Gambia: Imam Sait Matty Tomb - Most Visited Tomb in Destination Gambia

1 December 2022

The tomb of Jihadist Imam Sait Matty Bah, which is located in Bakau is one of the most visited Senegambian tombs.

It is built at the former Sunswing Hotel now Sun Beach Hotel in Cape Point, Bakau.

The tomb, built over century ago is about six meters walk from the gate of the hotel. From the gate you will directly see the tomb painted in white colour with a light brown strap at the top and bottom with a walking lane to the only carved wooden door painted black. The door is always closed not locked but open for any visitor to enter.

Inside the tomb is a bumpy sand of less than two meters length indicating the point where the body is laid, there is praying mat and Al Qur'an, a bunch of short broom and a pot to burn incense while inside, too, all painted white.

Meanwhile, in the front view of the tomb, a plaque and trees there were given in honour of Imam Sait Matty Bah by Mustafa Bittaye, the general contractor for the then Sunswing Hotel.

Sait Matty Bah's tomb receives more visitors than any other jihadist tombs in The Gambia. Most of the tourists or visitors that check into the hotel do find time to have a glance while some take pictures of this beautiful and well kept tomb.

The tomb is not just for visit or photography alone but some people come around or visit there to make some supplications because Sait Matty is not just only an Imam, Jihadist of his time but also a marabou.

Imam Sait Matty Bah was son of Almami Maba Jahu Bah who was one of the great Jihadists, a King and Imam in Sine Saloum.

Historians recorded that he came to settle in The Gambia around the beginning of 20th century and was a devout and staunch follower of Islam with lots of followers, mainly Wollofs, majority of them migrated with him to The Gambia. He was the father of former Imam Alhaji Waka Bah, the father of one of the former Imams of Bathurst - Alhaji Ahmad Lamin Bah.

According to Hassoum Ceesay, historian and director general of National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC), Imam Sait Matty, the son of Almami Maba, who was one of the Muslim great jihadists and reformers of the Senegambia region was credited for spreading Islam in large part of Senegambia. This included the region today called Sine, Saloum and Badibou. "He did this until the French knew if they really wanted to complete their colonial designed project of colonizing, they had to deal with him in one way or another," he stated.

In 1867, continuing his narration, the French attacked Maba Jahu Bah and he lost his life in the Battle of Somb, now in present day Republic of Senegal and before his death; he had already planted the seed of Islam in large parts of Senegal and The Gambia.

More importantly, Maba Jahu Bah had a son who was also a warrior. "When Maba Jahu was killed, the son, Mamoud Nderry Bah took up the mantle to continue from where the father had stopped. And he did this for over 20 years but another son of Maba Jahu, Sait Matty born in 1855 was interested in reforming and converting some people particularly in the Badibou. Saity Matty's interest gave way to confrontation with his brother, Mamoud Nderry."

History informed that Mamoud Nderry and Sait Matty were brothers with rivalry between them and the British also played important part in dividing them. They were giving Sait Matty arms and gun powder to use against his brother "hence they did not want unity among them. The fear of the British was that if the two were united they would conquer Bathurst, a British colony."

The British plan worked, Sait Matty became a very strong opponent of Mamoud Nderry and fought severally in present Badibou and some of the Sait Matty's warriors were forced to flee across the river at the South Bank of the River Gambia.

"Finally, in 1893 he lost a battle and fled with his 'talibe' (disciples), some of his warriors were disarmed by the British and allowed to settle in Bathurst. Because Bathurst was too tight for him and his entourage but was taken care of by the alkalo of Bakau where he had house and home to settle down in Bakau Kunku where he lived until his time in 1897 and was buried in Bakau," he explained.

Thus, a street was named after Sait Matty in Bakau and his descendants can be found in Senegal and The Gambia proud of his legacy as Islamist, reformer and a diplomat who was able to balance his self-interest to get arms and weapons from the British and to fight his wars and also maintained a good relationship with the British to live an independent life.

Till today, all his descendants have their annual Gamo, family reunion both in The Gambia and Senegal and work together translating the family reunion to something stronger.

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