sometimes known)
make up less than 2% of the population of The Gambia.
They are traditionally fishermen and boat builders and
can be found along the coastal regions, as well as the
entrance to the Gambia River and in particularly Barra.
They and the Jola are believed to the original first
migrants to inhabit the country.
Traditional Social Structure:
Serer had about 5 social class groups. First there was
the ruling noble class, then there were the soldiers
or Tyeddo who surrounded the ruling class, then
there were the Jambur who were the free-born commoners.
Then came the group which belonged to a series of lower
castes based on occupation (artisans) with the griot
being the most socially significant and who frequently
managed to amass great wealth. However, like the Wollof
there was a social taboo about marrying into griot families
bodies were not allowed to be buried in the ground but
instead were placed in the branches of large baobabs.
And finally there were the slaves who are further divided
into two types: domestic and those captured in war or
bought and sold. The system of inheritance among the
tribe was through the female line (matrilineal).
Serer had a Bur the highest office in the land and was
in control of state affairs and 'controlling' the forces
of nature. When he became quite elderly he was ritually
killed as their belief was that he was no longer able
to ensure the fertility of female members of the tribe
or of livestock.
theory for their origins are they came from Kaabu in
Upper Casamance about 400 years ago after a civil war
ensued following the death of a prominent chief. The
losers of the war fled past Foni, across the Gambia
River and finally settled in Mbissel, present day Senegal.
The Soninke-Marabout wars however, displaced them yet
again and a few thousand refugees eventually arrived
at Barra and later some crossed over to settle in Banjul.
The other theory is that they originally came from the
territories north of Senegal but were forced by more
powerful people to move to Futa Toro in Senegal and
came under the domination of Tukulors. Later around
the 12th century the Wollof tribe forced them to move
south west to Sine-Saloum. They established small states
there which later expanded to include the Gambian states
of Wuli and Niani but Sine-Saloum came under Mandinka
control. However, Sere tradition, culture and society
prevailed so much so that the Mandinkas in these areas
absorbed their language, customs and culture.
Their Serer's new Mandinka rulers were known as the
Guelewarr (or Gelwar) who were a branch of the tribe
from Kaabu known as the Nyanchos. In the late 1300s
under Mansa Wali Jon or as he became better known M'began
N'dure they gained control of Saloum from their Mandingo
overlords and he became Bur or king. By the mid 1500s
they ruled both Sine and Saloum.
They were highly resistant to being converted to Islam
so the Soninke-Marabout wars of from the 1850s onwards
under Maba Jakhu Bah was waged against them which caused
great devastation of the land and loss of life. Many
Serer fled to Barra, on the north bank of the River
Gambia to seek refuge and protection from the British.
Some were later allowed to cross the estuary to the
island of St. Mary, Bathurst and the Kombo area. Other
tribal members residing in Kaolack were also forced
to flee the wrath of the Jihadists and also moved south
into Gambia. They engaged in farming and fishing along
the coastal villages such as Bakau, Gunjur, Kartong,
Tanji and Brufut.
The states of Sine-Saloum lost their independence in
the latter part of the 19th century when the French
colonialists managed to subdue them during the
turbulence of the Soninke-Marabout wars. Both the Burs
of Sine and Saloum effectively signed away their independence
in 1891 in a treaties with the French making their states
French protectorates. The French agreed in return to
allow the hereditary line to continue for both rulers.