The Gambia

Geography

Location and Borders

Njau is a small village located in the Central River Region of The Gambia. The village shares it’s northernmost border with the country of Senegal. The Gambia River is a dominant landmark near Njau, and the surrounding terrain is a floodplain region with some low-lying hills. Njau is approximately 160 km from Banjul, the official capital of The Gambia, via North Bank Road.

Climate

N’jau experiences a distinct wet and dry season. The wet season is primarily the months of late June-early November, while the dry season is primarily the months of late November-early June. During the wet season, the temperature averages high 60-mid 70 (F), with cooler nights. Rainfall reaches a peak in the months of September and October, with heavy floods being common in most years. During the dry season, the temperature averages high 80-low 90 (F), with evenings ranging from 50-60 (F). In the peak of the dry season, temperatures can climb up to 100 (F). The climate during the season is very dry, with peak sunlight hours from 7am-6pm.

Politics

Government Structure

The government of N’jau is set up in a hierarchical structure, and is comprised of the VDC (Village Development Committee), the Alcarro, the Chief, and the Governor. The Chief is the head of the division. The Governor is the head of the district. The Alcarro is the head of the Wolof/Pulaar speaking tribes. The VDC is a committee of all the heads of the village and are representatives from each community group (women’s group, men’s group, & youth group).

Women’s Initiative The Gambia

Women’s Initiative The Gambia (WIG), an NGO led and founded by Njau native Isatou Ceesay, has attempted to address nutrition needs and food shortages by starting a women’s community garden in the south side of the village. She works on many projects in and outside the community: community focused projects mostly involve the Njau Women’s Group and the Recycling/Skill center within N’jau.Although WIG works closely with the Women’s Group in N’jau, WIG is headquartered in Banjul, Gambia, and also works with other villages around Gambia.

Village Development Committee (VDC)

The VDC is a local governing body that consists of leaders from various development groups in the community, including the Women’s Group, the Men’s Group, and the Youth Group. The purpose of the VDC is to approve, fund, and advise local projects within each community group In 2015, the VDC approved the implementation of an irrigation system in the South Garden for the Women’s Group, and in 2020, the VDC funded a replacement pump for N’jau’s drinking water tap system. The current Director of the N’jau VDC is Omar Batour (as of January 2020).

Women’s Group

Women’s Group

The women’s group of Njau is in control of both the west and south garden properties, with oversight from WIG. The Women’s Group has a President, Vice President, and bookkeeper/treasurer. Within the Women’s Group, there is also a governing body of the South Garden, consisting of the President, Vice President, and bookkeeper/treasurer. The President of the South Garden is Incha Mbye. Each executive position is elected by the rest of the members of the Women’s Group.

Central River Region Local Government

Abba Sanyang is the governor of all communities in the Central River Region of Gambia, including the community of N’jau. As governor, Sanyang oversees the well-being and development of each community.

Chief of District

The Chief of the district, which includes N’jau and neighboring villages, is Demba Sey. Demba resides in N’jau, although N’jau is not the only community he leads.

Demographics

Language

Most people in N’jau speak Wolof or Mandinka, with a limited number of Fula-speaking residents. Some inhabitants of N’jau, primarily kids and teenagers, speak a limited amount of English, as N’jau’s primary school teaches both English and Wolof.

Population and Society

The population of N’jau is estimated at 3,000. Of those inhabitants, approximately 2,400 are adults, and 600 are children. Living arrangements in N’jau are primarily structured around the family. Families live in houses arranged in “compounds” where there are often multiple generations living together. Compounds within the same vicinity are likely families of wives who have the same husband. Most men have two to three wives, although several have less or more. Most wives have more than one child.

Occupation

Men and women hold very traditional work and family roles. Men and older boys will often travel to Banjul, Gambia’s capital, during the dry season to find work. Women stay home year-round to take care of children, garden vegetables, and cook. During the wet season, both men and women work together to farm work-intensive staple crops, such as rice, peanuts, and cous.

Religion

The official religion of Gambia is Islam; as a result, most villagers of N’jau are Muslim.

Education

The first primary school in N’jau was established in 1947. There is currently one primary school in N’jau, featuring grades 1 through 8. The 14-15 teachers at the school teach subjects including Economics, Politics, Government, Religion, History, Social and Environmental Studies, and Mathematics. A typical economics class teaches Gambian economy, taxation policies, import/export activity, and general foreign or domestic trade, while religion classes focus on Islam and Christianity. The school itself has been upgraded several times over the years, including a rebuilding in 1994 done by the non-profit Gambian organization “Future in Our Hands.”

The first high school and secondary system in the region was built around 1965 (at a time when Western Education was beginning to become popular). It was characteristic of neighboring African regions to adopt this system at the time as it was believed to help prepare themselves to be competitive in the global marketplace. The region also features an Islamic school center.

Culture

Naming Ceremony

Similar to many West African communities, naming ceremonies are customary in N’jau as a symbolic celebration of children. In N’jau, naming ceremonies involve the entire community. The family (including the husband and wife, siblings, and extended relatives) sits in the middle of a circle, surrounded by members of the community. Often, the family will coordinate matching outfits and dress. A priest shaves the head of the newborn (naming ceremonies usually occur 1-2 weeks after birth), and cleanses the newborn with water. This is followed by singing and dancing from women in the community (who play drums and other instruments). Occasionally, a family will pay for an entertainer to visit the village, and provide loud music and drumming. The community dances around the family, offering gifts (clothes, jewelry, shoes) and money to the family.

Naming ceremonies are also customary for guests to the village, including extended visitors. In this case, the visitor is “adopted” into a family.

Cuisine

N’jau cuisine is very similar to traditional West African cuisine, in particular Senegalese and Gambian cuisine.

Meals are typically served in large platters and shared “family-style.” It is typical to eat on the floor, gathered around a circle, and with hands rather than using cutlery. Meal-times differ from family to family, although breakfast is typically served around 10-11 am, lunch is served around 3-4 pm, and dinner can be served as late as 9 pm.

All meals are cooked by women and children.

Traditional Gambian food and drink

NameDescription
Domodaarice and peanut stew, consisting of any vegetable but typically pumpkin and sweet potatoes
Baobab Juicemade from fruit of baobab tree, pale brown in color, nonalcoholic
Benachinone-pot rice dish made with various vegetables, chili, and fish (also known as Jollof rice)
Tapalapabaguette-style bread eaten for breakfast with jam or alternatively with mayonnaise and hard-boiled eggs
Yassadinner dish consisting of usually of chicken and sometimes including fish and beef, cooked with lime, onions, chillies, and mustard, Maggi cubes
Sorrel Popsiclespopsicles made from sorrel plant
Pankeetdeep fried sweet dough, eaten for dessert
Cassavapotato-like root vegetable cooked as a potato or yam

Agriculture

Gardening Practices

N’jau experiences a dry season from late November-early June, and a wet season during the remainder of the year, with heavy rains predominantly during the months of September-October. During the wet season, the village focuses on farming of staple crops, which require a lot of water. This includes crops such as rice and cous, which are farmed in surplus, and stored for year-round consumption. The versatility of cous is used for a variety of dishes, including cereal, porridge, and grain bowls. During the dry season, an emphasis is placed on gardening of vegetables and fruits (crops which require comparatively less water). Common vegetables include onions, Jamaican “red” sorrel, bitter tomato, cassava, cucumbers, chili peppers, and squash.

Compost Pile

Food scraps from the community are collected at the edge of the West Garden, and covered with plastic bags in direct sunlight in order to decompose the food in the heat of the sun. In the South Garden, the women compost using large hand-dug pits, which they rotate with tumbleweed, manure, food scraps, etc.

Water Sources

The community uses different water sources for gardening and drinking, although there is frequent overlap. There are two main sources of drinking water in the village–manual hand pumps and a tap system. The tap system is connected to a 40,000L water tank and borehole. This tap system is known to have had frequent operating issues between the years of 2015-2020. These issues included operator error (excessively turning the taps on/off), tank overflow, and solar panel maintenance. There are also a few hand-dug wells dispersed around the village, which are used primarily for non-consumption (bathwater, etc.). For gardening, the women in the West Garden use a hand-dug well for water access. Until 2020, the women in the South Garden accessed a nearby surface water reservoir for irrigation. This surface water reservoir was known to be contaminated with high levels of E. coli, and the women reported poor crop yield during occasional years; however, the only alternative water source was walking 20+ minutes to a village handpump/tap. In January 2020, a borehole was implemented by a Gambian contractor, Waterpoint Gambia, enabling the women to be supplied with a source of clean water. The solar-powered borehole is connected to a 5,000L water tank and a system of 3 taps. This borehole system is now the primary source of water for the women in the garden.

Crops

The community planted a variety of crops in the garden, including lettuce, peppers, sorrel, beans, squash, potatoes, and cassava. To aid in the creation of the community garden, EWB members created crop posters detailing how to plant and care for each crop as well as information on how to prepare them for consumption. Along with these crop posters, EWB OSU provided the community with information about crop rotation and composting to ensure the garden could be productive well into the future. All of this information was presented to people in Njau during an agricultural education workshop in spring of 2021 during the remote implementation phase of the project.