28 December 2012

Gambia: Legends - Spotlight On Omar Gumbo - Blind Carpenter and Fanal Builder


The most heavenly gifts seem to be showered on certain human beings. Sometimes supernaturally, marvelously, they all congregate in one individual. This was seen and acknowledged by all men in the case of Omar Gumbo, who had an indescribable grace in every effortless act and deed. His talent was so rare that he mastered any subject to which he turned his attention..

Omar Fofana commonly known Omar Gumbo was born in 1940 in Half-Die, Banjul, his father was Pa Musa Fofana commonly known as Pa Kaakora, he was a petty trader and his mother , Mariama Saine, a house wife. It was at this time when that part of Banjul was known as Half-Diewas the centre of economic activities of the capital, and therefore a centre of attraction not only to the residents of Half Die but also for the inhabitants of the remaining parts of Banjul called Solidertown.

For here, was the Marine Department jetty, where river-going vessels, steamers such as LADY DENHAM, LADY WRIGHT, BA NJUL, FULUDU, would berth; then loaded with all sorts of goods and passengers, bound for the provinces. Here was also the P.U.D (Public Utilities Department), later the P.W.D with its collection of stores, workshops, and offices built to cater for various services and needs of the Government, where hundreds of workers: motor mechanics, carpenters, surveyors, clerks, Labourers, etc worked to earn a living and where every afternoon at 3 o' Clock the shrieking sound of the siren would announce the end of the day's work. And closed to the P.U.D was the Gambia Marine Dock Yard and where , all day long t56he rattle sounds of HAMMERS;BLACKSMITHS PLATTERS, SHIPWRIGHTS combine with the sound of machines, filled the air.

Here also was the MARCHE' MOUSANTEH-(mutual outwitting),-located along Wellington Street, facing Cotton Street, where today stands the Port Authority Exit Gate. The market was not only a fish and Grain, market but also provided , coal, firewood, Vegetables, and a variety of other items for the neighbourhood. Behind, w2as the Dockyards for Baggage, ground-nuts, crackers, dug-out canoes, decorated with mufti coloured objects. Here they have tugged out of the sea for repairs. And just a short distance further, was the seashore, where, every evening back from sea, fishermen would unload their catches.

In fact, this was the environment in which Omar Gumbo was born in 1940 and lived up to Manhood. He entered St. Joseph Primary school 1n 1946 up to class 1(One), when he was overtaken by Blindness thus ending his prematurely his schooling days. Omar was a Muslim and received his Koranic education at first from Late Seringe Cherno Kah at Leman Street and them Seringe Mam Cham at the Half Die mosque. He could recite many Suras and verses of the Koran with accuracy and ease.

As Alhagi Malick Fala,of Dingareh-Banjul (Scholar , Artists & Poet), a close friend and brother who spend days in and days out with Omar on day to day basis reminded us thatOmar Fofana would occasionally improvise evenings DAYIRAH, where some of his colleagueswould get together at home and singMuslim religious until close to midnight and among those who used to attend where Jabel Sallah, Ousman Sallah, Dodou Bah, Mam Berry Bah, etc.

In his younger days, Omar's hobbies were fishing which he shared with some of his close friends, colleagues: Jabil Sallah, Pa Joof, Sulay Secka, Dodou Bah,etc. He could tell you the type of fish he caught before he would pull it out of the water. He was found of wrestling and was an outstanding wrestler during the seasonal wrestling contest between Half Die and Soldier Town.

Football was also one of Omar's hobbies but his interest in the game was cut short by early blindness. He said that in his younger days he used to play football with his brother , Seedy Fofana, former police3officer and a footballer, Pa Sallah (Captain Sallah) former managing director of the Gambia Ports Authority, and Ebou Sallah, his brother, Ousman Sallah, now working for the US diplomatic service in Dakar, and his brother Tijan Sallah, the later Njaga Mbugoma Samba, Ousou Ceesay now in Uk, Tom Senghor former governor of Gambia central bank, Pa Cham(Omar) former manager of G.P.A.

He once told Alhagi Faal, a close friend, that during an "inter streetfootball match : Buckle Streetvs Leman Street when he was asked to replace his team injured goal keeper and miraculously he saved a free kick a few minutes before the end of the game. He just sprang sideways either left or right, he could not remember and slapped the ball out. There was uproar of applauses, while spectators were shouting WAAYE KI DAFA GISS, KI DAFA GISS.

Faced with questions of choosing a permanent means of livelihood, Omar opted for carpentry , because for him there was nothing more suitable for him than that, endowed as was with anextraordinary sense of creativity coupled with a virtually photographic mind. At first, with a few tools in his passion, he set out to work at his home- workshop at 43, buckle street. His extraordinary skill and diligence had finally earned him a job at the Gambia Ports Authority, where he worked and a carpenter until his pension age.

His workshop was a training centre for many young banjulians and later for young people from the kombos, who were desirous toi take up carpentry as their future profession; and in this way , he had contributed immensely in reducing youth unemployment among the youths. Infact some of his students are currently running their own private business whilst others are working in housing prtojects in Europe.

Although Omar, was well known as a carpenter, because4 of his good quality funiturehe used to make, he was equally well known as a good FANAL builder, whose artists works had caught the admiration of Gambians and also the Queen of England and the Duke of Edinburgh as well as the British Governor serving in the Gambia. His first fanal was built in 1958, it was built for the social club called "WEEDI GISS CLUB"at Half Die . He alsdo buoilt Fanals for Ya Arrtet Mboge (the renowned Banjul Yayi Compin ofBanjul) .In 1960 he built a medium size fanal for a catholic youth club at Long Street in Banjul.

He also helped to rebuilda large size fanal which was partly destroyed by fire. It belonged to the late Ta Taala Jagne of Haddington Street social club. From 1083 onwards Omar had build finals for NGOYAN Socual Club of Half Die, some of which won First prize at fanal competitions at the McCarthy Square( July 22 Square). The biggest fanal he had ever built was the one requested by the Gambia Port Authority which was in connecxtion with the celebration of the ROOTS FESTIVAL, a 5-Mast Cipper boat. It was built for exhibition purposes and not for competition. It was the Master piece. His name was closely associated to popular Christian and National Feast Christmas.

Omar Fofana was a founding member of G.O.V.I(Organisation for the visibly impaired) and and had particiaptedly actively , together with such other founding members as Alhaji Foday Wadda, late Muhammadan Cors, Musa Mbye, Katim Touray, etc, in its development to a true nation wide organisation, catering for the needs of the people it was set up for: The visually impaired .He was also member to similar organisations before .GO.V.I.

Omar Gumbo was and is best known as a Creator, the artists of such masterpieces as the, the Ya Arret Mboge Fanals , GPA Fanal -Roots Festivaland the Weedi Giss society Final. Yet Omar Gumbo was far more than a great artist: he had one of the best architectural minds of his time. He made painstaking imaginations and carried out research in fields ranging from architecture to carpentry.

Omar Fofana died on 26th of November 2012 in Banjul. Omar is survived by his wife Mariama, his son Abdoulaye Fofana and his daughters Yama and Haddy Fofana and grand sons and grand daughters. May his soul rest in perfect Peace.


My appologies to charify that Vicky Blaine's mum was a Charistian not a muslim as reported in the last edition. Instead, her grandfather was a Muslim.

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